The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible events which deserve to be mourned as a tragedy. However in this week of national veneration of victimhood in Japan, we would all do well to remember that such events did not happen in isolation or for no reason.
I do not wish for a moment to suggest that one act excuses another, as my mom always used to point out "Two wrongs don't make a right." Making war against civilians is always reprehensible, no matter what form it takes.
"What crime did these children commit?"
Holding up a picture of a boy horribly burned by the heat of the atomic bomb, Iccho Itoh made this impassioned plea before the International Court of Justice some 12 years ago, not long after he was elected mayor of Nagasaki.
I would ask what crime the people of the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere committed. Or what crimes the "comfort women" and forced laborers committed. Or what crime the people of Nanjing committed. Or what crime they continue to commit that has caused the Japanese state to deny the wrongs done against them.
There have been plenty of official apologies by the Japanese government about the war crimes committed in the service of the state and in the name of the emperor. For the most part they have been a matter of tatemae (polite, expected, official, socially required, but not heartfelt). Some veterans of the Imperial Japanese Army have truly tried to make amends, to make a honne (private, personally real regardless of social convention) apology. As the the war fades from living memory, more and more revisionists are trying to paper over what happened with weaseling about specific numbers and the wording of treaties and bitching about how it is unfair that Japan gets flack for its "supposed" misdeeds while Germany doesn't. Germany has built monuments to those killed in the Holocaust, it has outlawed Nazism, it purged former Nazis from the government, it has paid restitution. One doesn't hear the German government or media quibbling about whether it was six million Jews or 5.8 million Jews that were killed and using the discrepancy to argue that if the numbers can't be agreed on it probably never happened. In fact, shitheads that do this can be jailed in Germany. In Japan, they get elected to high office.
I sympathize with the victims of the atomic bombings. I sympathize with their descendants and their pleas for peace, but I would sympathize a lot more if the former slave laborer and comfort women got a real apology and compensation. I would take the pleas for peace a lot more seriously if Japan wasn't the top spender on arms in Asia and seventh in the world.
If the three non-nuclear principles of not producing, possessing or allowing nuclear weapons into the country weren't convieniently forgotten everytime a U.S. nuclear sub or aircraft carrier docked here, then those principles might actually mean something, instead of amounting to so much happy talk.
I've lived in Tokyo for ten years and there is much to love about Japan and the Japanese. Theirs is an incredible culture, history and tradition. Saying sorry is common; meaning it is sometimes another matter.
If the victors in World War Two can admit that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and (especially) Nagasaki, the fire bombings of Dresden and Tokyo, the internment of American and Canadians of Japanese ancestory were all terrible things in a heartfelt and collective way and offer compensation for misdeeds of the state, is it wrong to expect any less from Japan?