“History is a set of lies agreed upon,’’ is a gem from Napoleon Bonaparte’s treasure-chest of quotations.
The Prime Minister of Japan might take a shine to that saying from France’s greatest empire-builder.
Shinzo Abe is resolutely convinced that the staggering horrors of World War Two are falsehoods; the punishment meted out on defeated but beatific Japan – it had waged war only for good, kind reasons of `liberating’ Asia from colonialism – is `victor’s justice’.
Lies, damn lies: in the alternate universe inhabited by Abe and his right-wing cronies, Japan has done no wrong.
The in-your-face evidence of sexual slavery, forced labor, biological and chemical experiments on humans, “kill all, burn all, loot all’’ policy, etc, are – at best – inconvenient truths ( mere incidents, such as the Nanjing Massacre, for one) to be cast into the dustbin of forgotten history.
Shinzo Abe doesn’t fall short of Napoleonic swagger either. He dreams big about restoring Japan’s la gloire, and reviving its “original’’ culture, which one does not have to scratch far to find its continental roots.
Japan is back, he has trumpeted – and how far back, many wait anxiously to find out as he takes us down memory lane to Yasukuni, where nearly 1000 war criminals, including 14 Class-A convicts, are enshrined.
Since his comeback from political exile – something like Napoleon’s return from Elba before meeting his Waterloo – Shinzo Abe has wreaked calculated mischief.
He has outsourced his outrageous denial of the `comfort women’ issue in 2007 to fellow loonybins such as Katsuro Morii of Japan’s national broadcaster and Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto.
Abe has moved on to other taunts that hint big of a Little Napoleon complex, conniving and petty. His shtick includes a photo-op with a training jet numbered 731 (the biological unit that used thousands of war captives as live guinea pigs) and a cheap shot at fudging the definition of “aggression’’.
A body count in the millions and billions of damage during World War II still do not quite cut it as `aggression’ for Abe.
At Davos, the `hot economy, cold politics’ label on the China-Japan relationship is likened to a similar pre-1914 situation between England and Germany.
A closer parallel is the 1894/95 war when Japan attacked China after a decade of military build-up. Alarm bells from yore ring when Abe presses forward for offensive capabilities even as Japan continues baiting China over Diaoyutai/Senkakus.
His picnic trip to Yasukuni epitomizes Japanese recalcitrance over its war record. Abe gamely explains away his frolics with dead mass murderers by trying to equate the United States’ Arlington Cemetery – a secular resting place – with the Shinto-based war shrine in Tokyo.
Why aren’t we convinced?
An explanation from an article by Mindy Kotler in National Interest:
“But for Japan’s conservative leaders, Yasukuni has become a tacit political act. War is presented as a noble and glorious sacrifice preserving Japan’s Imperial institution. To this day, Yasukuni allows a Prime Minister to assert Japan’s independence and re-cast its past.’’
The lie is nailed to Abe’s hypocrisy about remembrance of souls and renouncing war. There is probably nothing that Japan’s rightists would love more than a grudge match.
Unfortunately there are just as many hotheaded Chinese spoiling for a clincher round.
War talk is rising this year, the 120th anniversary of the disastrous Sino-Japanese war; 1894 and 2014 are both Jiawu/Wood Horse years.
The past is clearly unfinished business in East Asia. But patience is counselled. Guns at dawn over Diaoyutai are pointless if you burn your own butt as well.
The best revenge for China is to outclass Japan on every human index: cultural, economic, technology, etc. Another 20 or 30 years is just a blip on the 5000 year-old radar of Chinese civilization.
Eventually, Shinzo Abe and others of his stripe will be left on the wrong side of history.
(Update: Japan’s Foreign Ministry clarifies that the comparison of China and Japan with England and Germany before WWI was a mistake in translation by an interpreter).