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Time Japan learned from history

Updated: 2014-06-24 07:12
( China Daily)

Comment on "Abe adheres to abnormality" (China Daily, June 17)

The editorial hits the nail on the head by saying that "if the leaders of the country cannot squarely face up to the country's history, Japan's image as a nation in the international community will only become increasingly abnormal", notwithstanding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's vow to transform Japan into a "normal country". Not only the Chinese people, but also people in other Asian countries neighboring Japan such as South Korea are frustrated and angered by the Abe government's continuous attempt to distort history.

A nation shows its character in the manner it handles the wrongs it has committed. Post-war Germany went through a painful ritual of admission, penance and reparation for the Holocaust that the Nazi regime had committed. Post-war German leaders and citizens of conscience accepted Germany's collective guilt before and during World War II.

Although an overwhelming majority of French citizens resisted the Nazi occupation and fought against the Vichy regime that collaborated with fascist powers, post-war France had to face moral issues about its colonial past. As a result, French citizens of conscience launched thorough post-colonial studies aimed at illuminating, comprehending and morally accounting for France's history of colonization despite the reluctance of the French officialdom to lead a collective reflection and contrition.

Other former colonial powers of Europe may not be astir with guilt management but few of them deny the facts of colonization or try to justify them with sophistical argument.

The denial and distortion of the facts of Japan's war-time atrocities by the Abe administration appear to be gaining in fervor against the international trend toward veracity, judgment and reconciliation. Abe's simplistic nationalism, if unchecked, will not make Japan a "normal country". Instead, it may lead to pointless tragedy for all of East Asia, not unlike what Hideki Tojo's imprudent imperialism did during World War II.

What is particularly distressing is the silence of Japanese citizens of conscience against the jingoistic rhetoric and foreign policy stance of Abe's government against China. Japanese citizens of conscience are committing a great mistake by remaining silent because of their false sense of patriotism or disdain for their political leaders who seek to influence the Japanese public by appealing to the remnants of imperialist sentiments in the country.

One hopes sensible and courageous Japanese intellectuals would join their Chinese (and other Asian) counterparts in a sustained civilian discourse to unveil the truth of recent East Asian history, open a moral perspective on the facts and explore a way in which Japanese people can atone for the war crimes their forefathers committed, and reach out to their neighbors who suffered from Japanese aggression. Their shared understanding and vision and the camaraderie they might develop would have salutary political impact.

With the wealth of a shared cultural heritage and strong economy, East Asia has the potential of making a historic contribution to the world. An important part of its contribution will be a moral example, of how nations right their wrongs in a humane and wise way, balance conflicting national interests, and build a framework for peace and common prosperity.

YEOMIN YOON, via e-mail

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(China Daily 06/24/2014 page9)