“Prime Minister Abe now says he is genuinely sorry for Japan’s terrible abuse of South Korea’s “comfort women” before and during World War II.” This is a surprising, but great turn of events! Abe surely didn’t do it for the right reasons, but at least he did it!
In an interview Naruhito, the crown prince of Japan, said: “Today when memories of war are set to fade, I reckon it is important to look back our past with modesty and pass down correctly the miserable experience and the historic path Japan took from the generation who know the war to the generation who don’t.” You go Naruhito! Whether he intended it or not, it was a rebuke against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s nationalist history that denies Japanese war crimes during WWII, particularly the use of comfort women.
History is the tool of nationalists everywhere. They believe that greatness is perfection. Therefore, they must whitewash the past. The result is the creation of a mythic past that must be protected at all costs. As a result, they lash out at anyone who would taint their beautiful picture. Those who dare to do so are seen as enemies of the nation and deserve only contempt and hatred. Unfortunately, nationalism has been on the rise recently. Pride in one’s nation is only natural but when it turns to arrogance it becomes a divisive force that can turn violent if it is not checked.
The Japanese (as well as others) have never really confronted their past but they had been heading in a more honest direction until the recent rise in nationalism. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has recently requested that the Education Ministry approve only patriotic textbooks (i.e. books that deny the crimes committed by the Japanese during WWII). (see The New York Times) The fact that “several members of Abe’s cabinet are gearing up for a demand that the [Kono] statement [that admits responsibility for the comfort women used by the Japanese soldiers during WWII] be withdrawn next year, the 70thanniversary of the end of World War II” (see article) is only the latest indication of a troubling trend. Unfortunately, this trend is not limited to Japan.
I believe that nationalists have it backwards. Whitewashing the past is not the path to greatness; confronting the past is. The real heroes in this story are those like Matsumoto Masayoshi (see video at link below) who are willing to speak out in order to bear witness to the atrocities that they witnessed. Japan can only be respected if it is willing to admit their mistakes. The nationalists are wrong to believe that erasing the past will restore honor to Japan.