Hers is another contribution to the fury of Japanese ultra-nationalists that is spilled across the pages of Japan’s weeklies and monthlies as the congressional resolution nears passage, but it is worth considering, because it illustrates the rage that is bubbling up to the surface. Perhaps this is what Ambassador Kato was referring to? Whatever the case may be, I wonder if Congress is aware of the fury it has sparked in certain corners of public opinion here, and whether Congress particularly cares.
In any event, after reiterating the “fact” of the US military setting up its own comfort women system during the occupation of Japan, which was included in the now infamous Washington Post ad to which Sakurai was a signatory, Sakurai wonders what is to be done about this resolution. Allow me to translate:
…What should Japan do to deal with this kind of trend in the US of ongoing political criticism of Japan under the flags of “human rights” and “women?” Many people say that it is good to be silent and let it pass, since there is no possibility of refutation.
But in the event of taking criticism contrary to the facts, isn’t the foundation for mutual understanding making a rebuttal with accurate facts? Silence is acquiescence in the face of baseless attacks on the truth, and to not speak will continue to bring dishonor to all Japanese.
I must predict that if the comfort women resolution passes, this issue will not thereupon die, but rather give birth to a more serious state of affairs…
This is actually relatively polite, as far as responses to the comfort women resolution from Japan’s ultra-nationalists go. But all the tell-tale signs are there. The certainty that if they just keep repeating their “facts” over and over again, the wool will be lifted from the eyes of those who have been misled; the posturing that leads Sakurai to claim to speak on behalf of all Japanese, who will be dishonored if this tiny non-binding resolution isn’t crushed; the questioning of the motives of the US (see the scare quotes around human rights and women): these are standard tropes in the gallons of ink spilled against this resolution of which I’m certain not even one percent of Americans are aware. This is the ugly side of America’s Japanese ally. The airing of arguments such as these do not invalidate the alliance by any means (yet). I certainly don’t think that Sakurai and company speak for the Japanese people. But they’re out there, in positions of importance, and there is not nearly enough opposition to them in Japan’s marketplace of ideas.
Their success is a testament to the unresolved historical issues between Japan and the US, issues left untouched during the cold war for strategic reasons but which have metastasized into a comprehensive world view for these ultra-nationalists who are convinced that Japan has done its penance — for crimes it did not even commit! — and any suggestion to the contrary besmirches the honor of the Japanese people and must be answered with righteous rage.
For my part, I tend to be highly skeptical of people who are as insistent as Sakurai Yoshiko and her compatriots that they have The Facts and everyone else is ignorant or malicious, because it is a world view that leaves no room for even the slightest possibility of those Facts might be wrong and that those who disagree might be doing so simply out of devotion to the truth, not devotion to an ideology.
Do I think, as Steve Clemons does, that the prominence of these ultra-nationalists in Japan is a sign of a return to the 1930s for Japan? No, not at all. I don’t think the Japanese people have a sustained, programmatic interest in these conservative grudges, if the fate of constitution revision as the central focus of the Upper House elections is any indication. Rather, the danger they pose is to the alliance with the US, because enough of these tantrums and the US government may eventually tire of relying heavily on Japan as a partner in East Asia and look to alternative arrangements as a means of defending its interests in the region (engendering no small amount of instability).
Meanwhile, if you really want to see an example of the frustrated, dare I say impotent outrage of the ultra-nationalists, you would do well to read Takayama Masayuki’s essay “Master” in the 19 July issue of Shukan Shincho (I am indebted to a trusted correspondent for sending along a translation of this essay).