The 52-year-old new Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, has been hailed in the domestic and foreign media as its first political leader born after World War II an encouraging sign, it is claimed, of a fresh and modern approach to the world. But the ancient baggage he also brings suggests not a new outlook, but a depressingly old one.
Abe is a political blue blood born to top office, the grandson of former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, grand-nephew of another PM, and son of a former Foreign Minister who died before his expected accession to the leadership. Of these distinguished forebears, he has said, Kishi is the one he still most reveres and that’s the trouble.
In his justification of an unabashedly more hawkish approach to world affairs what Abe and his supporters call a ‘normal’ Japan he marshals arguments to justify his nation’s final abandonment of the US-imposed postwar Constitution in which Japan renounces war ‘forever.’ Sixty years of abiding by this is enough, he says. Times have moved on and Japan with them.
The trouble is that Abe’s brand of reactionary patriotism; his unwillingness to bow to righteous foreign resentment particularly in China and the two Koreas of Japan’s imperial past; his suppression or indifference to awkward facts of history; and his eager embrace of US-style militarism are disturbing indicators of old times. Not new ones.
He may be the new leader of the world’s second economy, a modern super-tech Japan that seems to have shaken off its ‘lost’ decade in the doldrums, but old ghosts continue to obscure the shinier aspects of the Land of the Rising Sun. Even as Abe began a week-long process of instalment, one ghost appeared almost on his doorstep.
An AP reporter in Tokyo sent round the world a chilling account of a nurse aged 84 who told how she had helped bury about 100 bodies some with holes drilled in their bones in a hasty interment before American occupation soldiers arrived in 1945. These remains, under a Tokyo apartment block, almost certainly came from Unit 731, the notorious human vivisection laboratory maintained by Japan’s Imperial Army from 1932-45, in which foreign prisoners underwent experimental surgery without anaesthetic.
Abe cannot be blamed for that, but his record shows a steadfast refusal of any national atonement for such crimes. Indeed, he has suppressed discussion of unresolved issues like the ‘comfort women’ nearly 100,000 Asian females forced into Imperial Army brothels. He ignores the still uncompensated slave labour in Japan of nearly one million Asians and thousands of Allied prisoners of war (including Australians). And he supports new school text books that describe the Pacific War as defensive, while he calls for a new ‘patriotism.’
These views seem to have been adopted, indeed embraced, as an inheritance from grandfather Kishi, an imprisoned but un-indicted Class A war criminal who after the Americans released him in 1948 became Prime Minister from 1957-60. As former Munitions Minister in the wartime fascist government, Kishi was an ardent militarist who never renounced his old political enthusiasms.
Abe seems unable to lose at least a partial attachment to these, although he wraps them in ambiguity. He recently admitted that Japan inflicted ‘great misery and suffering’ during its fascist period, but added: ‘With regards to the evaluation of the war, I think that should be left to historians.’ A Japanese prime minister undecided about the final assessment of the Pacific War?
And what to make of this assertion, which comes closer to pre-war sentiment than modern thinking? In a book he published in July called Towards a Beautiful Country, Abe wrote: ‘Yes, your own life is precious. But I wonder if postwar Japanese have ever imagined there are values to be protected even by sacrificing their lives to defend the homeland.’ A resounding ‘No’ would be the answer of most young Japanese.
Reverend Sun Myung Moon and of former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi
Another bizarre baggage item, not mentioned in the foreign press and only fleetingly in Japan’s, is Abe links with the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, 86, the jailed tax dodger and Korean ‘messiah’ whose Unification Church, he believes, is destined to take over the world. As well as his religious zealotry, Moon is an ultra-Rightist and financier of its causes, as well as publisher of the US capital’s Washington Times and owner of international businesses worth millions.
In May this year when Abe was still Chief Cabinet Secretary of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), he sent a signed congratulatory telegram to Moon, then holding a conference in Japan. Abe’s office confirmed the telegram but has not divulged further details. This was not the only connection, however.
His book bears an odd titular resemblance to another called Beautiful Country, by Osami Kuboki, a Japanese Chairman of the Unification Church and good friend of the late Ryoichi Sasakawa (1899-1995), the boat-race gambling billionaire, self-described ‘world’s richest fascist,’ and lifetime Unification Church supporter. Sasakawa was a Class A War Criminal and cellmate of Kishi, also a lifelong Moonie who appealed to President Ronald Reagan against Moon’s 1982 tax imprisonment. Japanese mafia (yakuza) boss, the late Yoshio Kodama, was another of Kishi’s pals, and all three looted Japanese-occupied wartime Manchuria. Sasagawa and Kodama also financed the founding of the LDP largely by Kishi.
Even if these links seem old, why has Abe not clarified his relationship with Moon’s dubious organisation? He seems to depend on Japan’s impoverished reporting of unseemly links of senior government politicians and old fascist connections.
That is probably why the only Cabinet member Abe has kept on is the nationalist and racist Foreign Minister Taro Aso, whose father exploited thousands of enslaved miners, including 200 Australian POWs, at the family coal pit during the war. [link: http://www.newmatilda.com/home/articledetail.asp?ArticleID=1592] Aso, whom the New York Times has criticised editorially for his ‘inflammatory statements’ on racial matters, covered up the illegal enslavement while running the firm in the 1970s. Yet the Japanese media have yet to mention this connection.
Meanwhile Abe acts on his hawkish sentiments against Japan’s ‘masochistic teaching of history.’ In his Government re-structuring he is making room for a US-style National Security Agency, which in Washington has continually stirred belligerence against more cautious voices. Abe promises to strengthen the Self-Defence forces Japan’s euphemistically named military and advocates more interventions abroad under a reinforced ‘defence’ ministry.
Abe came to political prominence only recently, with a combative campaign against North Korea over its unresolved and disgraceful kidnapping of a score or more Japanese citizens who were forced to teach the language to Pyongyang spies. However, his militancy has, say various critics, actually been counter-productive infuriating North Korea, which still smarts from the abduction of thousands of its own citizens to Japan under Kishi’s wartime ministry.
It is not suggested that Abe is taking Japan back to the 1930s and creeping neo-fascism, but he is clearly moving towards a crossroad in which, in the name of ‘normality,’ the old pacifist Japan will finally disappear. Its replacement will be a new Nippon. How much it will resemble the old may depend more on critics abroad t
han the wishes of the new Government.
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