Sankei pays tribute to the war dead by calling for a more activist Japan

In honor of the day of memorial for the end of the war on August 15, each of Japan’s dailies has published an editorial marking the occasion.

They are, in general, fairly innocuous: Yomiuri‘s discusses history and Yasukuni Shrine, Asahi‘s looks at relations with Asian neighbors. Sankei‘s editorial, however, single-handedly illustrates the fundamental incoherence of the Japanese right, which is torn between reverence for the past, recognition of the importance of the US-Japan alliance and the need for Japan to contribute more internationally, and fear that everyone in East Asia is prepared to gang up on Japan — the sum of the “psychic whiplash” that Japan suffered in the rapid shift from total war to total defeat, occupation, and alliance with the victorious with the US (and now, on top of all this, China becoming a world-beating superpower).

After an opening section that talks of the sacrifices made by Japan’s war dead for the Japanese people, Sankei launches into the following bizarre rant:

The US-Japan relationship, whose deepening is desired

It is deplorable that although Japan’s international environment is becoming rather intense, foreign and security policy issues did not become a point of contention whatsoever in the latest House of Councillors election.

North Korea, which is chasing the two hares of recognition as a nuclear power and the acquisition of aid; China, which is feverishly following the path of a military and economic great power and neglecting the environment and food security; and Russia, which is pushing forward with energy imperialism in the background based on petroleum power: This is, without exaggeration, the appearance of our neighboring countries.

For this reason and more, the US-Japan relationship, which must be strengthened, is also increasingly creaky.

In regard to the six-party talks and America’s giving in to the North without limit, it is naturally felt in Japan as an act of betrayal. As for the successive inappropriate incidents of former Defense Minister Kyuma Fumio’s the atomic bombings “couldn’t be helped” statement and the US Congress’s adoption of the comfort women resolution, they have, as a result, given rise to deep distrust and disappointment in the US in the hearts of many Japanese, who have consequently perceived the inner workings of the relationship.

On the other hand, the fate of the anti-terror special measures law, because of the opposition’s taking control of a majority in the Upper House, has become opaque in a stroke.

The MSDF’s activities in the Indian Ocean being conducted for eleven countries is not simply “cooperation with the US,” much less “following the US.” It’s international cooperation. If this law is buried, the separation between the international community, which is continuing the war on terrorism, and Japan will widen, and the loss of confidence will be immeasurable.

Japan, even while contributing $13 billion during the Gulf War, was not thanked — “too little, too late” — and thus must not commit the same foolish diplomatic mistake.

August 15 sixty-two years ago was a historical turning point for Japan equal to the Meiji Restoration. Japan followed the rare progression from America’s enemy to its ally. Of course this began by way of the coercion of the occupation, and henceforth there was also tension and friction in economics, security, and other aspects of the relationship.





  6カ国協議における米国の北への際限ない妥協は、日本には背信行為も同然に映る。下院本会議での慰安婦決議採択と久間章生前防衛相の原爆投下「しょうがな い」発言という相次ぐ不適切な出来事は、機微に触れるがゆえに、結果的に多くの日本人の心の奥深くに米国への失望と不信を生んだ。





What can we learn from Sankei‘s publishing this on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the allied powers? Japanese (ultra)nationalists, while recognizing that the alliance with the US is essential for Japan’s exercising influence internationally, also chafe at perceived American slights against the Japan and apparently continue to suffer from the shock of Japan’s rapid shift at war’s end sixty years later.

Now, I am sympathetic to the idea that Japan has yet to heal fully from the wounds inflicted from moving from total war with the US to total dependence on the US, and I think it’s an important factor in explaining the underlying tension in the relationship that continues to the present day.

What I reject is the cynicism (and the lack of humility). To me, this editorial’s argument seems to say little more than “We cannot trust the Americans — and don’t particularly like them — but we have no choice but to stay close to them if we’re going to be able to deal with our nasty neighbors.” Sankei is wholly unapologetic and not the least bit humbled by the defeat of Japanese imperialism that August 15th signifies. Sure, they take care to emphasize that Japan is engaged in international cooperation, but there is no question that Sankei is far more concerned about North Korea and China when it looks at contemporary Japanese security policy. It is ready for Japan to reenter the East Asian balance of power in a big way. Sankei has learned nothing from the war, perhaps except for the lesson that Japan should be more prepared this time around.

Meanwhile, while the editorial asserts that the US-Japan alliance “must” be strengthened, there is little to suggest what exactly that means (although I would guess it starts with abstaining from any criticism of Japan’s wartime past and taking care to follow Japan’s instructions in the six-party talks). The nationalists like those at Sankei — and, dare I say, at the Kantei — will ride the US train as long as it has locomotive power, but does anyone anticipate that Japan will value the alliance when the US is bruised, battered, and seemingly down for the count? (Such arguments have been cropping up ever more frequently in the pages of Japan’s newspapers and journals.) Again, this need not be a problem — no alliance is permanent. But that makes the embrace of shared, universal values on the part of the Abes and Asos disingenuous and more than a little tawdry.

This is, I fear, the face of the men who govern Japan today. Free of humility, free of sorrow, free of regret, they see “uncertainty” — that ubiquitous word — in Asia and are immediately prepared to send Japan into battle again. Japan, of course, is by no means going to resurrect its co-prosperity sphere, and the practical consequences of this position, short of dangerously aggravating tension in the US-Japan relationship, will likely be small, but the persistence of this manner of thinking will in the long run make it harder for Japan to play a constructive role in upholding the global order, if only because every step taken by these nationalists will prompt a backlash at home and among Japan’s neighbors (more specifically, the Korean and Chinese peoples).

The reality is that Japan will not be able to act in the world free of the shadow of the past until the leaders making the strategic decisions are sufficiently apologetic and humbled by their country’s past. There is no way around it. There are no shortcuts. Repeating the same apology, word for word, over and over again, does not constitute atonement. Until that changes, otherwise innocuous gestures like refueling coalition vessels in the Indian Ocean will be tarnished (fairly or not) in the eyes of Japan’s Northeast Asian neighbors and many Japanese citizens as indicative of the first steps in the grand designs of the ultranationalists.

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