The new Japanese Defence Minister has garnered headlines in the last few days because of her history making controversial statements about the history of Japan. Tomomi Inada was appointed by Shinzo Abe just over two weeks ago and is being tipped to replace Abe as Prime Minister in the near future. This should be worrying not only for anyone who values Japan’s post-war constitution, but for anyone who values a true recollection of history.
I have made two implied claims in the above paragraph: Inada wants to amend the Japanese constitution; and Inada wants to rewrite history. The first is less controversial by any stretch of the imagination so let’s begin with that. Inada, like Abe, has stated that she amend the Japanese constitution to allow for a more interventionist foreign policy. She also wishes to remove all American military bases from Japan, which is a position that a lot of people, including myself, agree with. This is a policy disagreement that I have with Inada and a reasoned debate could well occur to put more flesh on the bones of this issue.
However the second charge I make is more harsh, and this is not conjecture or hyperbole: Inada denies historical facts. She does so, I believe, because she is a right-wing nationalist this form of nationalism is less to do with fact and more to do with emotion. For instance, if you were a nationalist who was seeking secession from another nation-state you could make appeals to cultural, historic, and/or linguistic differences as well as emotive stuff about the nature of the prospective nation. Nationalism that is ideologically left-wing or centrist requires foundations of logic and emotion.
Right-wing nationalism does not. Inada’s brand of nationalism argues that Japan should become more militaristic in order to revive the glories of the past. This directly appeals to emotion, but it also implies restoring Japan as an expansionist empire. Irrespective of your political views, most people in the modern world agree that colonialism and imperialism are not good forms of government, however right-wing Japanese nationalists don’t agree. Inada has made a large number of statements praising and honoring those who died in World War II, but she, like Abe, has included people among these sentiments who were convicted of war crimes. Although she didn’t visit the Yasukuni Shrine on Monday (because she was inspecting Japanese troops in the Horn of Africa) she rejects the idea of Japan having committed war crimes.
Now one could argue that ‘war crime’ is just a label and she could be rejecting that label of what the international community did, and that doesn’t constitute denying history. I disagree with that based on the context of what she has said in the past, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that this alone doesn’t amount to denying history. Inada has publicly supported a historical revisionism that stated there was “no historical document has ever been found by historians or research organizations that positively demonstrates that women were forced against their will into prostitution by the Japanese army”. Again let’s say that this false statement is technically correct, the subtext is that the Japanese army didn’t forcibly take women as sex-slaves or ‘comfort women’. That doesn’t really matter as there have been tens of thousands of women who have come forward and said that it happened- estimates vary from 50,000 to 200,000 comfort women.
Just because an action wasn’t explicitly ordered doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Here’s a comparison. If I was Prime Minister and someone in my Cabinet killed someone, people wouldn’t say that the murder didn’t take place because I didn’t tell them to do it. They’d say: “holy shit that guy just killed someone”. Inada is denying the testimony of literally tens of thousands of women because it doesn’t fit with her ideology. Right-wing nationalism has an irrational deference towards the military and authority as a key aspect of the ideology, and this is an example.
But now let’s get even more ridiculously generous and say that everything I’ve said has been wrong, which it isn’t, and that I am deliberately misconstruing what Inada has said for a political purpose. Let’s disregard everything that I’ve said so far. Inada was asked in a news conference after her appointment whether she believed that Japan had invaded China during World War II. Her answer is breathtaking stupid. She said “[it] depends on one’s point of view”. The thing is though, no it doesn’t.
In World War II Japan did invade China. Japan invaded Machuria in 1931, which was part of China at the time. The Japanese soldiers met resistance from… the army of China. Japan won this incursion and this resulted in the Tanggu Truce, which was a ceasefire between Japan and, you guessed it, China. If Japan didn’t invade China, why did they feel the need to sign a ceasefire? By Inada’s logic the Tanggu Truce is completely unrelated to the Manchurian invasion and is akin to America invading Canada and then signing a ceasefire with Serbia. Obviously the ceasefire is related war. To say anything else is stupid.
In Asia it’s widely considered that this was the start of Japan’s military expansionism and was the de facto start of WWII. But again let’s say that this doesn’t count as during World War II, for some reason. In Europe WWII is considered to have begun on 1st September 1939 when Adolf Hitler instructed the German army to invade Poland. Did Japan invade China from 1939 to 1945? No and yes. No, because they already had annexed huge parts of Chinese territory, conducted the Rape of Nanking and bombing of Shanghai, and by 1939 perpetrated crimes against humanity. And yes, because Japan was still occupying territory and expanding into China when Hitler invaded Poland. Whichever way you slice it, Japan obviously invaded China during World War II. If they didn’t why were they bombing Shanghai, destroying Chinese cities, and fighting against the Chinese military?
The reason that I’m so tetchy about this recent appointment is that I’m fine to have policy disagreements with people, and I frequently do, but denying facts cannot be allowed. To want to change a law or a constitutional provision is one thing, but denying that Japan invaded China in WWII is complete lunacy. Why does she do it? Because her ideology demands a whitewashing of history so that Japan can be absolved of its sins. Germany has been absolved of its sins, because it was mature enough to disavow the ideology that caused the destruction during World War II. Japan needs to unambiguously denounce right-wing nationalism and not allow people to rewrite history.