Desktop version

Home arrow History arrow The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia

Final Reflections

In a way, this book is a response to a famous passage in the speech that Richard von Weizsacker delivered on the fortieth anniversary of the end of World War II: “Anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present. Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risks of infection.”62 When people inside and outside Japan criticize the Japanese government for failing to adequately commemorate Japan’s past wrongdoings, they often quote this passage in order to denounce the persistence of nationalism in Japan’s official commemoration and urge Japanese citizens to fully commemorate the suffering of foreign victims. This denunciation is at the core of the orthodox explanation of the history probl em that blames Japan alone, consistent with the Tokyo Judgment that held Japan as solely and entirely guilty. Yet critics rarely probe into three questions buried within Weizsacker’s speech: Which inhumanity should be remembered, how should it be remembered, and precisely how will remembrance of the past inhumanity prevent “future infection”?

Simply put, I have argued that the inhumanities on all sides in the Asia- Pacific War need to be commemorated. This commemoration of the inhumanities also needs to be mutually cosmopolitan, aided by a critical reassessment of the Tokyo Trial. Since the history problem is fundamentally relational, its solution also calls for a relational approach. Such mutual cosmopolitan commemoration has the potential to prevent “future infection” by bringing the governments and citizens of Japan, South Korea, and China together within the horizon of common humanity that transcends the logic of nationalism. As Shin Gi-Wook insisted, “It cannot and should not be expected that Northeast Asia will simply repeat or emulate Western Europe. The regions have distinctive histories, experiences, and memories and perhaps even different cultural modes of reconciliation. Accordingly, we must search for a Northeast Asian method or strategy.”63 Here, I put forward mutual cosmopolitan commemoration, supported by historians’ critical reflections, as a most promising and distinctly East Asian solution.

Of course, it is no easy task to further mutual cosmopolitan commemoration in East Asia. To say the least, the prospect of mutual cosmopolitan commemoration faces three formidable challenges today. The first is the growing tension over Dokdo/Takeshima and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. For many South Koreans and Chinese, these territorial disputes are intimately tied with their commemorations of Japan’s past wrongdoings. If nationalist sentiments in the two countries intensify over the disputed islands, they will feed into the history problem and diminish the possibility of mutual cosmopolitan commemoration in the region. Moreover, this intersection of the history problem and the territorial disputes can become diplomatically more troubling if Japan deploys the SDF for the purpose of collective defense and its military operations extend to the territories of South Korea and China.

The second challenge is how to increase cosmopolitanism in Japan’s official commemoration without galvanizing Japanese conservatives, who continue to dominate Japanese politics. Jennifer Lind recommended that “perpetrator countries wishing to reconcile with former adversaries should search for a middle ground that is contrite enough to placate former adversaries abroad, but not so much that it triggers backlash from nationalists at home.” 64 But this balancing act is easier said than done because a compromise of nationalism and cosmopolitanism is characterized by what social theorists Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thevenot called “the monstrosity of composite setups,” where “the coexistence of objects of different natures makes several groupings equally possible and creates uncertainty about the nature of the test under way.”65 That is, the compromise tends to trigger controversy because respective proponents of the competing logics could always contest the compromise by criticizing it for failing to conform adequately to one logic or another. Japan will need to institutionalize a greater degree of cosmopolitanism in its official commemoration, but that will risk prompting Japanese conservatives to boost their nationalist commemoration, which in turn will likely invite denunciations from South Korea and China.

The third challenge is the entry of new actors to the field of the history problem. Such entry will change interactional dynamics, coalitions, and power relations among the existing actors. The growing involvement of the United States has already introduced greater complexity into the dynamic and trajectory of the history problem. Nationalist commemoration practiced by Korean and Chinese Americans can galvanize Japanese nationalists, though more communication between Japan and the United States may help critically reassess the Tokyo Trial as a root cause of the history problem. More importantly, North Korea’s entry to the field—whether by itself or as part of unified Korea—will be a game changer because Japan has not made any settlement with North Korea with regard to its past colonial rule and wartime atrocities. Thus, it remains fundamentally open-ended whether and how relevant po 1 itical actors of East Asia’s history problem will be able to facilitate mutual cosmopolitan commemoration and eventually move toward reconciliation.

Having put forward my argument, I fully acknowledge that observers of the history problem, including myself, can never remain neutral. In fact, social scientists who offer empirical observations are part and parcel of the history problem because they provide policymakers, NGOs, and concerned citizens with languages and rationales for justifying their commemorative positions and framing their preferred solutions. In this regard, I present my own sociological analysis, too, on pragmatist grounds: the goal of this book is not to impose on the public a certain version of the history problem in the name of social science, but to empower the public, as social theorist Bruno Latour insisted by following John Dewey—namely, to help “modify the representation the public has of itself fast enough so that we can be sure that the greatest number of objections have been made to this repre- sentation.”66 Such a timely and candid dialogue between social scientists and citizens is the key to collectively improving our “objective” understanding of the situation.

Put another way, my main goal has been to illustrate the incipient development of mutual cosmopolitan commemoration, facilitated by the transnational network of historians engaging in mutual criticism of nationalist commemorations. My purpose in doing so is to help the participants in the history problem become more reflexive and critical of their own activities and, if they wish, put into use my sociological analysis. Alternatively, they can object to my analysis and renew the search for a better understanding and solution of the history problem. Either way, I share a goal with generations of concerned citizens in East Asia and around the world who have grappled with the history problem—to let war dead finally rest in peace and create a more peaceful world, where people will answer, gently, “Ah, Hiroshima.”

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics