Monday, August 21, 2006


A Yen For Nationalism

My friend Steve Clemons, who has written more about Japan than I could even dream about, sees a disturbing rise of nationalism.

This is part and parcel of Prime Minister Koizumi's annual genuflecting at the Yakushin monument -- as
was discussed last week.

Japan is the world's second largest economy, has been the United States's ally ever since the immediate post World War II period and is very much "on our side."

However, the rise of nationalism -- complete with this cultural willingness to gloss over Japan's actions in the first half of the 20th century -- is deeply problematic and not just an emotional annoyance for the Chinese to "get over."

As George Will noted
this weekend:

The museum adjacent to Yasukuni says "The Greater East Asian War" began because, when the New Deal failed to banish the Depression, "the only option open to Roosevelt . . . was to use embargoes to force resource-poor Japan into war. The U.S. economy made a complete recovery once the Americans entered the war." That is disgracefully meretricious — and familiar. For years, a small but vocal cadre of Americans — anti-FDR zealots — said approximately that. But neither Koizumi nor Abe includes the museum in his visits to the shrine.

It would be helpful if [Koizumi's successor Shinto] Abe would discontinue visiting Yasukuni. He could cite the fact, learned last month, that Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989, stopped visiting it because he strongly objected to the war criminals' enshrinement. Because China decided to be incensed about Koizumi's visits, there has been no Japan-China summit meeting for five years. In 2005, there were vicious anti-Japan riots in China, and 44 million Chinese signed an Internet petition opposing Japan's quest for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Relations between the nations are colder than at any time since relations were normalized in 1972, when Mao decreed that both the Chinese and Japanese people had been victims of Japan's militarists.


The controversy about Yasukuni should not mystify Americans. With their comparatively minor but still acrimonious arguments about displays of Confederate flags, Americans know how contentious the politics of national memory can be, and they understand the problem of honoring war dead without necessarily honoring the cause for which they died.
Of course, even though the Confederacy still creates emotional pain in the United States, this country is so diverse and spread out that sentiments get diffused. That's not the case in either the small Japan (65 million people) or the huge China (1.3 billion). Neither nation has the diversity that America has -- and even though both adopt Western economies and lifestyles (China, to a lesser extent), the classic culture still has a strong hold.

Honor is still very much a part of these systems: That's why, I believe, Japan refuses to fully acknowledge its past actions. But it is also why China sees Koizumi's actions as not being just respectful to his nation's war dead -- but encouraging the societal forgetting and exacerbating Japan's natiionalism.

No surprise, that simply exacerbates China's nationalism.

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