Saturday, August 07, 2010

Japan’s moral high ground: Hiroshima & Nagasaki

Yesterday, US Ambassador Roos attended the Peace Ceremony in Hiroshima, reportedly to further Obama’s future vision of eliminating nuclear weapons*. Roos’ appearance was not enough for many, something understandable for those (civilians) who were affected by the bomb. Some other folks may have been disappointed that the country which for no good reason repeatedly attacked Japan while it was trying to free subjugated Asians from Western domination in order to place them under Japanese domination did not apologize for Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and causing Japan to attack Pearl Harbor.

We are fortunate that there are now peace education programs available to many to clear up any lack of knowledge of what happened in WW2. For example, in Okinawa, there is such a program for “Ameriasians” which will allow participants to take a hard look at the war. No longer will graduates of the program consider Japan as just a victim because they get to learn of the experiences of a Japanese-American veteran of the Okinawa campaign, Takejiro Higa:

"I know I have responsibilities as an American citizen, but why do we have to invade the land of my ancestors?"

The sad memory will never fade for the Japanese-American, who was forced to fight in his own home. Mainichi

Well, perhaps Mainichi left a little out of the story. Or else the peace education program left a little out of the war, such as the reason for Mr. Higa having to invade his ancestors' homeland.

But that’s all unimportant trivia.

I hadn't read the magazine Japan Echo for years, in fact, I had forgotten about it until it began publishing articles on-line recently. I won't be forgetting about it again.

In one interview, Japan's Disappearing Act, Professor Satoshi Ikeuchi covered a number of topics, but the most interesting is his take on the use of the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as Japan’s “trump cards” in regaining it’s dwindling relevance in the world:

NHK Director and Interviewer: (After noting that Osama Bin Laden often refers to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in speeches and the fact that radical Muslims often tell the interviewer of their admiration for Japan standing up to the U.S. and wondering why Japan does not take revenge for the atomic bombings) ...I think Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be taken seriously as resources we can use in terms of getting our message across to the outside world...

Ikeuchi: I think if Japan were able to communicate its own version of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki more effectively, it could become a winning card against the United States...

The learned professor suggests a different approach to apologizing for WW2 (though a rare few may quibble with the idea that the Japanese government has done much clear, unequivocal apologizing) and “and strike out ideologically by showing how high our moral position really is.”

Then Ikeuchi suggests a vision for the future that does not as directly rely on reliving a version of the past. Stating that Asia needs somewhat different standards than the West:

...the best thing Japan can do in terms of communicating its message to the world would be to establish in itself in a position from which it can say, “When Western standards are not suitable for Asia, we will translate them for you.”

Not sure if this will slow Japan's international disappearing act, but it might be useful. A declining Japan leading a surging Asia while not really being part of Asia could work as long as Asia thinks it needs Japan's leadership in translating Western standards. (Is China part of Asia?)

The interviewer expressed what he sees as a problem with Ikeuchi’s ideas:

Included among the Western values is an acknowledgment that World War II was a just war in which the Allies, united by a shared belief in democracy and human rights, defeated the Axis powers, which were contemptuous of these values. Does Japan have the magnanimity to accept this view of history? The second question would whether Japan truly holds these values in the first place.

Ikeuchi was also critical of the full-page ad that rightists ran in the Washington Post a few years ago to support former PM Abe's claim that the Japanese Imperial Army did not force women in occupied countries into sexual slavery during WW2. Ikeuchi seems to believe that its credibility was undermined because it was a paid ad, not because of the contents.

They would have done better to have written in via the letters page, exposing the contradictions in their opponents’ arguments, and putting their case in a way that would have struck American readers as reasonable and logical.

Perhaps so, but getting informed Americans (or anyone else) to believe Abe and the rightists' case of no Japanese Army involvement in recruiting/forcing women into sexual slavery might be a little difficult to do reasonably and logically.

Now why is it again that the world has so much trouble believing Japan's sincerity despite Ikeuchi's claim that: " country in the world that has issued as many apologies as Japan just for fighting a war."

"Just for fighting a war"???????!!!!!

Early in the interview Ikeuchi took the US to task for (supposedly) focusing on Japan as an economic interest instead of looking at it from a political perspective and asking questions such as:

“Is this country [Japan] likely to be a long-term partner?”

I am not sure that Professor Ikeuchi provided any confidence-building answers to that question.

*Professor Ikeuchi considers Obama's goal as a "PR strategy based on cool calculations in the face of a genuine threat from nuclear terrorism."


  1. I have visited Hiroshima several times and have been to the bomb site and the center of the atomic blast. It is a very sad thing that happened and the effects will last forever. I will never forget that experience and hope the bomb will be banned.

  2. just checked out japan Echo and found this gem in the "japan Culture takes on The World" article... "In the years to come, it is likely that the “Cool Japan” phenomenon will continue to spread. Recently, Japanese-style izakaya restaurant-pubs have started to become common overseas. Previously, eating and drinking places were separate. A system that brings both of them together under the same roof is clearly convenient. User-friendly things like this that anyone can enjoy will spread quite naturally, just like anime and manga and high-tech toilets."

    !!!!!!! I never knew that British Pubs and French cafes are mere copies of Izakayas......

  3. Japan-Australia: I agree that the bombings were "sad" to say the least---especially since women, children, and other non-combatants were killed. My problem is with folks such as the author of the article who view Japan as THE victim of the war it started and develop amnesia about why the world showed up rather angry on its doorstep. He goes even further...

    Ojisanjake: I saw that too. The fellow who wrote it also mentioned that Hollywood only sent its good movies overseas and left the lightweight stuff at home. I thought overseas was where they got their money back for movies that flopped in the US. Plenty seem to make it to Japan anyway.

  4. Wait, what?

    1)Here what I was taught about WWII during the late eighties and ninieties growing up:

    a) The Pacific side of WWII was marked by escalating trade agreements, the US push for minerals and trade and the expansion of Imperial Japan for the same issues.

    b) The USA, just coming out of a Depression, had no issues with Japan's expansion into Manchuria and Korea.

    c)However, there were serious tensions and issues. Roosevelt may had an inkling that there may have been a military threat, but it honestly did not seem that there would be war.

    d) The Japanese Government decided to do something rather daring- destroy the fleet in the Pacific, and simply take over the Pacific.

    e) Japan had the USA fighting REALLY HARD, for 3 years. Only in the 4th year was there a significant turn in the fighting. The culmination of the Manhattan Project was then used to secure an unconditional surrender from the Japanese.

    f) The bomb as a weapon of war has not been used since. We (USA) helped the Japanese rebuild, given rights that we in the USA do not have (right to health care, women and men have equal rights). Japan is the 4th largest economy in the world.

    This is what I was taught- not that WWII was a just war, but that this was a war that defined American know how, began the break down of racism in the States and gave our economy a heads up for 40 years.

    All thing considered, had Japan simply signed a treaty like Stalin did at Yalta, Asian history would quite significantly different.

    One thing: Children in the USA are also taught that Hiroshima and Nagaski were horrible yet necessary. I wonder if that is the objection?

  5. There was a big debate about Hiroshima on NBR forums just recently, and it is still an unresolved issue---were the bombs needed to get Japan to surrender and ultimately save lives? Or was the Russian intervention the deciding factor? Or were all of the above or none of the above necessary. The arguments for both sides are quite interesting. But yes, it certainly could have been avoided by the Japanese government.

    Ikeuchi seems to be living in a dream word. Japan has no moral high ground in its WW2 actions that I can think of. Certainly not attempting to fight on after the first bomb, then continuing after Russia declared war, then after the second bomb, and even risking a third.

    But who knows, today it is hard to defend dropping atomic bombs on civilian targets. The question is: What does he mean by "a winning card against the US?" And why does he seem to accept the Washington Post ad claiming the Japanese Army did not coerce women into sexual slavery?