Abe Further Fuels the Flames: historical ‘revisionism’ becoming dangerous

Just days after the new head of Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, cast doubts upon the uniqueness of Japanese use of sex slaves (‘comfort women’) during WWII, the media corporation has been embroiled in another scandal relating to comments about history.

Its governor, Naoki Hyakuta, picked for his post by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year, has denied that the 1937 Nanjing Massacre ever took place:

In 1938, Chiang Kai-shek tried to publicise Japan’s responsibility for the Nanking Massacre, but the nations of the world ignored him. Why? Because it never happened.

Mass graves resulting from the Nanjing Massacre
Mass graves resulting from the Nanjing Massacre

Hyakuta’s comments have not been condemned by the Japanese government, which is adopting an increasingly nationalistic and confrontational stance, particularly in its (non-existent) relations with China.

These latest comments follow on from Abe’s recent crass remarks comparing current Sino-Japanese relations with those of Germany and Britain prior to WWI, and his December visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.

I have often wrote on this blog how unfair it is that today’s Japanese people should be made to feel guilty for their country’s aggressive militarism during the first half of the 20th century. China’s government has often been unreasonable in demanding an endless stream of apologies from Japan for events which, whilst horrific, have long since passed.

However the increasingly incendiary nature of the Abe government is beginning to destabilise regional security, which is already fragile amidst territorial disputes, the North Korean nuclear threat and terrorism.

A government panel is expected to announce shortly a recommendation for Japan overturning its ban on collective defence, thus allowing the Japanese military to intervene in the conflicts of its allies. Such a suggestion is likely to concern China that Japanese militarism is set to return, although the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continues to up its own defence spending with relentless energy.

The PLA is determined to become the preeminent military power in the Pacific
The PLA is determined to become the preeminent military power in the Pacific

Prior to the Nanjing Massacre, American journalist Edgar Snow (an admitted Sinophile) commented on the development being made under Chiang-Kai Shek:

Under Chiang’s personal urgence several hundred miles of new railway lines have been laid down, many thousand miles of new roads built, airlines opened and successfully operated, the modern capital of Nanking constructed, hundreds of new public buildings erected, the currency stabilized, China’s credit established abroad, education improved, the use of opium gradually reduced, and beginnings made in the country’s industrial development.  (Source: E. Snow, ‘China’s Fighting Generalissimo’)

This was stripped away by the ‘Rape of Nanjing’ at the end of 1937, for which there is abundant historical evidence. Whilst China’s claim of 300,000 fatalities is difficult to prove, the likely casualty figures were undoubtedly excessive.

Such attempts to manipulate history anger the ordinary population, whether it be in Japan, China or Korea. It further destabilises cross-cultural relations, giving greater credence to the pervasive anti-‘other’ sentiment of the respective governments.

Under such circumstances, with the potential security flashpoints that exist in Northeast Asia, the potential for disaster increases. A degree of reason and reconciliation is required on both sides. At the moment, the Japanese government under Abe is scuppering such hopes.


Author: Stefan Lang

An interested observer of current affairs, researcher and writer

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