There is an interesting piece over at Webdiary by Orville Schell on efforts by Tsuneo Watanabe, the Editor-in-Chief of Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, to more fully and honestly detail and acknowledge the reality of Japanese responsibility for aggression and atrocities in World War II and towards China in the Sino-Japanese war.
“Watanabe, who is now in his eighties and served in the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII, was bothered by the way unfinished business concerning the war continued to hinder Japan’s progress. As a remedy, he set up a War Responsibility Re-Examination Committee at his newspaper to undertake a 14-month investigation into the causes of Japan’s Pacific War.”
As the article states, “it has never been easy for a nation to face up honestly to the bitter fact of having committed war crimes, genocide, unjustified foreign aggression, or having mistreated and killed its own people. Japan is no exception.” It is therefore no surprise that Watanabe’s efforts are assessed as falling short of being totally complete. However, it strikes me as a very important effort none the less.
This recent report on the Los Angeles Times website also describes Watanabe’s project. This link goes to a paper done by one of the newspaper’s editorial writers for a workshop held in Canberra in August last year.
These efforts in Japan may be driven in significant part by modern regional political pressures, but that in itself shows how openly accepting the committing of past wrongs can play a major role in improving the future.
While Germany may not have had much alternative, it has still done well in accepting the enormity of its past crimes as a nation. It seems to me that this preparedness to acknowledge the truth of even the most heinous of past actions has been pivotal to that nation’s ability to move forward strongly. To use acontrary example, I think Turkey’s extreme sensitivity towards any mention of its role in past crimes such as the Armenian genocide is a key part of what is halting their movement towards modernity (although the proposed French law making it illegal to deny the genocide seems to go the other extreme).
This is why it frustrates me so much when leaders, academics and other elites in Australia insist on downplaying the undeniable facts about the history of colonial Australia’s treatment of the Indigenous people. Some see the highlighting of this negative part of our history as somehow being unpatriotic or ‘talking Australia down,’ whereas I see our failure to be aware of and acknowledge this reality as holding Australia back. I also don’t see how people can see this sort of debate as having any relevance to political positioning or point-scoring today – all sides of politics and society across the centuries are culpable for allowing and in many cases initiating past atrocities and major mistreatment.
As is noted above, I know these things are never easy for a nation to face up to. But our nation’s crimes towards Indigenous people are not as comprehensive in their thoroughness as those committed by Japan in the past, so it should be easier for us to do this, and our whole nation has a lot to gain by doing so (and quite a bit to lose by not doing so).