Following the assassination of Shinzo Abe on July 8, American establishment newspapers and other mainstream media bombarded the world with numerous expositions of the late Japanese prime minister. Given my observation that they were tilted too much toward reporting the positive side of his legacy, primarily from the US’s geopolitical perspective, it was refreshing to read Lisa Torio’s article “The Misremembering of Shinzo Abe” [online, July 14].
I hope you will allow me to expand upon some of the points in the article. As the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history, he was the epitome of Japan’s powerful right-wing political forces. He served as a special adviser to the group Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), which claimed that Imperial Japan should be lauded for liberating Asia from Western colonial powers, that the Tokyo war crimes tribunals were illegitimate, and that war crimes such as the Rape of Nanking in 1937 were exaggerated or fabricated.
Abe was known to hold negationist views on Japanese history, including the role of government coercion in recruiting so-called comfort women during World War II. Abe often expressed his hope that future Japanese generations would not be “predestined” to repeat apologies for its imperial crimes. But he did not end Japan’s long game of rationalization, evasion, and obfuscation. Moreover, he did not renounce or discourage public acts that have belied gestures of reconciliation, such as having historical facts distorted in school textbooks. This position has created tension with South Korea.
A crucial question can be raised from the perspective of Japan’s neighbors. Can Abe’s successor and followers be persuaded to redirect their policies from Japan’s current historical negationism toward cooperative interaction with its neighbors and toward deepening cultural ties, which go back for millennia? Unfortunately, given the reality that there seem to be so many denialists in the Japanese ruling class today, its neighbors are not optimistic about such a prospect.
Professor Emeritus of Finance and International Business, Seton Hall University
Columnist, KAUPA Letters: Journal of the Korean American University Professors Association
basking ridge, n.j.
Thank you for Lisa Torio’s insightful article about Shinzo Abe. We would like to add to your analysis.
Intrinsic to Mr. Abe’s right-wing nationalism was the denial of the true history of Japan’s role in World War II. The government of Japan, long led by Mr. Abe and the LDP, still refuses to offer an official apology and other reparations to the so-called comfort women survivors of the Japanese Imperial Army’s system of sexual slavery. In fact, all mention of the experiences of hundreds of thousands of women and girls taken from every Japanese occupied territory has been removed from the textbooks. This, despite the fact that their treatment, which involved kidnapping, imprisonment, and multiple rapes a day, is now considered a war crime. The majority of these women and girls came from Korea and China, and it’s estimated that 90 percent of them died in captivity.
The Japanese government continues to put enormous pressure on both local and national governments to take down any statue in memoriam to these “comfort women.” We experienced this ourselves when we built the “Comfort Women” Memorial in San Francisco. The then-mayor of Osaka actually broke the 60-year-old sister city relationship with San Francisco because the city government refused to take down the statue.
Besides the history of Japanese military sexual slavery, the WWII forced labor of thousands of Koreans and Chinese by Japanese corporations and the government is also being actively erased from Japanese collective memory. Japan’s historical denialism even extends to the renaming of the infamous 1937 Nanjing massacre as simply “an incident” in revised history textbooks.
The “comfort women” survivors have long fought for justice, not only for themselves but for all victims of gender violence and war. Let us not forget them in analyzing current Japanese politics.
President, “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition
san francisco, calif.