The US Congress, thought police?

So Prime Minister Abe has commented upon the US House Resolution 121 — the so-called “comfort women resolution” — currently under debate in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The resolution states that Japan

      (1) should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as ‘comfort women’, during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II;
      (2) should have this official apology given as a public statement presented by the Prime Minister of Japan in his official capacity;
      (3) should clearly and publicly refute any claims that the sexual enslavement and trafficking of the ‘comfort women’ for the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces never occurred; and
      (4) should educate current and future generations about this horrible crime while following the recommendations of the international community with respect to the ‘comfort women’.
I’m not going to debate the facts of Japanese behavior during the war, but, rather, I’m going to question — as Adamu of Mutantfrog Travelogue did in this post — Congress acting as an arbiter of history, in part, it seems, due to pressure from ethnic groups in the US. My problem is not necessarily the usual “what would the US think if governments passed resolutions condemning American slavery,” but rather the likely impact of congressional intervention in this matter.

I see two possible outcomes. The first is defiance. As noted in the BBC article linked above, Prime Minister Abe’s response has been to question the historical facts. Rather than sheepishly accept the dictates of a foreign legislature, Japanese nationalists — and perhaps even those who are not particularly fervent nationalists but still object to being told what to think about their history — will likely stonewall, obfuscate, and fight the passage of the resolution, aggravating the issue, because no doubt the activists pushing for this resolution will redouble their efforts in response to Japanese defiance.

The other possible outcome is false acceptance, which at the moment seems less likely. But the larger point is that it is impossible to decree acceptance of historical wrongdoing. It is impossible to make people believe something they refuse to believe, regardless of the facts of the matter. Contrition that results from the goading of foreigners is, in my opinion, not contrition at all. Japan has a lot of historical soul-searching to do, but that soul-searching cannot — and should not — be the product of a decree from Washington.

Maybe the House Committee on, er, Foreign Affairs should spend more time thinking about the numerous problems in American foreign policy, instead of policing the thoughts of foreign governments; I’m not quite sure if that’s what Tom Lantos had in mind when changing the committee’s name.

And I wish someone could remind me where in the US Constitution Congress is empowered with the authority to dictate history to foreign governments. I keep flipping through my copy, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere.

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