Tuesday, March 06, 2007

An Indonesian criticism of Japan's immaturity

Today, Indonesia's mainstream newspaper Jakarta Post editorialises critically against Japan's "immaturity" and "childish attitude" in atempting to deny its wartime atrocities against the people of Asia, including Indonesia which was then known as 'Dutch East Indies'.

Japan's immaturity

In his campaign before taking office in September, prime minister candidate Shinzo Abe promised to create a "beautiful Japan". Many Japanese voters and the international community hoped that Abe, the first Japanese prime minister born after World War II, would not follow his predecessor Junichiro Koizuimi's lead and continue visiting the Yasukuni war shrine, which honors the country's war dead, including some war criminals. Koizumi's insistence on carrying out the controversial visits damaged Japan's relations with its neighbors, especially China and South Korea.

Japan has repeatedly apologized for its actions during World War II, including a formal apology on the issue of sex slaves issued by Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993. And Japan has done a lot since the war to ease concerns that it would again embark on the dangerous path of its past military adventures. The country has consistently shown its sense of international responsibility to build a better world, especially in the economic field.

But from time to time, Japanese leaders have continued to tarnish the country's image with irresponsible statements about Japan's role in World War II.

Expectations were high that a younger Japanese leader like Abe would be able to lead the country to an acceptance of its history. But it took only six months for Prime Minister Abe to show the world he is no better, if not worse, than Koizumi in confronting the country's wartime history.

Abe's statements Thursday and Monday, which belittled the accuracy of historical facts, including Japan's own military documents, that Japan did not force thousands of women during World War II to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers came as a shock for the international community.

"There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it," Abe told reporters Thursday. In parliament on Monday, Abe again spoke about the issue of sex slaves (Japan prefers the relatively softer term "comfort women"). "There was no coercion such as kidnappings by the Japanese authorities. There is no reliable testimony that proves kidnapping," Abe said, as quoted by international news agencies.

About 200,000 young women, mainly in China, Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia, were forced by the Japanese military during World War II to sexually serve Japanese soldiers.

Abe was apparently irritated by the U.S. Congress, which issued a non-binding resolution demanding an apology from Japan and recognition of its wartime involvement in sexual slavery.

Japan is still the world's second most powerful economy, however, in about a decade China is likely to pass its neighbor. Many Japanese still do not believe that China will surpass Japan's economy, but this should not be used as an excuse for denying its past.

It is difficult for people around the world to understand why, nearly 62 years after the end of World War II, Japan still cannot honestly accept its wartime record and continues to maintain this "childish" attitude whenever it is asked to examine its past. The self-denial is so acute that no one can cure it except Japan itself.

After its defeat in World War II, Japan quickly regained its economic power. Now Japan is the world's second most powerful economy after the United States and the world's largest creditor in terms of official development assistance.

The world needs a prosperous, strong and peaceful Japan. Continuing moves to corner the country over its wartime past could backfire by triggering a new nationalist movement in the country. Indeed, there are already worrying signs of this happening.

But Japan should also help itself. If after 62 years, Japanese leaders are still trying to deny history, we should feel pity for the country. Japan has played a major role in the global economy, but why is it still unable to accept the realty of its past? Others can only help when Japan itself is willing to stand up and take an honest look at itself and its wartime actions.


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