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Three Different Ways of Taking ResponsibilityKuni Miyake's Tenor of Tokyo #92

May 29, 2015  Kuni Miyake

Japan is often compared to Germany when it comes to the Second World War. Although post-war reconciliations require both remorse on the part of the perpetrators and pardon on the part of the sufferers, the ways for nations to take responsibility for wars may not be always identical.



As the least-learned member of the hand-picked commission to discuss the Prime Minister’s statement on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War (the 21st Century Commission), I receive from my readers many historical materials as well as letters with suggestions about the statement.

Before becoming a member of the Commission, I had thought that the way for a nation to assume responsibility for past wars is and should be basically the same anywhere in the world. After reading volumes of related materials and documents, however, I am coming to a slightly bit different conclusion.

Let me start with Europe by quoting the famous speech by West German President Richard von Weizsacker in the Bundestag on 8 May 1985 during the Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the End of War in Europe and of National-Socialist Tyranny. The following sentences particularly drew my attention:

- At the root of the tyranny was Hitler's immeasurable hatred against our Jewish compatriots.
- The perpetration of this crime was in the hands of a few people.
- There is no such thing as the guilt or innocence of an entire nation.
- Guilt is, like innocence, not collective, but personal.

The entire speech was based on the principle of individualism, not collectivism. What would happen if a Japanese prime minister said something like this in a speech? Asian neighbors would instantly join Japanese domestic opponents in denouncing such unforgivable remarks.

The German way of taking responsibility for the war seems to be that the sufferings was perpetrated by a small group comprised of Hitler and his gang but the German nation will remember it forever. This is probably the reason why the 1985 speech did not contain a word of apology by the Germans.

Now let me turn to Asia by quoting the famous sentences in Japan’s Murayama statement of 1995:

- During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.
- In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. Allow me also to express my feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of that history.
- Building from our deep remorse on this occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, Japan must eliminate self-righteous nationalism, promote international coordination as a responsible member of the international community and, thereby, advance the principles of peace and democracy. [Emphasis added]

The narratives and feelings expressed in the statement seem to be collective in every case. The ones who caused the war and therefore the ones to take responsibility are either “Japan” as a whole nation or “we” as the Japanese people in general.

What about in China? The Chinese Communists seem to have stopped using the logic that it was the Japanese imperial militarists who were responsible. Recently, Beijing has issued the criticism that it is “the Japanese side” that “fails to express remorse for the war and to assume basic responsibility of history.” This is, again, a more collective than individualistic approach to the issue of responsibility.

Finally, let’s examine the world of Islam. This is related to a personal trauma I experienced in 1979-81. I was studying Arabic in Cairo where unfortunately I was continuously cheated by some unscrupulous Egyptians. I was so furious that I always demanded an apology from them. Of course, as you expect, they never apologized.

Their logic was appalling, but illuminating of their world-view. They actually told me that, “Everything the humans do is determined by God Almighty and therefore I am not responsible for your loss or damage.” Since then, naturally, I decided not to apologize when in the Middle East.

I am neither saying that Japan should not have apologized nor claiming that the Egyptians should have. My point is that a solution to the issue of responsibility in the world of collectivism may not be totally identical to a solution in the world of individualism.

While we can learn a lot from the German experience, reconciliation seems to be more difficult in a world where European individualism or Islam’s absolute surrender to Allah may not apply. It is especially so when the sufferers are not yet ready to accept the remorse or apology of the perpetrators. It may take Japan a little longer, to my regret, to reconcile with two of its Asian neighbors.

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