Well, that's about the level of complexity of thinking that goes with this inanely ahistorical diatribe printed in The Korea Times. The author starts off by asking some good questions, which require historical answers argued in terms of structure, processes, and other specifics:
Why is it that the Japanese are incapable of expressing the same remorse as the Germans about the atrocities they committed? Japan was defeated just like Germany in WWII. One reason is that WWII’s victors imposed a rigorous “denazification” program on the Germans, through aggressive social and political reform, as well as outright propaganda.
No such “deimperialization” program was imposed on the Japanese. The Japanese did not in fact ever “endure the unendurable.” In the light of Koizumi and Abe’s offenses, perhaps the Allied Forces should consider implementing the deimperialization program, belatedly, today.
But the article ends, even as it talks about some of the factors and actors that went into the process of creating a certain kind of "Japanese people", all arguments that he dismisses altogether:
In the decades prior to WWII, the Japanese people watched as their Emperor and military began a campaign of mass killing and conquest across Asia. The Japanese people could have overthrown their government and halted this barbarism, but they chose not to. The Japanese people made a choice to support a government, which raped, tortured, and murdered thirty million other human beings.
The Japanese people today are not unlike the Japanese people in the decades prior to WWII. Due to the absence of any postwar deimperialization program, they grew up in an amoral environment free of guilt or remorse.
Their view of Japan’s WWII war criminals is not shame and revulsion; instead, they think they should be honored. Their view of Japan’s WWII sex slaves is that they deserve no apology, because they were just a bunch of whores. If they did not hold these views, they would certainly not have voted for atrocity-denying Ahmadinejads like Koizumi and Abe.
Talk about some ahistorical history. And "ahistorical" doesn't refer to a lack of names, dates, or events in history, but rather a complete ignorance of the complex process that goes into creating the Japanese, Korean, or just about any "people" in the first place – whether you call that das Volk, the minjok, or minzoku.
Good history isn't just listing facts; it's also historicizing concepts, categories, identities, into the processes that created them. The concept I always use is that of the "minjok" ("race" or "people" in Korean) – it's a concept that's just over 100 years old, yet people employ it as though it spanned over the supposed 5,000 years of Korean history. It didn't, and I have yet to have anyone meet the challenge of finding a reference to minjok (民族) as a referent to a singular people or national identity before the turn of the 20th century. No one has because no such reference exists. But the power of such concepts lie in the ahistorical way people use them, even as they falsely believe the concepts themselves to be historically ancient. It's like the Matrix – the illusion relies on you not even questioning the reality before your eyes, or the logic of the "obvious." This even goes back to Plato's cave, man.
Looking at the Japanese people as some singular historical agent, irrespective of then or now, who should be blamed for the crimes of "their" government is as historiographically irresponsible as saying that "the American people" are "responsible" for the "crimes" of everything from the present Iraq wars back to invading Vietnam, to bombing Hiroshima, to committing clear acts of genocide against Indians, and building the institution of slavery.
I didn't vote for Bush, nor do I approve of the war, nor do I want to have any truck of racist, sexist, or any other-ist policies in my society. Yet, these things do happen, even when many historical agents within a society do exist.
But there is an "America" that is responsible for those things, because governments represent the people and exist as a singular, responsible entity for the sake of their "people." So governments can owe apologies. They can and should owe compensation.
As examples, I think the former "comfort women" deserve(d) apology and compensation. The question of whether or not they received legal compensation is the one that sticks with me; the question of "if" isn't even one.
As an American example, I think American blacks who can trace their roots to slaves brought to the United States, or as late as GI's denied the benefits of the GI Bill after WWII because most colleges wouldn't accept blacks and the Feds generally wouldn't pay for tutions at historically black colleges, or the then legal practice of denying blacks the low-interest loans that was responsible for creating a white middle class and suburban America – blacks were legally, fiscally, and socially discriminated against in concrete and calculable ways; only the historically misinformed (and that's a lot of people, unfortunatley) think that "reparations" is just a general handout for "slavery."
Naw, brah. It's the fact that my father's father's generation was subject to the legal discrimination of the Federal Housing Administration's official policies of not offering loans to blacks that resulted in specific and traceable financial harm to blacks as a group, the effects of which are visible to this day, especially in the form of the black ghettoes that formed as white took flight, and blacks were legally and financially crippled from leaving.
And that's just one reason. You don't even have to get to slavery to talk about the possibility of "reparations." Just take me back to the 1950's and it's easy to demonstrate clear and specific harms committed categorically against blacks as a people in the US. Yeah, most white people didn't own slaves; but a whole lot of white folks lived in houses that blacks weren't allowed to buy with loans forbidden to them and the option of receiving higher educations blocked because the GI Bill didn't apply. The routes of access to middle-class upward mobility were legally and socially blocked. There were laws in place. On the books.
So all the middle-class homes, against which many whites borrowed to fund open their own businesses, make investments, and send kids to college – a lot of white folks materially benefitted from things that blacks weren't allowed to. Are individual white people responsible? Well, no, technically. Is that a part of "white privilege," as argued in group terms, in the US? Sure, but that's a different conversation. Is the US government responsible for its past actions against black people? Damn skippy. So where's my check?
But when you get down to talking about how the "people" are formed, and past whole "peoples" being responsible for things and not specific entities and as the result of real and specific policies, you get into complexity. There is ideology, education, indoctrination, and force. There is collusion, collaboration, and willful giving over of one's loyalties. When you start saying "all Japanese are responsible" or "white people are responsible" – what use is that, on top of being a historically specious argument?
In other words, if you want to historicize "them," then do so. Back to the "Land of the Rising Sun," look at the fact that "Japan" went from being a feudal society under lords and military chieftains – and with no singular national or racial identity in the modern sense of the concepts – into a revolutionized nation-state from 1868 in which most of the population did not even know the Emperor's name, nor did they care, to a state asserting its power and authority in the 1870's and 1880's and which often had to put down peasant rebellions in order to do so, to a state that had begun to form a real identity after the "success" of the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education turning the school system into an ideology factory teaching that killing Chinese was actually morally preferable to killing a useful cow or pig.
By the time we get to the kids in the early 20th century becoming soldiers and adults in their 20's and 30's who would commit the "Rape of Nanking" and myriad other atrocities, the question of "why" isn't really one, is it?
And given the fact that Koreas under colonial rule in the 1910's, 20's, and 30's were being subjected to the exact same processes that had turning a nation of mostly civilian farmers, peasants, merchants, and artisans with no particular common interests into a "Japanese people" in the 1870's, 80's, and 90's – one should be so careful about so glibly labelling an entire people a singular, Otherized "Them."
Because looked at another way, the Japanese "people" were as much ideologically victimized as the Korean people had been. Thank God someone stopped the Japanese war machine and ended that process, though, right? Imagine the state of Korean national identity if the Japanese had held the peninsula until the present day.
Given as much time as the Japanese had to turn peasants into "Japanese", one wonders if the Japanese programs to erase Korean culture (which actually began in earnest very late in the game, in the late 1930's) had been held for three or four generations. The most die-hard nationalists would decry the idea that Korean identity would be erased, but a true scholar of history – not a ideology-blinded patriot – would recognize the power of education systems and total social control.
Hey, the very same system was successful in creating a strong Korean nationalism under Park Chung Hee, wasn't it?
The point is that the Japanese "people" were subjected to the exact same processes as the Korean "people" were and are, as most "peoples" on God's not-so-green Earth are.
The "facts" of most of this history isn't in dispute; all the bluster over who invaded whom, who owns which rocks in the sea, who apologized or didn't when and why – that's all child's play and pretty un-fucking-important against the context of the history that made all this possible in the first place: the problematic construction of national identity itself and the suspect interests such identity engenders on the individual and collective levels.
Yeah, that may sound complex, but it's a complex issue, and should be treated as such. That's one of the problems with such matters; no one doubts that the economy, the political system, or breaking down the nuanced meanings of a culture's classic works of literature requires theory, a deft hand, and an elevated level of thinking.
Yet, when it comes to clashing nationalisms, lay idiots who should even know better as lay idiots, write inflammatory pieces with absolutely no thought being given to the argument than "they" did this or "they" are responsible.
If you want to look at "who" or "what" is responsible, then it might yield the answer that kneejerk nationalist governments who utilize processes of extreme ideological control are at base, the culprit.
Problem is that once you look at things that way, you realize that the Korean "us" under Park in the 1960's was not too different from the Japanese "them" under the Meiji regime in the 1870's, when Japanese peasants had to be taught how to bow when the Emperor's procession passed.
In that sense, to talk about the Japanese as a singular historical agent, with a common set of interests and identifications over decades or even centuries at a time, is about as stupid as it is wildly historiographically irresponsible.
And that's the triple truth, Ruth.