Sunday, October 08, 2006

Yasukuni and the Glorious Dead

I was once at a dinner party in Tokyo when the host, a couple of sakis over the line, suddenly exploded in anger. He shouted his belief that the Japanese were righteous defenders of Asia against American imperialism in 1942. Their own invasion of the mainland was all part of a grand plan to save Asian nationalities and identities. At the Ministry of Education, I was shown an English translation of a history text book. In the paragraph on the Nanking Massacre , it went to far as to say, 'some said' it had taken place. They were trying to prove they no longer denied this terrible event. The last Prime Minister, Koizumi, got in trouble with foreigners for visiting the Yasukuni Shrine where the spirits - kami - of the nation's war dead are said to reside. In foreign eyes, at least fourteen of these are the kami of first grade war criminals. It is yet to be seen whether Shinzo Abe will visit the site. Now there is controversy over a display at the shrine that seems to say Japan was provoked into war by the US.
I don't claim to understand any of this but I have read - and I recommend you to read - the extensive English version of the Yasukuni site, linked above. It raises one crucial point. Why shouldn't the Japanese celebrate their war dead? Even if the regime at the time was wicked - as, indeed, it was - these soldiers died for their country. War criminals may be a slightly different matter, though not necessarily in the eyes of the Yasukuni authorities, but may not the kami of the war dead be saved irrespective of the particular cause because the general cause was and is Japan? At the Nuremberg Trials, we chose, rightly I think, a different path. That, deep in their hearts, the Japanese will not join us on that path is just another example of the refusal of Western universalism that is increasingly defining the new world order.

1 comment:

  1. Remarkably, there are Americans who like to boast that FDR did deliberately provoke Japan into war - they seem to prefer that to allowing that the USA "entered" WWII only because (1) Japan attacked her, and (2) Hitler declared war on her. Odd, eh?