Japan’s Shinzo Abe: History Denier or Visionary Leader?


shinzo abe flag.jpg
Last year, I wrote an article in the Washington Post, “The Rise of Japan’s Thought Police,” suggesting that Japan’s right-wing was harassing important intellectuals, political leaders, business leaders, and other important voices that were engaged in a fair debate about Japan’s relations with China and about the future character of Japan’s imperial institution.
The fact that my piece ran in one of the more important national papers of opinion in the United States meant that the article was going to be read — both here and abroad.
Right wing bloggers and supporters of Yoshihisa Komori, sort of the Rush Limbaugh of Japanese journalism, gave me quite a drubbing when they could. I had written in part about harassment of a Japanese public/private research institution in Japan and how Komori had successfully wrestled an “apology” out of the Institute’s director for material that the Institute ran on the web and that was counter to Japan’s official stance vis-a-vis China.
This story is more complex and not important to hash out in excruciating detail — though Komori devoted huge columns in his paper, the Sankei Shimbun, to attacking me in highly strident ways. Everyone involved in the US-Japan game has known that Komori is extremely close to Japan’s current prime minister Shinzo Abe, himself an ideologue for historical denial and revived right-wing nationalism in Japan.
Komori and Abe are separate people and one’s views shouldn’t be automatically ascribed to the other. But in part because of the wrestling match I was having with Komori at the Washington Post, the Washington-based right-of-conservative journalist saw his visibility rise and was given the opportunity by the New York Times to “interpret” the then new Japanese Prime Minister Abe for the American public in this article.
But something else has happened in the American press — and that is that a media that had stayed far away from the kind of discussion I had raised — about informal harrassment of legitimate and moderate voices in Japan by “thought control” agents — had broken wide open. This used to be a taboo subject.
Very few newspapers would venture into the subject of Japan’s war memory problems — and it was very clear that America was complicit in Japan’s historical amnesia.
That no longer seems to be the case. Every other day, Yoshihisa Komori’s friend, Shinzo Abe, is being pilloried in the American and European press — and even the Japanese press — for his efforts to roll back Japanese acceptance of responsibility for “the abduction, rape and sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of women during World War II.”
Prime Minister Abe’s denial of Japanese responsibility for its “comfort women” ranks pretty closely with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust. Abe’s behavior is simply outrageous.
But all of America’s newspapers are calling Abe out on this — as the Washington Post did today in an excellent editorial, “Shinzo Abe’s Double Talk.”
And let me hasten to add that the Prime Minister we are reading about on a daily basis now in our press bears much more of a likeness to the trends I described in my own Washington Post article and little to the version promulgated by Yoshihisa Komori in the New York Times.
— Steve Clemons
For more information:
See materials on the Comfort Women issue at the Japan Information Access Project.


16 comments on “Japan’s Shinzo Abe: History Denier or Visionary Leader?

  1. parrot says:

    The revisionists militarists continue their relentless march to the brink…


  2. Chris Marlowe says:

    Francis Fukuyama has just published an article called “The Trouble with Japanese Nationalism”.
    He goes into some detail about how the Japanese right-wing has a faux interpretation of the Japanese invasions of China and South-East Asia as wars against western colonialism, and that the western powers were basically anti-Asian racists. So, according to their version of history, the Japanese were protecting their Asian brothers and sisters.
    The question is: “If they were so intent on protecting their Chinese, Korean, Filipino, etc. brothers and sisters, why did they kill so many of them?”
    Now, as the US tries to get Japan into a circle surrounding China, the sheer stupidity of the Japanese nationalist stand is an embarassment, both for the US and Shinzo Abe. Maybe the Japanese nationalists are Abe’s AIPAC?


  3. TokyoTom says:

    Steve, the link to the Post editorial leads to Komori’s blog. Here’s the Post editorial: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/23/AR2007032301640.html.
    Perhaps the Post might also feel greater liberty to attack Abe given the fact that he has been so undercut by the Bush administration’s desire for a quick diplomatic victory somewhere that they essentially have left Japan high and dry on the abtuctee issue.


  4. Chris Marlowe says:

    More about Cheney’s plan to form anti-China alliance with Japan and Australia.
    Basically too little too late. Most of the rest of the world has figured out that its best interests lie in a weaker US (something which Bush/Cheney have helped to bring about through their unilateralism, militarism and arrogance) and a stronger China. It offers the rest of the world a better range of options by diversifying their interests away from over-reliance on the US.


  5. wag says:

    Hm…sure, Abe is wrong. But lets compare the overall Japanese denial situation to the American one. When will we hear denunciations of America’s attacks on IndoChina in the 50s-70s that led to somewhere between 2 and 4 million deaths in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos by leading US politicians? Or, say, apologies for America’s actions in Latin America in the 70s-80s?
    Its always easy to criticize others’ crimes. criticizing your own crimes is more difficult.


  6. Chris Marlowe says:

    Can you imagine the Germans saying that the Holocaust was something which should only be addressed by historians?
    Would you consider that a healthy view?


  7. soudenjapan says:

    As a historical debate, there is nothing wrong about attempting to be as accurate as one can be with regard to the conducts of the Imperial Army–what it really did in the past and what it did not. If there are exaggerations, especially politically motivated ones, often found in Chinese and Korean claims, those should be removed for accuracy’s sake.
    As far as I know, Mr. Abe has always been insisting, and still is, that historical issues be handled by historians, not by politicians. That’s a healthy view.


  8. Steve Clemons says:

    the links seem to work fine for me, but hte Komori piece that appeared in the New York Times is here:
    Steve Clemons


  9. Chris Marlowe says:

    You may want to take a closer look at how the pro-Taiwan independence administration of Chen Shuibian in Taiwan is allying itself with the Japanese right-wing to form an anti-China alliance with the AEI and the right-wing think tanks in DC .
    There is a strong feeling that Taiwan may declare for formal independence from China, and wants to maneuver the US, under President Bush, to intervene militarily on the Taiwan independence side. They see 2008 as their deadline; any Bush successor would be much more reluctant to wield US military might after the Iraq/Afghanistan defeat.
    For more on how the Taiwan government influences US policy in Washington, you should check out:


  10. ... says:

    i too share Jays interest in reading the missing washington post article on “Shinzo Abe’s Double Talk.”


  11. Rob Cottingham says:

    That link would be here, by the way.


  12. Jay C says:

    Steve: your link to the WaPo editorial took me, instead, to iza.ne.jp : and Yoshihisa Komori’s rip at you (in a LTE to the Post) from last September over your “Thought Police” piece. Can you fix?


  13. Marky says:

    Nice post, Steve.
    How does this story of right wingers trying to stifle free speech factor in to the possibility of Japan making nuclear weapons in response to North Korea’s doing the same.


  14. Marcia says:

    Off subject: Bolton is again blathering about toppling Iran. They are truely behaving like high schoolers organizing a hay ride or a night out with the boys and they keep getting called back to talk, keep getting interviewed. It is insane.


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