Japanese history lessons

It's OK to downplay the Nanjing massacre or coercion of "comfort women." But mess with Hiroshima and you're gone


Andrew Leonard
July 3, 2007 8:15PM (UTC)

Japan's defense minister, Fumio Kyuma, resigned on Tuesday, after causing an outcry with his comment that the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima "could not be helped."

How the World Works in no way condones the use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations, but there's a problem here.

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In March, Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe declared that there was no proof that the Japanese military had forced "comfort women" into prostitution. A letter signed by 44 Japanese members of parliament and published in the Washington Post made a similar declaration. They are all still in office.

Earlier in June, 100 more lawmakers, all members of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, declared that there was "no massacre in Nanjing" in 1937. Instead of 200,000 deaths caused by rampaging Japanese soldiers, as generally held by historians, there were at most 20,000. No one was forced to resign.

Let's not even bother with the textbook revisions whitewashing Japanese atrocities in World War II or repeated visits by leading Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni war shrine. The moral of this story is clear. A Japanese politician can only go wrong if he or she despoils Japan's sense of victimhood. Any other reinterpretation of history gets a free pass.

Again, this should not be taken as a justification for the use of nuclear weapons, but I'm inclined to give Kyuma the benefit of the doubt. This is not Kyuma's first so-called "gaffe." In January, he irritated Washington by declaring that George W. Bush made the "wrong" decision when he chose to invade Iraq.

Undiplomatic? Sure. But history, no doubt, will back Kyuma up, on that that assertion.


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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