Home History The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia
Toward a Field Theory of the History Problem
Politics has been a central concern in the sociology of collective memory since Barry Schwartz, Robin Wagner-Pacifici, and Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, among others, pioneered research on “difficult pasts.”29 These sociologists focused on “morally ambiguous” events that divided members of society, ranging from the Vietnam War to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and examined how different groups mobilized to legitimate their versions of the past. Although much of the research on difficult pasts took the nation as the unit of analysis, a growing number of sociologists, historians, and cultural theorists have recently adopted transnational perspectives. They have argued that commemorations of difficult pasts, most notably the Holocaust, now travel across national borders through multiple media of communication and influence each other in various directions.30 In this regard, East Asia’s history problem exemplifies the politics of commemoration at the transnational scale, where disjunctive commemorations of the Asia-Pacific War— the difficult past—in Japan, South Korea, and China interact with one another, competing for legitimacy.31
To analytically disentangle the politics of East Asia’s history problem, I propose to use field theory. Originally developed by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, field theory was imported into collective memory studies by American sociologist Jeffrey Olick, who sought to emphasize the heterogeneous and dynamic nature of collective memory.32 According to Olick, constructing collective memory occurs in multiple fields—artistic, social, political, and so on—each with its own distinct rules of engagement. Actors compete to legitimate their own commemorative positions by deploying different strategies and mobilizing different amounts of resources at their disposal. While different fields produce different collective memories, they are also interdependent: dynamics and trajectories of fields are shaped both internally and externally. Moreover, relations among fields are structured hierarchically: the pol itical field tends to dominate other fields because its struggles revolve around the government, which has the power to define an official commemoration as a parameter for struggles in other fields. To put it in Bourdieu’s own words, the government is able to “exercise power over the different fields” because it “establishes and inculcates . . . social frameworks of perceptions, of understanding or of memory” among citizens.33 The political field is therefore “a sort of metafield” in relation to other fields of collective memory.34
By building on field theory, I conceptualize East Asia’s history problem as a political field wherein relevant actors compete over the legitimate commemoration of the Asia-Pacific War. Here, I limit “relevant actors” to those who consciously try to influence Japan’s official commemoration, that is, those who participate in politics in the conventional sense that their actions are explicitly oriented toward the government. The Japanese government is the most important actor in this field because it has the power to define Japan’s official commemoration, the focal point of political struggles. In international contexts, the commemorative position of the Japanese government has been the target of criticism from the governments and citizens in South Korea and China. In domestic contexts, too, various NGOs and political parties have pressed the Japanese government to accommodate and sanction their commemorative positions. Although artists, writers, and ordinary citizens commemorate the Asia-Pacific War in fields other than politics, they remain outside the scope of this book, unless they participate in political struggles over the history problem.
In addition, commemorative positions of the Japanese government and other relevant actors can be identified in terms of the spectrum ranging between nationalism and cosmopolitanism—the two logics of commemoration available in the institutional environment. While some actors might subscribe exclusively to either nationalism or cosmopolitanism, most actors are likely to combine the two logics differently to articulate their commem?orative positions. At the concrete level, some of these commemorative positions can be labeled as “evasion,” “denial,” “pacifist,” and so forth, as Japanese sociologists Hashimoto Akiko and Tsutsui Kiyoteru have done;35 however, these labels or “frames” pertain to commemorative practices specific to either situations or issues, and they are ultimately derived from combinations of nationalism and cosmopolitanism as culturally deeper logics of commemoration.36
I also propose to combine field theory with social movement studies to analyze how relevant political actors influenced Japan’s official commemoration. According to sociologists Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam, this combination extends Bourdieu’s field theory, which mostly takes the individual as a unit of analysis, by incorporating the mechanisms of mobilization of collective actions.37 In fact, although not using field theory, several sociologists have recently attempted to introduce social movement studies into collective memory studies.38 Following their lead, I borrow two major analytical concepts from social movement studies—mobilizing structures and political opportunities—to strengthen my field analysis of East Asia’s history problem.
Mobilizing structures refers to organizations and their networks that provide human and financial resources for actors to mobilize collective actions and promote their commemorative positions.39 In the case of the history problem, mobilizing structures consist of political parties and NGOs. These are organizational vehicles that enable relevant political actors to advance their commemorative positions. If a pol itical party promoting cosmopolitan commemoration is weak, for example, Japan’s official commemoration is unlikely to incorporate the logic of cosmopolitanism. Mobilizing structures are not static, because some organizations exit the field and others enter, and networks of these organizations change over time.
Moreover, when and how nationalism or cosmopolitanism is incorporated into Japan’s official commemoration depends on political opportunities available for proponents of respective logics of commemoration.40 Political opportunities have two components: access to the government and the relative significance of the history problem in policy debates. If a ruling party that supports nationalist commemoration is ousted from power by an opposition party whose commemorative position is more cosmopolitan, this means a lost political opportunity for proponents of nationalist commemoration and, conversely, a newly gained political opportunity for proponents of cosmopolitan commemoration. In addition, when there are policy issues more urgent than the history problem, such as an economic crisis or a large- scale disaster, pol itical opportunities for changing Japan’s official commemoration decrease for both incumbents and challengers.
In this book, then, I use field theory to examine how relevant political actors, equipped with various mobilizing structures, have promoted their commemorative positions and made use of political opportunities to influence Japan’s official commemoration. I argue that such a field analysis allows me to combine the strengths of two different approaches in existing research on East Asia’s history problem. On the one hand, international- relations scholars such as Thomas Berger, Yinan He, and Jennifer Lind have made an important contribution by reconceptualizing the history problem as a relationally constituted phenomenon at the international level.41 Such an international perspective is particularly useful in the contemporary world, wherein more and more commemorations of the past traverse national borders through transnational media networks. This focus on international relations also mitigates the tendency among sociol ogical studies of collective memory that take the nation as a unit of analysis. On the other hand, historians have paid careful attention to public commemorations in civil society. Carol Gluck, Tessa Morris-Suzuki, and Franziska Seraphim, for example, argued that the evolution of the history problem cannot be fully explained without reference to multiple, competing commemorations in Japanese civil society and growing transnational NGO networks seeking to address Japan’s past wrongdoings.42 Indeed, pol itical struggles over historical injustices around the world have begun to involve nongovernmental actors because NGOs and individual citizens are increasingly defined as legitimate stakeholders in international relations.43 Field theory can combine these two approaches by taking into account interactions between governmental and nongovernmental actors in shaping Japan’s official commemoration.
To examine the content of Japan’s official commemoration, I break it down into three dimensions.44 The first dimension consists of speech and action by Japan’s prime ministers, as well as by other relevant ministers, as representatives of the Japanese government. Speech includes official statements on imporiant anniversaries and remarks made by government officials during Diet sessions and news conferences, and action includes visiting memorials and attending ceremonies. The second dimension is compensation policy. Laws that define which groups of people are eligible for compensation express the government’s commemorative position: the function of compensation is fundamentally symbolic of whose suffering deserves to be recognized. The third dimension is education, by which the Japanese government legitimates a certain version of the past and disseminates it among Japanese citizens. Even though the Japanese government does not produce its own history textbook, it regulates history education and textbooks through the legally binding Course of Study (gakushUshido yoryo) and textbook inspection. While these three dimensions are not exhaustive, they nonetheless constitute the core of Japan’s official commemoration.
To understand how the three dimensions of Japan’s official commemoration evolved, I focus on the mediating role of political parties, because the Japanese government is ultimately controlled by politicians that Japanese citizens elect. While NGOs in Japan could press the government by submitting petitions and signatures, for example, their actions have little direct influence on Japan’s official commemoration, because their demands have to be translated by the ruling party engaged in political struggles with opposition parties. Take, for example, the Japan Bereaved Families Association (Nihon Izokukai) and the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo). These two NGOs tried to influence Japan’s official commemoration throughout the postwar period, but their original demands always had to be processed by their respective political representatives, the LDP and the JSP, which had organizational dynamics and pol itical calculations of their own. Similarly, the governments and citizens of South Korea and China pressed the Japanese government through meetings, statements, and protests, but the effects of these actions were always refracted through the political dynamics inside Japan. Struggles among pol itical parties in Japan thus decisively shape the evolution of Japan’s official commemoration.
For the analysis of the mediating role of political parties, I have examined mainly the proceedings of the Japanese National Diet sessions (kokkai kaigiroku) between 1945 and 2015. Diet proceedings document not only speech and action by prime ministers and other cabinet members expressing Japan’s official commemoration but also debates between ruling and opposition parties trying to represent competing commemorative positions by referring to petitions and requests relayed from their constituencies. Diet proceedings are therefore crucial texts that contain “traces of interactions,” so to speak, through which relevant political actors in the history problem have tried to influence Japan’s official commemoration.
Moreover, to clarify interactions among relevant political actors, I complemented Diet proceedings with four more sources. First, news articles published by Asahi shinbun and other major newspapers document commemorative positions and actions of relevant political actors, both inside and outside Japan. Second, pamphlets, books, reports, and statements published by government ministries, political parties, and NGOs in Japan elaborate on their commemorative positions. Third, Japanese translations of primary historical documents produced by governments, NGOs, and citizens in South Korea and China shed light on their commemorative positions. Finally, scholarly literature on East Asia’s history problem available in English and Japanese provides summaries of the public debates on the Asia-Pacific War, as well as scholarly interventions, at different points in time.
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