by Robert Arvay, Contributing Writer
I lived in Japan for three years in the 1970s, and found it all but impossible to accept that these gentle, polite people could have murdered millions of women and children. They could never do so again. Then, years later, I heard about a group that was formed in the 1990s.
Its name is Nippon Kaigi (Kah-Ee-Gee, or Ky-Gee). It has become a growing political movement in Japan which denies that the Japanese were brutal oppressors of Asia in the 1930s to 1945. Instead, it claims that the Japanese liberated Asia from the oppression of the Americans and British. It aims to challenge Chinese occupation of disputed islands, by military force if necessary, a policy which will first require re-militarization, and de-pacification of its constitution.
This is no fringe group of disaffected Samurai veterans from World War Two, but a new generation that already holds a number of high political positions, including in the legislature and cabinet, and has the open sympathy of the prime Minister, Shinzo Abe (Ah-beh), who publicly visits a Shinto shrine dedicated to Japanese war dead, including some of the most brutal and vicious of war criminals.
Should we be worried? With so many other serious crises going on around the world, is there even a remote chance that Japanese imperialism will once again plunge the world into war?
There are many reasons to think not, but the few reasons to be worried should not be taken too lightly. What is that adage about those who forget the lessons of history?
At the end of the first world war, it seemed that Germany could never rise again. Less than twenty years later, that nation, with its ally Japan, went to war, and did so after more than a decade of warning signs that although by no means ignored, were not acted upon forcefully enough nor swiftly enough. Once the cancer had set in, tens of millions were doomed.
The Nazis in 1937 were what Obama (had he lived then) would have called “JV.”
In mid-1945, the Germans had learned their lesson, and so it seemed had the Allies. A “de-nazification” program was aggressively installed and implemented, and today, the people of Germany are deeply ashamed, and rightfully horrified, at the record of what their nation did. For a German politician today to even hint at sympathy for the Nazis is political suicide.
Not so in Japan. Interviewed about the Hiroshima bombing, a prominent Japanese figure termed it “uncivilized,” yet had no apology for the rape of Nan-King, the massacre of Manila, nor the enslavement of Korea, all of which were conducted under the official policies of the emperor.
Another Japanese war veteran, interviewed on video, casually mentioned that he felt refreshed after raping Korean women. Official Japanese censors prohibit audiences from seeing Japan portrayed negatively in any war movies shown there.
In 1945, unlike in Germany, Japan had no version of the de-nazification program. It was assumed that by imposing a western style democracy on Tokyo, the Japanese would never again return to their former brutality. For decades that imposition seemed to have succeeded. After all, in the 1920s, Japan had enjoyed a very strong pro-democracy movement that, had it succeeded, would have averted Japanese aggression, and saved millions of Japanese lives, along with many more lives elsewhere.
That pro-democracy movement failed because the Japanese militarist movement systematically hunted down and murdered the foremost democrats, driving the remainder into hiding. Democracy therefore, had a history in Japan, and today, that pro-democracy movement keeps Japan peaceful and productive.
This is not to say that the Americans and British were angelic in the 1930s. There was indeed economic imperialism by both nations against China and elsewhere, along with the French in Indochina. The Japanese, however, were more than merely underhanded in their dealings, they were every bit as murderous as the Nazis.
It is for this reason that even today, Japan’s Asian neighbors are suspicious that at some time in a foreseeable future, Japan may once again go dark, and attack.
One irony is that part of what keeps Japan peaceful is its descent into social ills, including ironically, societal amnesia. Its young people seem to know as little of history as do their American counterparts. An Australian living in Japan told me online that he was always sure to tell his Japanese associates that he was Australian, not American, since many Japanese have no idea that the Japanese bombed Australia in 1942, and fought bloody battles with the Australians leaving thousands dead. No idea at all.
Japan will hopefully never repeat its violent aggressions against other nations. Nippon Kaigi is a reminder that we must not, however, assume that Japan will automatically refrain from doing so. At the very first sign of resurgent military imperialism, Japan must be emphatically stopped.
In the meantime, we must use the lessons learned, and apply them in the Middle East, where ISIS is the new Nazi invader.