Shinzo Abe and the Legacy of Japanese Militarism

The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – apparently by someone enraged by the close ties between Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party and the cultish Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon – has led to an outpouring of remembrances. Obituaries have focused on Abe’s efforts to revive Japan’s flagging economy (“Abenonomics”) and his plans to reform the Japanese state. Nearly all have described him as a figure of controversy for his nationalist political and ideological agenda.

Given Abe’s association with the militaristic revanchism of the Japanese right, it’s worth remembering just what this powerful wing of Japan’s political establishment wants. Abe was known for his aggressive posture toward regional rivals like China and North Korea, and for his efforts to revise Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution and pass a “Collective Self-Defense Act” to permit a major expansion of the Japanese military and its role in the American-led East Asian alliance. But behind these contemporary foreign policy ambitions lay a hard right ideology committed to glossing over the wartime actions of Japanese officials during WWII (including his own grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, Japanese Prime Minister in the late 1950’s, whose brutal rule of Manchuria earned him the nickname “Monster of the Shōwa era”).

The WWII Japanese government was ruled by a combination of right-wing nationalists and military officials, acting with the tacit agreement of the Emperor. This arrangement had been cemented by the elimination of various liberal and left-wing groups, and the use of open violence (including public assassinations) against dissenting politicians during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Before and during WWII, the militarists who controlled the Japanese state were responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.

In the US, knowledge of just what Japan did in the War is mostly limited to the battles of the Pacific Theater. The postwar US occupation of Japan, and the latter’s central role in the alliance against China and the Soviets, and particularly in the Korean War, meant that Japanese activities on the Asian mainland were largely papered over. That makes the current lack of discussion of Abe’s historical revisionism all the more disturbing. 

In fact, the Japanese Empire’s expansion into the Asian mainland began well before Pearl Harbor. In Korea, Japan waged a more than three decade long occupation that lasted from 1910 to 1945. In China, the occupation of Manchuria, and the resulting creation of the puppet state of Manchukuo in the fall of 1931, was followed by a large-scale invasion and occupation of Chinese territory in 1937. In Southeast Asia, Japan occupied the northern portion of Vietnam – then part of French Indochina – in late 1940.

These expansionary moves were predicated on a staggering level of brutality by the Japanese military and local occupation authorities, reminiscent of the worst crimes of the Western colonial powers. In China, where Japan’s wartime government – controlled by an uneasy alliance of the Army and Navy high commands – quickly found itself stuck in a quagmire, the military engaged in mass killings of civilians and the carpet bombing of Chinese cities. The “China Incident” (as it was called) led to a death toll estimated at between three and fifteen million people. 

In Korea, Japanese colonialism, which combined a proto-developmentalist state with widespread political and cultural repression, created divisions that helped precipitate the Korean War (as documented brilliantly by the late historian Bruce Cummings).  While best known in the US for the widespread use of so-called “comfort women,” the Japanese occupation was also marked by intense violence, including the killing of political dissidents.

In Vietnam, the war resistance to the Japanese lay the basis for subsequent Independence War and the Viet Minh’s fight against first the French and then the United States.

A similar picture emerges in other countries occupied by the Japanese Empire during the War, such as Indonesia and the Philippines. 

So why isn’t this history better known in the US today? 

The reason has to do with Cold War era political machinations. In Japan, the end of WWII saw a return of the liberals, trade unionists, and left wingers who had spent decades under the thumb of the right-wing militarists who ran the Japanese Empire. At first, US occupation authorities provided some encouragement to these groups. But once ensconced as the head of the postwar American occupation regime, the administration of the pathologically right-wing US General Douglas MacArthur reversed course. Motivated by growing anti-Soviet hysteria, MacArthur empowered many of the same conservative and business forces that had dominated prewar Japanese politics. 

As Japan turned from a wartime enemy to an important postwar ally, American officials came to view the enemies of the Japanese Empire as a threat. In Korea, China, Vietnam, and elsewhere, left-wingers who had built reputations as intransigent opponents of Japan’s occupation became leading antagonists in the postwar conflicts that marked the start of the Cold War. 

These considerations came to a head with the start of the Korean War in June 1950. When, after years of violent clashes across the Korean peninsula, the Northern invasion of South Korea led the US to send large numbers of ground troops, Japan became a crucial staging ground and source of essential supplies. 

In the fog of the new war, the crimes of the Japanese Empire, once a focal point of American propaganda, were whitewashed. 

During Abe’s time in office, his efforts to expand Japan’s military presence dovetailed with the aims of American officials pushing for the US to make a “pivot to Asia.” The consequence was to effectively accept the continued downplaying of Japanese war crimes during WWII.

This history, which hasn’t been forgotten in places like China and Korea, is crucial context for today’s geopolitical battles in East Asia. It’s why Shinzo Abe was a figure of such controversy. And it’s an important reminder that, whenever a foreign leader dies, the American press will see their legacy through the prism of our own political calculations.

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  1. JTMcPhee

    Us mopes do not know a whole lot of what actually happens in the wide world, all the fun and games brought to us by those “hard men” and women in all those places where the underbelly of the real power politics gets exposed and plays out. Like Operation Paperclip and Operation Gladio and Operation Mockingbird, which are at least semi-avowed CIA perversions. If you look at the CIA’s public face, they are kind of proud of how thoroughly they have infected the world’s political economy. Got to remember the involvement in the drug trade, the assassinations, all the good clean fun.

    And now a corner of the camouflage tarp tossed over the dirty vicious stuff has slipped a bit. Wonder what kind of modified limited hangouts will get sprung to pull it back down? Its not that they lack the skills and resources to make it all go away, so they can get back to doing what they are so skilled at doing,

    It’s pretty amazing that ordinary mopes manage to keep things going, feeding and clothing and housing as best we can, providing the substrate that this evil froth floats upon.

  2. digi_owl

    It is “funny” how much this echos the whitewashing of West Germany. Never mind that unlike the Berlin wall, the Korean DMZ is still very much in place (and NK has a whole lot of artillery aimed at Seoul).

  3. Alex Cox

    Teruyo Nogami was Kurosawa’s most trusted producer. She wrote a wonderful book, Waiting on the Weather, about working with Kurosawa and the Japanese cinema. She reports that, after a brief post-WW2 period in which leftists and pacifists were able to make films, General Douglas MacArthur, “Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers”, ordered a blacklist of leftists and the re-employment of war criminals.

    “In May [1950] Toho dismissed 1,300 people from its payroll. General MacArthur’s official notice of a purge of communist elements quickly took effect nationwide, and in September Daiei also sent out pink slips to 30 people. Meanwhile, another 29 members of the film industry previously purged as war criminals were now happily ‘de-purged’, and they returned to work one after another. It was interesting to see the two groups switch places.”

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Nogami seems to have been quite a character and only died quite recently. But both she and Kurosawa were ambiguous about what they really thought about the Toho strike – he seems to have been sympathetic to the politics but very unsympathetic to many of the people involved. Maybe thats what Rashomon was all about.

    2. Acacia

      Worth noting that the Toho strike was put down by several thousand Japanese police and the US military, including armored vehicles, tanks, and military aircraft.

  4. amechania

    For those unfamiliar with the history. During the shogunate (1200-1800) the emperor primarily functioned as a pawn for those with the best positioned army.

    For a look at the modern perspective I suggest the anime series “Welcome to the NHK” (The NHK is the Japanese government broadcaster) whose early episodes have a powerful insight into a schizophrenic individuals delusions, isolated and surrounded by media. Later episodes involve him and a friend being caught up in a MLM (pyramid scheme) that also seem relevant.

    Japan is relatively peaceful, but not entirely.

  5. PlutoniumKun

    I think the relationship between memory and atrocity with regard to Japanese war crimes is pretty complex, in Japan and elsewhere. Contrary to the oft stated idea that the Japanese never came to terms with their war crimes, it was a constant in Japanese popular culture for more than a decade after the war – some of the biggest grossing Japanese films of all time, such as Masaki Kobayashi’s war trilogy ‘The Human Condition’ were quite unsparing about Japanese guilt, although a little like American Vietnam War movies they tend to focus on the effect on the perpetrators, not the nameless and voiceless victims. But sometime around the late 1950’s and 60’s it just got shut out of the public mind, only occasionally resurfacing.

    It wasn’t just the US that created a more narrowly focused view on war crimes – the Chinese pretty much stopped all discussion abound the Nanking massacre until around 20 years ago, when it suddenly became a big thing (I’ve a friend from Nanking who said she was totally unaware of it until her early 20’s, when it became acceptable for people to talk about it) – I’ve never fully understood why, but it was I think partly a desire to plug into Japanese know-how and capital, while also avoiding the question of why the Chinese were so helpless in the face of Japanese aggression, in particular why the CCP was more intent on fighting other Chinese than the Japanese (yeah, I know its complicated).

    Someone noted on Twitter about how there seemed to be a lot of quite genuine outpourings of shock from countries like Vietnam, despite their history with Japan. In truth, in most of Asia people like and respect the Japanese for having been the first to match the west in many ways, and more recent wounds go deeper than the horrors of 70 years ago. In Vietnam for example, there are particularly vivid memories of the viciousness of the Korean contingent on the US side in the ‘American’ war – they were responsible for a lot of massacres almost entirely overlooked in English language accounts of the war, but are certainly not forgotten by the survivors. Until very recently, most Koreans were almost entirely unaware of this.

    So I have a little sympathy (not much) with the Japanese nationalists who are tired about how old atrocities are dug up every time someone finds it convenient, but forgotten when they are looking for Japanese help with something. Both the Koreans and Chinese can be pretty cynical about opening and closing the flow of outrage. Abe may have been motivated by personal considerations, but he was also probably looking to shore up his own bona fides when he did so much to anger the Chinese and Koreans. But for politicians, domestic politics almost always trumps the sensitivities of foreigners. But if anyone could have healed the wounds, Abe, with his personal background would have been the best person to do it. His failure will be seen as a major black mark on his place in history.

    1. hk

      The memory of the Japanese era (now, insistently called “the occupation”) in Korea is at least as complicated. By 1930s, Japanese rule was essentially accepted, even if Koreans remained heavily discriminated second class citizens who were generally unhappy with their situation. Japanese were quite schizophrenic about promoting or repressing Korean culture and identity: nationalist writers who were imprisoned for subversive work were often rehabilitated and even enlisted by the Japanese colonial government. Many Korean activists were persuaded, by late 1930s/early 1940s that they should focus on advancing Korean civil rights in the Japanese empire rather than seek independence, which was increasingly accepted and even encouraged by Japanese rulers. So the milleu became pretty complicated in the last decade of Japanese rule, unacceptable to the simpleminded narrative of today, and many prominent Koreans during the era who used to be admired for their nationalist activism and artistic work were suddenly transformed into evil collaborationist and publicly condemned

      1. hk

        I was going to add a bit about Koreans in the Japanese army during WW2. Ironically, Japanese never fully trusted Koreans so never instituted a draft there, so most Koreans in the Japanese military were volunteers of some kind. But, again, since they were not much trusted by the Japanese, most were deployed in noncombat role, like guarding POW camps. The kind of brutality they exhibited there, including to Westerners, is well remembered by the people who were on the wrong end, but not widely known.

        1. scott s.

          While not conscripted into the army, I think a lot of Koreans were placed into forced labor, not only on the peninsula. Korean popular tv dramas of the period tend to play up class differences with the former nobility kissing up to the Japanese in order to maintain social status. When Japan “liberated” Korea by invading to attack China it hastened the end of Joseon, followed by the assassination of Empress Myeongseong. I read one conspiracy theory that the Empress was looking to invite in more American expertise and the Japanese engineered the assassination to prevent that. Russia subsequently got involved, but Nicholas II’s ill-advised war put an end to whatever influence Russia might have had.

          I suppose it’s understandable, but to most Americans I think WWI was about some duke getting assassinated in the Balkans and then a big war in France. Maybe with a Russian revolution thrown in as a side show.

          There’s also the controversial letter of Roosevelt that was said to agree US would not interfere in Korea and Japan would not interfere in the Philippines.

          Here in Hawaii, we are somewhat biased due to the association of Syngman Rhee with Hawaii. He’s kind of made out as a hero compared to other factions.

          It’s not too PC these days to talk about Euro and American influence in 19th c China, so that probably leads to it getting swept under the rug.

          1. hk

            If I remember correctly, about 150k served in the military, about 1/4 more as laborers attached to the military, and quite a lot more worked in the civilian industry. How “voluntary” these were was not uniform, I imagine: people get semi-forcibly “volunteered” all the time and life in Korea under Japanese rule was not exactly prosperous for most people. Most of the stories about “forced labor” comes from the last category, I believe.

            How “forced” were they? Well, it seems fairly clear that, once they arrived at their workplace, they didn’t have many rights (but not quite “no rights”–Koreans were, in principle, Japanese citizens by WW2 and had some rights, unlike the laborers recruited in, say, mainland China). But it does seem that most signed up for the work “voluntarily,” since being deceived about the conditions of workplace, the rules that they’d be subject to, and the pay that they’d receive, etc. is a common element in many of their stories. Now, these are serious issues, but they were not quite rounded up and “forced” to work where they did from the beginning.

            While I don’t want to sound like I’m downplaying their suffering, it would actually be helpful if the Koreans popularizing their story were a bit more precise about the sources of their hardship. It would provide less fodder for the other side (Japanese could, after all, correctly point out that they did sign up to work), and it would not really diminish the hardships they suffered.

          2. caucus99percenter

            What is it with these (non-Kanaka-Maoli) people in Hawai‘i, anyway?

            IIRC the Filipino community in Hawai‘i similarly went gaga for and idolized exiled dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda (she of the thousands of pairs of shoes).

      2. PlutoniumKun

        Yes, as with so many other examples, countries often deal with the shame of being the victim in multiple different ways. Japan and Korea have a very odd and complex history, with the very vicious occupation period being just one element in this. The manner in which many Koreans simply adopted Japanese identity is something I’ve found fascinating. Its not unique of course, you can see the same thing with all the western imperialist powers and their victims/willing collaborators, but there seems to have been something peculiarly toxic about that relationship.

        Normally, when a country starts to prosper by itself (as with Ireland), it largely gets over it, but that hasn’t been the case there. I can’t help contrast it with the way the Vietnamese just get on with things after all their occupations and invasions and seem to carry remarkably few grudges against the Japanese/French/Americans/Chinese, but maybe thats because they’ve usually won all their wars in the end and never had to depend on anyone else for help.

        1. Anthony G Stegman

          Koreans committed many atrocities in Vietnam. There are very few angels in this world. But one thing that bears remembering at all times: For the better part of the 20th century, and now into the 21st century much of the evil perpetrated in the world has origins in the United States. Rather than being a force for good (as Americans are relentlessly brainwashed to believe) the United States is largely a force for evil.

          1. JTMcPhee

            Gotta love our Alan Dulles/Wild Bill Donovan/J. Edgar Hoover?Bill Casey Alphabet Agencies. All that sh!t about “rough men standing watch through the night so us citizens can sleep safe.” Yeah, I feel reaaallly safe knowing the little I as a curious mope can know about what those folks do, and then go home to nice suburban houses on cul de sacs in northern Virginia…

    2. Terry Flynn

      Thanks. A lot of what you say was exactly what my friend uncovered in face to face research over many years and prefectures. His PhD on this is published and Phil himself translated it into Japanese and published it in Japan too. Westerners, accustomed to the German chest beating acknowledgment of guilt, never bothered to learn that Japanese guilt manifests locally and certainly never gets into the media *we* read.

      When he tried to gain insights in Asian countries mentioned in the main article he largely hit a brick wall. South Korea is Neoliberalism on steroids and is a sort of “nightmare future” we in USA and UK face if we carry on with current policies – why do you think shows like Squid Game are so popular? Bread and circuses….

      In China he got no ability to access “true” thoughts of individuals. Very little of what we are told should be believed. Unsurprisingly. Now he researches the use of manga/anime to address topics that won’t get into the media and which the authorities don’t understand. Anyone familiar with the he-man/liono meme and what us children of the 1970s watched will understand completely.

      1. hk

        The self perception of the South Koreans is one of those puzzling things to me. In all statistics (OECD data, etc) South Korea is, in terms of economic inequality, mostly at the middle of the pack among industrialized countries or, in some/many cases, better than the median to varying degrees. But you wouldn’t notice that when you talk to Koreans–who think that they live in the most inequitable oppressive neoliberal country in the world (It’s not–not if you look at how the gov’t functions vis-a-vis businesses, compared to US or UK: The only time it came even somewhat close to matching this stereotype was during Lee Myoung Bak’s administration.). Certainly, they really do take this seriously, though, and really believe it: they are the most stressed out country in the world, it seems, based on international statistics. It does serve as a reminder that asking people of country X where they place in the international context is not an exercise that would bring useful insights unless matched up with non-subjective data.

        1. c_heale

          Well I live here, and for young people, it is aggressively neo-liberal. Very difficult to get a good job. One name for it is HellJoseon. One factor which should not be dismissed is that bosses here can be extremely unpleasant, not only dictatorial (partly a legacy of Confucionism) but mental bullying (mind games) is also very common. There are very few psychotherapists, and if you are bullied at school or work, life is very hard (there is a high rate of teenage suicide). As well as having about 8 companies which control most of the economy (the Chaebols). People here work long very long hours. Vacations for civil servants and white collar workers are often only a few days a year (apart from public holidays). Workers rights are not respected as they should be. The work life balance is seriously out of whack.

          On the other hand there are a lot of small mom and pop businesses (but I think relatively few medium sized ones), the people are known as the Italians of Asia, with good reason, and most people here, as in any country are pleasant and polite (although can be very rude). The beaureacracy is very fast and efficient. The Health service is very good (and it’s easy to get both Western and traditional medicine/treatment).

          Many Koreans respect Japanese culture and art and like individual Japanese people, but overall there is widespread dislike/hatred for Japan as a country, from children to adults, which comes from many historical invasions, not least the late 19th/early 20th century colony. China is also unpopular for the same reasons, but not as disliked.

          1. hk

            That’s the other puzzling thing:. What “many” invasions? Between Mongol Invasions and 20th Century, over a span of almost 800 years, there were only a couple of “serious” foreign invasions, not counting pirate or bandit raids. Iraq, Germany, or the Balkans it was not: ask any Korean to name the invasions their country suffered from during past 1000 years, and they’ll be able to name only 3 or 4: the Mongols, the Japanese in late 16th century, (both admittedly being bug ones, but not necessarily huge in global scale), and 1 or 2 invasions by Manchus I. 17th century, as prelude to their takeover of China (unclear if they should be counted as a single war or two).

            I don’t think Korea is unique with regards to economic difficulties and insecurities for the young people: I’ve heard similar stories (and corresponding stats, although my recollection is both dated and unclear) about many Western countries, eg Italy or Greece. While I don’t want to dismiss the unhappiness of the Koreans, I honestly think they lack perspective on where they are in the world and that their problems are really social and cultural that are particular to Korea, perhaps interacting in some toxic fashion with “neoliberalism.”

            Funny story: about a decade or so ago, my parents went back there to wind up some family stuff. The thing they noticed was the uniformly glum look on everyone on the subway, with two exceptions–a couple of young people who they figure were Korean Americans visiting family over summer vacation. They tell me they wondered how they would have looked among that crowd, as they had spent more than a quarter of century in the States back then (and had long half joked about the gloomy and depressed look they usually carried around as “the Korean thing.”)

            1. PlutoniumKun

              I think its hard to avoid the conclusion that the 20th Century history of Korea has left very deep psychic scars (this is of course a constant theme of lots of Korean cinema and literature). The Japanese occupation was deeply humiliating and the destruction of the Korean war was mind-blowing. The manner in which the ROK rebuilt itself economically and politically is incredibly impressive, as is the modern Korea’s approach to trying to build a better country on the back of their economic success. But yeah, I’ve only been to Korea once, and its impossible not to notice that outside downtown Seoul there is a real ‘atmosphere’ that is hard to describe, but its definitely not a society of contentment.

        2. Joe Renter

          What is also interesting is that the Koreans have more cosmetic surgery done per population than any other country. Conformity and group think?

        3. Soredemos

          Even middle-of-the-pack neoliberalism is actually a freaking intolerable nightmare. The Koreans are, for whatever reason, simply much more aware of how obscene and insane it is than most countries. Perhaps because they’ve been forced into it so relatively rapidly the extreme changes are much more noticeable to them, whereas everyone else has had a much more slowly boiling frog experience.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        Thanks for the link, that book looks really interesting, I’ll put it on order.

        Just on the point about the Japanese supposedly being ignorant of their WWII history, I remember one English guy I met in Japan who argued passionately about Japanese guilt and failure to acknowledge their history. I said something along the lines of ‘most Japanese know more about their history of atrocities than British people know about what their armies did in Kenya and Malaysia in the 1950’s’. His blank look told me he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

        1. hk

          I should say something about the Americans’ knowledge of our war in the Philppines in the first decade of the 20th century. Most people (who were not Asian or Asia-focused) in my old graduate school (most of whom came from first rate UG schools, Ivies and equivalents) not only were ignorant of it, at least some indignantly accused me of making things up. Somewhere, Mark Twain is crying…but hey, he is a Southern white from a slaveowning family, eh?

          1. Joe Renter

            We committed atrocities in the Philppines, and the people there still went out of their way to help us during the Japanese occupation. They suffered heavily when caught.
            I have an interesting connection in that I am named after my grandfather who was named after Admiral Dewey of the Spanish American War.

          2. PlutoniumKun

            I’ve heard more than once very educated people (not just Americans, lots of Europeans) say things like ‘the US never colonized any countries in the Pacific….’, and when I mention the Philippines I usually just get a blank look in response. The early 20th Century experience of that country has simply been written out of history. Having said that, most Filipinos I’ve met tend not to have any anti-American views (or anti-Spanish for that matter).

            1. SocalJimObjects

              Louis CK: “… They (white people) want black people to forget everything … Every year, white people add a hundred years to how long ago slavery was. I’ve heard educated white people say slavery was four hundred years ago. No it very wasn’t ..”


        2. Soredemos

          Sorry, but no, I’m going top push back hard on that. The average Japanese is as ignorant of ‘the Pacific War’ as the average Brit is about Kenya.

      3. hk

        Fascinating. Close to my former professional interests so I should definitely read this. Thanks!

    3. ex-PFC Chuck

      re: ” . . but it was I think partly a desire to plug into Japanese know-how and capital, while also avoiding the question of why the Chinese were so helpless in the face of Japanese aggression, in particular why the CCP was more intent on fighting other Chinese than the Japanese (yeah, I know its complicated).”

      Barbara Tuchman’s Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 is a good source for insights on these “complications.” She asserts that to a large extent it was because Chiang Kai-shek was first and foremost fighting the CCP and not Japan. And of course the CCP was reciprocating the hostility. General Stilwell, was an able field commander charged with guiding, cajoling Chiang toward pointing his guns toward the Japanese but was continually frustrated in that regard by Chiang’s military incompetence and self-defeating tolerance of corruption in his officer corps. Plus some of the more senior of the latter saw themselves not as subordinates but as rival war lords. On the several occasions he wore down Chiang’s resistance to his suggested actions the generallisimo wouldl complain to Henry Luce or some other poobah in the powerful China lobby in the USA and they would crank up the network of the Christian mission supporters in what’s now flyoverland and the subseqquent flood of telegrams and letters would soon induce Roosevelt to send word through channels for Stilwell to back off.

      Tuchman also edited and published Stilwell’s papers, which are a hoot to read. The reason for his appellation as “Vinegar Joe” comes through loud and clear, as
      does his low opinion of Chang.

      1. flora

        re: Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45

        Great book. Excellent history of a little known theater of war in WWII. Thanks.

      2. Joe Renter

        An interesting side note is Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. She was the first Chinese women to address the US congress. She kept the money flowing with her charm.

        I Just finished any a good book, Wen Bon. A naval air intelligence officer behind the Japanese lines in WW2, by Byron R. Winborn.

    4. Soredemos

      The first Human Condition movie most definitely doesn’t skimp on the Chinese characters.

      The (not total, but genuinely widespread and often entirely sincere) remorse of the first ten or fifteen years after 1945 gave way to an electorate exercise in self-pity, which Japan has never broken away from. “War is bad because look what happened to poor Japan.” Very rarely will something come along that acknowledges any kind of Japanese guilt or role in bringing down its own suffering in ‘the Pacific War’ (In This Corner of the World springs instantly to mind for me).

  6. hk

    It is worth noting that Japanese historical revisionism is coupled with comparable historical revisionism in China, both Korea’s, and going in a different direction, Taiwan. In all these countries, selective and distorted memories of the past is promoted by their governments to support their present agendas (“correcting” history, as former SK president Kim Young Sam put it, without even realizing the irony of the statement). Singling out Japanese revisionism, however serious it is, without placing it in regional context, is dangerous (and only further encourages Japanese revisionism)

    1. JTMcPhee

      And it’s not like the US hasn’t got a really good history of historical revisionism and selective ablation itself. So much of what we think we know about ourselves is just a load of frilled up hooey. Give credit to Bill Casey and the rest.

      Casey, at least, said the silent part out loud: “We will know our program of disinformation is complete when nothing the American public believes is true.” And it sure seems to me that Casey’s organization is proud to have achieved that result.

  7. David

    This period may be little known in the US, but it’s very much known in Britain, not least because of the large number of British PoWs in Japanese camps, and the humiliation of the fall of Singapore to little yellow men. When I was growing up, the popular media was full of tales of Japanese atrocities, and there were plenty of journalistic histories and even some scholarly ones that covered this ground. David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was one of the most popular films of the time, and helped to establish the legend of Japanese bestiality. Even as late as the 50th anniversary of the Japanese surrender, in 1995, the British popular media and various idiots in the Tory Party were slavering over the prospect of more and more humiliations to be heaped on the Japanese, and some even wanted the then Prime Minister (a Socialist, no less) to come to London and make grovelling apologies.

    It might be worth making two points briefly. Firstly, the ordinary people of Japan had no role in the decision to invade Manchuria, nor indeed the later decision to attack south. Most of the Army was fighting in Manchuria, not in the Pacific, and in the memory of just about every Japanese family there is a male relative who died there or came home a cripple. And for the families left behind, there was dictatorship, deprivation, starvation, fire-bombing, nuclear attack, invasion, and a devastation of the country that it’s actually hard to comprehend. Ordinary Japanese considered themselves victims, which they were for any reasonable meaning of that word.

    Second, there was a strong pacifist mood in Japan which, in my observation at least, lasted until at least the 1990s, when those who survived the war had started to die off. There was widespread resentment about rearmament, which was forced by the US as a way of providing a secure rear base for the war in Korea. This mood could have been seized on by Japan’s neighbours to establish some kind of lasting security arrangements, but instead they all (not just China and Korea) preferred to play silly games and engage in moral blackmail. Japan was so much wealthier and more successful than its neighbours that they generally demanded money, and the Japanese often agreed, turning Japan into what one diplomat bitterly described to me as a “regional ATM.” But of course in that kind of situation, no amount of money, no amount of concessions, no list of apologies, no depth of humiliation is ever enough. Indeed, it simply demonstrates that you are weak, and can be pushed further. It was entirely predictable that there would come a point where the Japanese grew tired of this: if seventy-five years of weakness hasn’t done it, then what about a bit of strength?

    Revisionism isn’t a bad thing necessarily: indeed, it’s often praised here when done by someone like Chomsky. The reality is that history is complex enough to be read in a whole variety of different ways, and the dominant narrative tend to change with the political winds.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yup. I’ve argued the point futilely a few times with people that, for example, the Japanese gave vast reparations to Korea in the 1960’s, but the Korean government simply took the money for itself (did not compensate the comfort women or other victims) while still demanded more money at regular intervals. Of course, the Japanese never helped themselves by issuing apologies in that very roundabout Japanese way which ends up satisfying nobody who is not Japanese. I think that for all sorts of cultural reasons the Japanese government are really bad at empathising with other cultures and how they might view things. But they seem particularly clumsy with all things Korean.

      I have no sympathy for Abe or the Japanese nationalist cause, but its unsurprising that there would be a huge backlash within Japan when governments use outrage as a weapon. And the US isn’t immune either, it seems to me to be the height of hypocrisy to put a monument to the comfort women up in San Francisco while the manner in which the US military prostituted vast numbers of SE Asian women (including, as Nick Turse has written about, documented examples of slavery) during the Vietnam war is almost entirely overlooked.

      1. Anthony G Stegman

        It’s a truism that wherever the US military operates large numbers of prostitutes are nearby providing “comfort” to lonely (and horny) sailors, soldiers, airmen, and marines.

        1. digi_owl

          On that note, i seem to recall a couple of US sailors getting into trouble in Sweden right before COVID kicked off.

      2. hk

        Field brothels were a common practice during WW2, but one that was rarely acknowledged. One controversy that Montgomerry stirred up was that he ordered the medics to check up on army brothels, since STD was becoming too widespread and eating into the effectiveness of his army. His superiors were outraged because there were no such thing as “army brothels” as far as they were concerned, to which Monty had some witty retorts (that I can’t remember now exactly). While the way Japanese recruited women for their military brothels were clearly harsher and more arbitrary, one has to assume that official/semi-official military brothels of all nations (even if not acknowledged) necessarily must have drawn on unfortunate women of whom there are many in wartime with various degrees of coercion.

        1. digi_owl

          Gets me thinking of how Paris had a well organized red light district before WW1. But that it got closed down thanks to British pressure, because the generals were worried that soldiers on leave would refuse to return to the trenches.

      3. hk

        One could also point out that the South Korean govt did not simply enrich itself with the Japanese reparations money: it became the Pohang Iron and Steel and other major industrial projects that modern Korea owes a lot of its prosperity to.

        1. hk

          My parents lived in South Korea until late 1980s and never heard of such thing. They were born in 40s, so they lived right through that era

    2. Joe Well

      In North America, the memory of the internment of Japanese Americans and more generally the fear of inciting domestic racist attitudes are a big factor.

      The racist “WWII widow” was a real thing and a stereotypical voice in favor of the war in Southeast Asia, that generated a lot of pushback against too specific memories of WWII.

    3. Soredemos

      Japanese pacifism is genuine, but comes entirely from a place of masturbatory self-pity.

    4. Soredemos

      I’m sorry, but there’s nothing legendary about how savage the Japanese were in WW2. And not just a few selected instances; they were savage across the board. Instances where they weren’t barbarians are very much the exception. They were savage even by the standards of an altogether savage war, even by the standards established on the Ostfront.

      1. Yves Smith

        The Japanese don’t have strictures on how to behave when they get out of bounds. It is a shame-based culture, not a guilt-based culture. So if there are no perceived rules, there are no limits. That is why they are capable of such brutality.

        For instance, US soldiers are taught if captured to give only their name, rank, and serial number. Japanese in WWII were not supposed to be captured. They were supposed to fight to the death. Since they had no rules as to what to do if they became POWs, they were extremely cooperative collaborators.

        1. Soredemos

          Man, that first paragraph is a succinct, brutal assessment of the Japanese. But probably accurate.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        Its not true to say that the Japanese were savage across the Board – the situation on the ground was far more complex. Individual commanders (Navy and Army) were given a lot of discretion and they used it. Some of the Japanese occupations were relatively benign (e.g. Taiwan) and individual units and commanders did behave ‘relatively’ honorably towards captives and locals. Even in the Philippines its a matter of record that there were arguments among senior commanders (especially between Army and Marine units) about how to conduct the war in a way to minimize local civilian casualties – in the latter case, the hardliners won and so made Manila hell on earth. But it could easily have gone the other way.

        My personal theory is that one reason for the particular viciousness of the Japanese army was the way it was constructed after the Meiji Restoration to try to make it more meritocratic. It was filled with a lot of poor rural men (second sons) who were encouraged to be hyper competitive – for many of them it was their only hope of a successful career and a way out of poverty. It seems to have self selected a lot of very efficient but sociopathic officers who treated their own subordinates with an extraordinary level of brutality. There was no inbuilt counter-balance to this, as most of the old samurai class went into the Navy or administration. Japan does consensus, not counterbalancing organisational structures.

  8. Bob Tetrault

    Also to note: Abe was active in efforts to introduce Mein Kampf into schools, not as history-to-avoid, but as thinking-to-emulate.

    1. Michael Sharkey

      Selected quotes from Mein Kampf were already being used in Japan’s schools. The introduction of the book was allowed to provide context regarding German anti-semitism in the pre war era. Abe’s cabinet explained in a letter of enquiry that explicitly stated that if the book were used in any way that promoted racial discrimination, that would obviously be inappropriate and lead to a strict response from regulators.

      Of course, that assurance was insufficient for Abe’s detractors, who saw an opportunity in misrepresenting the decision.

  9. Susan the other

    This summary is very interesting, Jonah. All the nationalism-imperialism that the world tried to resolve after WW1, with ideas for a UN and global economics (free trade) was daydreaming. I think if we had not developed atomic weapons we would still be daydreaming about imperial dominance – not that atom bombs are a good thing but that they are the logical outcome for nations at war. And for a century the use of atomic weapons has kept war in check. Until now. Ironically it is globalism-imperialism now pushing for war, nukes and all. Ukraine can hardly even be designated a “nation.” Yet the old language of nationalism lives on. Because government, counterfeit or not, operates naturally at a local level. It’s almost as though nationalism is the unavoidable bedrock for internationalism. Or now, multilateralism. The thing about the old nationalism was that it was driven by vested hard-liners. Ruthless. And we still have those vested hard-liners. It’s possible that nationalism will take a more constructive, less extractive turn. Not just because war is so damaging to the planet, but because sustainability requires cooperation. I don’t consider neonazis to be nationalists in the modern sense. So clearly we still have archaic connotations to deal with. I do consider honest statesmen from various countries all working for environmental and equitable solutions to be nationalists. My biggest worry is not about the new nationalism but what would happen if we did not have it? We’d be dealing with the empire from hell most likely. Because we’re just not there yet.

  10. Anthony G Stegman

    The United States covered up many of Japan’s war crimes, and indeed hired many of the war criminals after Japan’s surrender in 1945. Even knowing full well that some horrific experiments were performed by Japanese “scientists” on American POWs. Real Politik it’s called, I guess. Now Japan hosts many American military bases that can (and are designed to be) used as springboards for launching attacks against China.

    1. flora

      Those of us with fathers who served in the WWII Pacific campaign know well what the then Imperial Japan miltary’s actions were, regardless of what are the current US official claims. Should I relate the story of a relieved POW camp where the surviving soldiers brought aboard the rescue ship a foot locker with numerous numous small crosses in white paint on the lid? Where each cross represented a US or allied service man who died and was cremated, his ashed contained in the foot locker? No, I must not relate that. It would be too unfathomable for moderns to accept. (Noting that war crimes are as old as mankind and no nation’s military is entirely immune from the seduction to trangress decency.)

    2. The Rev Kev

      What happened to the members of Unit 531 is emblematic. They were taken prisoner by the Allies and some were seized by the Russians. The ones taken by the later were treated as full on war criminals and did long stretches in prison. Those taken by the US were basically given immunity in exchange for their “research” and a lot of those doctors went on to have highly successful careers in the Japanese medical establishment. When those from Russian prisons were eventually returned to Japan they were shocked that their former colleagues had removed the memories of their service with Unit 531 as if it never happened because the Russians reminded their prisoners what they had done. And this is why you have to be careful about what is and what isn’t “remembered” in Asian countries. So maybe “official” memories of the Nanjing Massacre, as an example, may have been forgotten but for damn sure the survivors knew exactly what was done and passed those stories on to their families. And you tend to remember massacres when they were done not in their hundreds or thousand but in their millions.

      1. Basil Pesto

        I think you mean Unit 731 ;)

        There was a photo doing the rounds the last few days of Abe giving the thumbs up in a cockpit which had the numbers ‘731’ emblazoned on the livery beneath it, which seems a bit ‘yikes’ (could plausibly be ignorant I guess, but who knows)

        Thanks to Jonah for this article and contributors of the many interesting comments too.

  11. Kouros

    From Peter Lee:

    Hello and welcome to this July 10th, 2022 episode of Peter Lee’s China Threat Report.

    Today, we’re going to say Goodbye to Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Dick Cheney

    Think of Shinzo Abe as Japan’s Dick Cheney: a right wing reactionary lionized and rehabilitated by anti-PRC hawks.

    More to the point, think of him as Dick Cheney in Japan: a partner, if not an agent of Dick Cheney in his effort to focus Asian security policy around the China threat.

    During Abe’s first, abortive term as prime minister, he proposed an arc of China containment—the US, Australia, India, and Japan–that would later become the Quad.

    Dick Cheney promoted Abe’s concept, in fact promoted it in defiance of President George Bush and Secretary Condoleezza Rice.

    US posthumous praise of Abe focus on his staunch loyalty to the United States, his central role in hyping the China threat, and his championing of the anti-China Quad group as the solution to the problem of relative American decline in what we now like to call the “Indo-Pacific”.

    In the process it’s necessary to skate over awkward facts about Abe’s beliefs and his core identity as a World War II revisionist who deplored the Pacific War as US aggression and rejected the US occupation, pursuit of war criminals, and Constitutional reform as “victor’s justice”.

    Abe’s right wing views were probably inseparable from his relationship with one of those accused war criminals, one who served as Abe’s political role model: his maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi.

    There were two sides to Kishi’s story.

    He was America’s chosen and promoted leader of conservative forces in post-war Japan. As Prime Minister, he was tasked with ramming through the new US-Japan Security Treaty in 1960 that entrenched the US military presence in Japan for perpetuity.

    Kishi, like Abe, was the target of an assassination attempt. Unlike Abe, he survived.

    On the other hand, Kishi, before he was adopted by the US as America’s client, was a major cog in the imperial Japanese war machine. Kishi ran the economy of occupied Manchuria, which apparently used plenty of slave labor. He voted for the Japanese declaration of war against the United States, and acted as a key deputy to General Tojo, and served as Minister of Munitions.

    Kishi was arrested and was supposed to be tried as a Class A war criminal for his role in planning and running the war.

    But the US decided to release him instead and back him as prime ministerial material.

    One consideration was that Kishi was reliably pro-US and wasn’t going to wrong foot Uncle Sam by trying to cozy up to Red China. Sound familiar?

    Abe presented his career as an homage to Kishi and his sacrifices, and he never accepted the validity of the US war crimes prosecutions.

    Abe’s rejection of American victor’s justice and his revisionist orientation were symbolized by his lionization of Radha Binod Pal, an Indian jurist on the Tokyo war crimes panel.

    Pal issued a 1235-page opinion rebutting and excoriating the war crimes tribunal, including its findings of war crimes during the Nanking massacre, and Pal thus became a hero of Japanese nationalists like Abe.

    Abe ostentatiously paid his respects to Pal, traveling to the family home in Calcutta and receiving a picture of Pal sitting on a sofa with—of course—grandfather Kishi.

    Pal and Abe shared a loyalty to what could be called second-order World War II revisionism.

    Not just that Japan had been pushed into the war by aggressive US sanctions.

    But that the Japanese effort, not being evil or a matter of national compulsion, was actually a heroic effort in Asian decolonization that was thwarted, if only for a time, by military defeat at the hands of the United States.

    This revisionist mythology forms the keystone of the modern Japan-India relationship and also is the foundation for current Japanese ultranationalism.

    The main political vehicle for Japanese right wing nationalism is Nippon Kaigi.

    Its agenda, per the New York Times:

    “Japan should be applauded for liberating much of East Asia from Western colonial powers; that the 1946–1948 Tokyo War Crimes tribunals were illegitimate; and that killings by Imperial Japanese troops during the 1937 Nanjing Massacre were exaggerated or fabricated.”

    In 2014, 15 of the 18 members of the Abe cabinet were members of Nippon Kaigi; Abe himself was listed as “special adviser” to the group.

    German fascists fled to Paraguay or into US employment; Japanese fascists still rule the roost in Tokyo.

    The Western press struggles unsuccessfully with the fact that Abe is an unrepentant right wing militarist who takes his personal and political inspiration from his grandfather, another unrepentant right wing militarist.

    But sometimes the truth comes out.

    Abe’s revisionism is nicely described by academic Alexis Dudden in a recent New Yorker interview, despite the determined efforts of interviewer Isaac Chotiner to steer the conversation into a New Yorker pleasing neoliberal rut of Shinzo Abe, flawed giant.

    Suffice to say Abe promoted right wing revisionism, he was promoted by right wing revisionists, his core beliefs were revealed by his denial of the Nanking massacre, the refusal to acknowledge the comfort women, and his frequent visits to the Yasukuni shrine.

    As to why this matters today, Abe was not an errand boy for the United States.

    He was a canny and determined ideologue committed to exploiting the presence and priorities of the dominant power in Asia—the United States—to advance his agenda.

    Like Dick Cheney, as I said before.

    Abe realized that Japan’s ticket to global clout and achieving the status of a “normal country” i.e. a country that has full control over the use of its military anywhere in the world, was piggybacking on US power.

    It is amusing and a bit sad to recall that when China was weak the United States justified its military presence in Asia as pre-empting Japanese rearmament and the rebirth of Japanese militarism.

    Then, when the PRC began to emerge as a credible challenger to US power, Japan became the essential nation to project anti-PRC power and influence in East Asia, and not just a landing platform and gas station for US military forces.

    US policy did a quick 180 and started promoting Japanese rearmament and Japanese militarism instead.

    And Abe was there at the proper historical moment…just like the fascists were there for America in every country in Western Europe when America embarked on the first Cold War.

    The US-imposed Peace Constitution, especially Article 9, imposes limits on the extraterritorial operations of the Japanese military. Revising the Constitution to remove these restrictions is the core mission of Nippon Kaigi and was a preoccupation of Shinzo Abe.

    Since revisionists lacked the political muscle to formally revise the Peace Constitution, the US winked at Abe’s efforts to find workarounds to Article 9 to enable operations by Japanese armed forces outside of Japanese territory in cooperation with the United States.

    It’s called “collective self defense”.

    A signature dodge to gut the Peace Constitution are the Japanese helicopter carriers Kaga and Izumo. Nominally designed to operate close offshore to Japan on helicopter missions, they were actually built from the get go for easy conversion to conventional aircraft carriers, and are now being retrofitted to carry F-35 fighters for extraterritorial power projection in support of US operations.

    During his administration, Abe promoted various China-containment initiatives, most notably the Quad: that’s the Australia/India/Japan/US joint security thing that isn’t quite NATO in Asia but certainly is an instrument of anti-PRC military coercion.

    And when Donald Trump derailed the anti-China economic bloc, the TPP, Shinzo Abe revived it.

    And after he left office Abe emerged as a high-level promoter of upgraded international stature for Taiwan.

    Abe was also an aggravating factor on the Korean peninsula.

    Japan regards a unified Korea as an existential threat to its pre-eminence in North Asia and Abe was always there to do the needful to sabotage North-South rapprochement.

    For instance, with the support of the United States, Abe made a fetish of championing the issue of the Japanese abductees, thereby obtaining a de facto veto on any efforts to end the war or normalize relations with North Korea.

    At the same time, he denigrated South Korean efforts to call attention to the issue of Korean comfort women and obtain an apology or possibly compensation from Japan.

    In the cases of both the PRC and North Korea, Abe recognized that the path to regional clout was via confronting China and the DPRK instead of engaging with them, creating an environment of crises that undermined Japan’s commitment to the Peace Constitution and, most importantly, strengthened the justification for injecting US power into the region.

    Thereby Abe earned the eternal appreciation and gratitude of the Pentagon, defense contractors, think tanks, allies and clients who have hitched their wagon to the US security chariot. The list of worthies rushing forward to praise Abe is pretty much a rollcall of pro-US anti-PRC and anti-Russia rollback enthusiasts.

    All in all, Abe was a right wing creep, which the US media seems to have trouble processing, presumably on the assumption that anyone who mouths pro-US platitudes and opposes China has to be a liberal democratic paragon.

    The same problem of Abe cognitive dissonance, by accident or design, seems to be playing out in covering the circumstances of his assassination.

    According to as yet unconfirmed reports out of Japan, the assassin was disgusted by the effect of the Unification Church on his family and killed Abe—who had some dealings with the group—as a response.

    The reporting is starting to coalesce around “deranged conspiracy theorist murdered Abe because of fake news incitement.”

    Well, my suspicion is that the real story is that “right wing creep murdered because of his close ties to creepy right wing organization.”

    Stateside, we know the Unification Church if at all as the Moonies, goofy guys promoting mass weddings in sports arenas and bad journalism at the Washington Times.

    So I expect there will be an effort to dismiss Abe’s links to the Unification Church as casual and insignificant.

    But, as an expose by a New Zealand outfit, Scoop, revealed, the Unification Church’s real identity was as a transnational political and anti-Communist power play shaped, protected, and promoted by South Korea’s KCIA in alliance with two of of Japan’s premier right wing ultranationalists, Ryoichi Sasakawa and infamous yakuza boss and power broker Yoshio Kodama.

    As Jeffrey Bale described, thanks to the sponsorship by Sasakawa and Kodama, two of the richest and most powerful men in Japan, the Japanese Unification Church emerged as the biggest and wealthiest of the branches, outstripping the South Korean headquarters, and serving as a cash cow for Unification Church activities in the United States and around the world.

    Inside the Japanese establishment, the key political asset for Sasakawa and Kodama, the two godfathers of the Unification Church, was the grandfather, Nobosuke Kishi.

    Kodama is credited with arranging for the re-election of Kishi as Prime Minister in 1959, and Kishi turned to Kodama to mobilize over 30,000 yakuza and right wing thugs to back up the Tokyo police and confront left wing demonstrators protesting his signature political achievement: renegotiation of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960.

    And Robert Samuels of MIT stated when Sasakawa bankrolled the Japanese Unification Church, it became a political adjunct of Kishi’s faction. The headquarters of the Unification Church in Japan in fact was built on land that had been owned by Kishi.

    The Unification Church cooperated with Sasakawa and Kodama to set up the Japanese branch of the World Anti-Communist League, Kokusai Shokyo Rengo.

    According to a book published by Scott and Jon Lee Anderson on the Unification Church, Shinzo Abe’s grandfather Nobosuke Kishi:

    was active in the WACL throughout the 1960s, including serving as chairman of the planning committee in 1970.

    The Unification Church emerged as a major funding and staff resources for the LDP and for Kishi’s faction.

    In one election, the Unification Church advertised it had supported over 100 members in the Japanese Diet.

    Its political clout with the LDP allegedly gave it impunity as it extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from its believers in Japan—which is the church’s biggest operation and at one time accounted for three-quarters of its revenues—for its domestic and overseas influence operations and investments.

    As to whether the Unification Church is a historical artifact of the crazy 1960s, Samuels wrote that Unification Church support was passed down to Kishi’s successors via his faction. The first heir to Kishi’s faction—and beneficiary of the Unification Church relationship—was Takeo Fukuda. As to what happened next:

    “Abe Shintaro, Kishi’s son-in law and inheritor of the faction from Fukuda, also depended upon “Moonies” in his election campaigns.”

    Shintaro Abe was, of course, Shinzo Abe’s father.

    In 2006, when Shinzo Abe was criticized for sending a congratulatory telegram to the Unification Church, a leader of one of the church’s front organization stepped forward to assert its patriotic bona fides by revealing he had worked with Kishi on constitutional revision and had held monthly consultations with Shintaro Abe.

    As recently as last year Abe recorded a congratulatory video for one of the Church’s myriad front organizations.

    The Church operates as a Scientology-like cult dedicated to controlling and exploiting its members while apparently providing few tangible benefits.

    Its practice of aggressive “spiritual sales”—that’s armtwisting vulnerable targets inside and outside the church, many of them housewives and especially widows, to buy thousands of dollars of cheap religious goods from the church to preserve their deceased loved ones from hellfire—has garnered it hundreds of millions of dollars together with a lot of negative attention.

    With this as context, consider what Asahi revealed about the motivation of Abe’s assassin. In quoting the words of the assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, the name of the organization he blamed is elided and replaced with the placeholder “the group”:

    [H]e was quoted as telling investigators: “I couldn’t forgive (the group) because my mother continued to pay money to it even after she underwent bankruptcy.”

    When asked about the religious group mentioned by Yamagami, the relative said: “I bet he has held a grudge the whole time. I think he feels that his life was changed by (the group).”

    Life changed? Well, yeah.

    The mother took over the company [of her deceased husband], but she became committed to religious activities and donated large amounts of money to the group.

    The relative said the mother may have been looking for answers in life through the religious organization.

    “She was a widow, and I suppose she felt insecure about the family’s future,” he said.

    The relative said he soon started receiving phone calls from the three children, who said, “We don’t have anything to eat at home.”

    The description of the group’s MO, and Yamagami’s association of Abe with the group, makes it pretty close to a slam dunk that we’re talking about the Unification Church here.

    So, if you hear a lot of handwringing about how highlighting the Unification Church angle to the Abe assassination has to be downplayed so that innocent churchgoers and Koreans don’t get stigmatized, don’t buy it.

    Instead, assume that the particulars of a secretive cog in the Shinzo Abe dynastic political machine—an organization with deep links to the ultra-right, organized crime, and the LDP as well as Abe’s political faction– are probably being shielded from uncomfortable scrutiny.

    And, unfortunately, look for the nature and details of the assassin’s grievance to be buried under a protective layer of “deluded lone nut” media campaigning.

    So, what was the legacy of Shinzo Abe?

    Well, I think that in the end Abe could look back on his life and content himself with the knowledge that the harm that he did to the peace and security of the world was irreparable.

    You know, just like Dick Cheney.

    1. will rodgers horse

      and it appears that in death he may accomplish more than in life with the election results

    2. amechania

      If I read the symbology of ‘nobunaga’s ambition’ (the video game) correctly, christianity was a weapon used by peripheral members of japans middle class to get rifles.

      The more things change…

  12. Acacia

    The day after the assassination, regular programming on Japanese TV channels was canceled, and the focus shifted to uncritical assessments of Abe Shinzo’s “accomplishments” and “legacy”. Since there was an election in Japan on Sunday the 10th, and there are strict laws about media promoting specific parties in the period leading up to the election, a number of people on social media questioned whether these (mostly uncritical) TV programs were crossing the line.

    As this article and other commenters note, Abe’s tenure was marked by a turn towards historical revisionism, a whitewashing of the Japanese Empire, and increasing pressure on media and public education to fall in line with the agenda of the political far right. A course on “morals” was introduced in the primary school education, and the LDP worked to inculcate “patriotic values” in the nation’s youth. A whole host of right wingers were empowered by Abe and the LDP. If you want to see them taken on and roasted over one dimension of these revisionist policies, Miki Dezaki’s film Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue is worth seeking out. The dishonestly and refusal of reason on the part of the Japanese political right is an ongoing concern. The hagiography of Abe Shinzo works to bury the modern history of Japan under another layer of spin.

    While the problem of historical revisionism is a long-standing issue, a more contemporary concern that the assassination has brought to attention is the relation between politics and religion in Japan. The LDP has had a long-standing relationship with the Unification Church, while the conservative Komeito party has been close to Sokka Gakkai, and many hard-right-leaning politicians are affiliated with the cult-like ultranationalist group Nippon Kaigi. Yamagami targeted Abe Shinzo not only out of anger at his family being bankrupted by his mother’s donations to the Unification Church, but also because he considered Abe to be a front man for the Church (which, in effect, he was).

    The Japanese media has largely ignored these relationships and their influence on politics, and when the police first discussed the assassination, they refused to disclose the identity of the Unification Church as the target of Yamagami’s hatred. This may change now, though the LDP will use its power and influence over the media to try and deflect a more serious treatment of the matter.

    1. hk

      The Unification Church angle complicates things even more: Moon is a Korean after all, and LDP in general and Abe and his wing of the party, especially, have, let’s say, weird relationship with Koreans of different stripes. This is a something that, I think, the official quarters in Japan are wise to keep under wraps in the short term, to be honest, because it’d make things even messier than they already are.

      1. Yves Smith

        The press quickly backed away from that claim. This is no longer the official story. And it’s not due to the Koreans angle but because it was seen by Japanese as not credible for a whole bunch of reasons. Pretty much everyone who understand Japan sees this as a professional hit.

        1. Acacia

          “Professional hit” meaning somebody else hired Yamagami to take out Abe? That the claim for Yamagami’s mother giving all the family’s money to the Unification Church as a motivation for the assassination is more of a cover story? That Yamagami has some deeper background, aside from working for a freight company, that isn’t being discussed (i.e., that he’s been involved in other assassinations)? That the DIY shotguns (plural, if we include what the police supposedly found in his residence, photos of which were somehow circulated on social media), are a clever way to make this look like the work of a disgruntled loner, as opposed to a hired professional?

          There’s a lot we don’t know, and I’m willing to entertain these claims, but I’d be curious to see the supporting evidence.

          1. The Rev Kev

            The way that Abe was killed with hardly any action by his security screen reminded me of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin back in 1995. There was a film of the later where you saw his security screen open wide up and his assassin went right in. With Abe, it looked like everybody was facing the same way as Abe with not one person looking the other way behind him. A case of ‘mistakes were made?’

            1. Yves Smith

              Japan is such a low crime society that I doubt security details add up to much except when traveling outside Japan. That of course will change now.

              I did not watch the vid but others state that Abe had only one guard and he (like the crowd) didn’t think the first shot was a shot, they thought it was a car backfire or a firecracker.

              One reader who knows Japan says he doubts anyone at the Nara hospital had ever treated a gunshot wound. It would probably have been difficult to find a surgeon with that experience even in Osaka, the nearest big city.

              1. Acacia

                There’s a lot of lay analysis happening now on Japanese Twitter. Watching the clip, one thing I noticed is that along with many others, Abe himself turned to look back towards the gunman after the first shot. He may have only been hit in the neck by the second shot.

                At this point, what I find most worrisome are not the circumstances of the assassination, but that the LDP did fairly well in Sunday’s election and they may be able to proceed with the long-desired revision of the Constitution. At stake is not only Article 9, but also a “state of emergency/exception” clause that will be added, granting the government very broad powers.

                One of my Japanese friends claims that there are further changes, such as the removal of the phrase “human rights” and changes regarding media and torture. I need to confirm these, as they sound very serious.

                1. PlutoniumKun

                  I think its almost inevitable that the LDP would get a sympathy vote after the assassination. I recall reading a survey completed after the Kennedy assassination where something like 80% of those asked recalled having voted for Kennedy (obviously, that wasn’t true).

                  The issue with Japanese politics of course is that the real action takes place within the LDP according to what faction is on top, they almost always end up winning the elections. In reality, this weakens the particular faction Abe led, but I’ve no idea what it means in terms of politics. I’ve seen it suggested that it strengthens those who want to take a harder line on Russia but a softer line on China/Korea, but I think only time will tell. Japanese politics is notoriously opaque even to the Japanese, let alone outside observers.

                  1. Soredemos

                    Because Japan is a fake democracy peopled by sheep. Anyone who has political principles or ambitions to change the country for the better gets that very, very quickly beaten out of them. By the time you hit 25 you’re thoroughly disillusioned and politically jaded to the point of inaction.

                    1. Acacia

                      I understand where you’re coming from, but it’s not very ambitious to just stop voting for the LDP. There are many other parties. It’s not like the US where people try to guilt trip or unfriend you if you don’t vote for the Democrats.

                    2. PlutoniumKun

                      There are a number of huge problems with Japanese democracy, but a key one is that quite simply, the LDP is very good at doing elections. They know their voters (invariably, the over 50’s) and are very good at keeping them on board.

                      They are also aided by the chaos among the opposition. Nobody has come up with a way of uniting all the various anti-LDP strands in a coherent manner. There were various moments in post war history when a genuine opposition could arise, but for one reason or another it failed (this includes of course assassinations, always a fall-back for the Japanese hard right).

                      As is so often bemoaned, Japan lacks a really strong local governance system and civic society to counteract the centralised bureaucracy. I’ve often asked Japanese friend what happens if, say, there is a local development proposal they don’t like. They generally just shrug and say they’ve no idea, what happens happens.

                    3. Acacia

                      Yes, the LDP is good at doing elections, but percentage wise a greater number of younger voters support them. The percentage of 30s and younger are now greater than the percentage of 60s and older.

                      And reading over the details of what the LDP wants to do to the Constitution (e.g., serious totalitarian state stuff like deleting the text about basic human rights and allow religious groups to exercise political power, legalize torture, etc. etc.), it’s sort of mind boggling that anyone would support them.

              2. PlutoniumKun

                That’s a good point about the wound – a friend is an ER surgeon and occasional pathologist and he once told me that there is a huge difference in mortality rate in gun shootings between hospitals with experience of dealing with it and those who only see one or two a year. Back in the 1970’s and 80’s Belfast hospitals were well known for developing very good techniques for dealing with rapid blood loss (kneecappings were a common form of punishment in paramilitary controlled areas). As a particularly safe country (not just shootings, general accidents too) I would guess that most Japanese paramedics and ER doctors are much less skilled at dealing with that type of trauma.

                1. hk

                  Survival rate at several major US hospitals for shooting victims was supposedly quite high for some time in early 2010s (maybe it has stayed up), as many surgeons were reservists returning from battle zones and had a lot of practice with gunshot wounds. I wondered about this in light of the spare of recent shootings.

  13. Joe Renter

    There is a lot we don’t know understand about Japanese society. When I heard that 99% of suspects of crimes confess, I thought something isn’t right. Link:

    I spent 8 weeks in Japan in the mid 80’s. I really love the country and the people. Even though you know they really will never except you fully.

      1. Tokyognome

        That is because the public prosecutor won’t prosecute unless they have a confession or enough compelling evidence to make a conviction a sure thing.

        1. Soredemos

          Yes, but the thing is that it’s extremely common for the Japanese police to keep suspects until they confess. The police ‘know’ you did a crime, and they’re going to keep you in that room as long as it takes for you to confess that you did it. Did you actually do it? Of course you did, otherwise they wouldn’t have dragged you in. What do you mean circular reasoning?

          1. Yves Smith

            You are being too polite. Japan has conviction rate of over 99%. It is hardly a secret that the police beat confessions out of the accused.

            1. Soredemos

              My understanding is that they usually don’t do overt things like beating. They’ll just detain you until you can’t take it anymore (boredom especially) and will sign whatever they want you to sign just to get out of there.

  14. orlbucfan

    My oldest living friend is first generation Filipino-American. I was very close to her Filipino mother, and knew her maternal grandmother. They were upper middle class Filipinos who escaped the Japanese invasion of the Philippines during WWII. The Japs treated their Filipino POWs horrendously. Few survived. The stories I heard would wake the dead. Needless to say, there is very little love for Japan among the WWII survivors there. Also, MacArthur was considered a first-class ahole among the potentiates in the American War Machine. Thank you for a terrific read with this diary and comment thread, Jonah!

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I mentioned above the Japanese film The Human Condition. On one DVD version there is an interview with one of the actors – many had been veterans themselves. He talked about as a conscript in the Philippines he was forced to practice his bayoneting on trussed up local village men.

      The Japanese army for the most part was incredibly brutal to its own men (not always, I believe there was a lot of variation in different units), and its unsurprising that they took it out on civilians and prisoners.

      The irony is that the official doctrine was that the Japanese were liberating their fellow Asians from white devils. But there is little doubt that they were by most measures, in most circumstances (again, some exceptions such as Taiwan) much more brutal than the previous conquerors.

  15. JBird4049

    I don’t know much about Japan except for its history pre 1945 and I would not surprise that the assassination might be related to it. I can say that the actions of the Japanese military and more so, its military police. the Kempeitai, might be worse than that of the Nazis or of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union at least on the individual level At those levels of true evil, it is almost silly to argue who was “worse,” the Rape of Nanking or the Siege of Stalingrad? Unit 731 or the medical experiments at Dachau? But when comparing the three empires, there is something… special(?), even nihilistic about pre 1945 Japan and with over three decades to read about makes for interestingly horrific and vomitus reading. Although 1920s-30s Japan’s method of governing by assassination does make for weird reading.

    However, the original victims of the Japanese were the Japanese. The original victims of the Kempeitai and its methods were suspected communists, socialists, and leftist Japanese. Much like the actions of the Americans in the Philippine “Insurrection,” or extermination (with American help via the CIA and its embassy) of the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965, all this mostly went into the memory hole. (please note, phrases like “the Jakarta Method” were popular among the Central and IIRC South American elites back the 70s and 80s. Even if the general populations especially Americans do not know about such things, the class of people who are served by such actions certainly remember. I think that Operation Condor was inspired by Indonesia’s horrors”

    There is much to be said about things being deliberately forgotten with subtle and not so subtle smearing of the millions of victims as being communists, anarchists, or somehow, in someway unclean and other than human. Suspected and condemned merely for wanted to live in their own lands peacefully under their own laws and customs without being conscripted to die in foreign wars or to condemned to poverty by their native superiors’ or foreign invaders’ benefit.

  16. Acacia

    Regarding connections between the LDP and various religious cults, the Unification Church held a press conference today, to try and do some damage control following the assassination. In covering the presser, the Japanese mainstream media thus acknowledged for the first time that there was a connection between the assassin’s family and the Church (which the Church, moreover, did not deny).

    Although the Japanese MSM has steered away from this subject for many years, the weekly magazines have considered it fair game, and there are other observers who have been closely following the connections between cults, right-wing organizations, and the LDP.

    In November 2020, for example, during the Suga administration, one of these observers published a summary of the number of cult members in the Suga cabinet, and compared them to the numbers for the Abe cabinet (in parentheses, below):

    Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership: 16 people (15 people)
    Nippon Kaigi: 13 people (14 people)
    Unification Church: 9 people (11 people)
    Fujisan Shrine: 5 people (4 people)
    Reiyukai: 4 people (4 people)
    Integrative medicine: 2 people (2 people)
    Parenthood: 2 people (2 people)
    Happy Science: 1 person (1 person)
    Church of World Messianity: 1 person (1 person)
    Soka Gakkai: 1 person (1 person)
    Worldmate: 1 person (1 person)
    EM Bacteria: 2 people (1 person)

    The overall numbers for the LDP executives (other than the ministers) are similar:

    Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership: 50 people (40 people)
    Nippon Kaigi: 38 people (34 people)
    Unification Church: 15 people (19 people)
    Fujisan Shrine: 12 people (12 people)
    Soka Gakkai: 7 people (4 people)
    Worldmate: 6 people (2 people)
    Reiyukai: 6 people (5 people)
    Integrative medicine: 5 people (4 people)
    EM Bacteria: 5 people (2 people)
    Parenthood: 3 people (3 people)
    Happy Science: 2 people (4 people)
    Spiritual Parliamentary League: 1 person (2 people)
    Church of World Messianity: 1 person (1 person)
    Others 1: 3 people (5 people)
    Others 2: 1 person (1 person)
    Others 3: 1 person (1 person)

    It is fair to assume that the numbers for the Kishida cabinet are roughly the same.

    Source: “Nine Unification Church ministers. ‘New religions, Spirituality, Pseudoscience’ relations of the Suga administration, which are the same as those of the Abe administration“.

    The general problems with the mainstream media reportage are explored in the two following Twitter threads, both of which are helpful for understanding the opacity of public discourse about Japanese politics:

    To describe Japanese newspapers and TV as a cartel sounds like conspiracy-thinking, but obviously they’re all aware that the “specific group” Abe’s assassin felt animosity toward was the Unification Church. They’re just coordinating to withhold that information: i.e. a cartel …

    1. caucus99percenter

      By the same token, can we stipulate as proven that U.S. media and Big Tech constitute a cartel, all having acted in concert to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story leading up to the 2020 election…?

  17. Eclair

    Great post, Jonah, giving rise to informative comments. Part of the ‘historical revisionism’ that so many of us ‘mopes,’ as JTMcPhee so lovingly terms us, are undergoing. Some days, I regret leaving the blissful ignorance of America great and good, Japanese, evil ‘little yellow men’ (thank you, David :-)), China filled with stoic peasants tilling fields with hand tools, taking only a few hours off to birth one more their many babies, a la Pearl Buck.

    An eye-opener for me, at the beginning of the century, was Niall Ferguson’s “The War of the World,” (ok, it’s Ferguson …. ) He notes that there was so much more about these wars (WW1 and WW2) that is overlooked, namely the activities in the east among Russia, China, Japan, Koreas. And, although I may be mis-remembering here, he draws an analogy between Japan’s striving for an ’empire’ and Britain’s colonial and imperial ambitions. Both are small island nations with very limited natural resources. Makes US grasping of imperial power seem so very greedy; after all, the US inhabits an enormous continent, rich in natural resources and protected by two great oceans and the Canadians on the north. And, we want even more?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, its very entertaining and he has some acute insights too (although of course he is not a specialist in the subject so there are many quibbles you can have with the details).

  18. Terry Flynn

    Abe was an MMTer. Extract below from email from my best friend (thoroughly Nipponised, qualified to apply for “the professions” via the top Japanese language qualification, Dean at top Japanese university.) I have referenced his PhD book on war memories, which seemed to impress people like PlutoniumKun here.

    “It has been a weird few days in Japan following the Abe assassination. I certainly did not agree with him on history, but yes he did understand MMT. I bought a magazine carrying what turned out to be probably his last interview, and it started with an explanation of why the currency issuing state is not a household when it comes to budgeting … in terms that sounded straight out of Kelton (which I introduce in my autumn class each year now). Regarding what next … His name might be somewhat tarnished because of the Moonies connections now emerging. But he is already on the road to conservative sainthood, and constitutional revision is probably what his fans will do in his memory. Given the electorate gave the LDP a walloping majority, constitutional revision is now most likely. That’s not a bad thing in my view. Constitutions should be updated … and not just to make the Self Defense Force legal. Gay rights campaigners here have long said that the clause in the constitution defining marriage as being between a “man and a woman” needs an overhaul, too. But perhaps the bigger issue here is that Japan is rattled by price rises and a sense of vulnerability.”

    (Some redaction here due to personal stuff but he references Putin but is aware that the Japanese public is as vulnerable as westerners to the stories re Putin but the point is the Japanese public are scared.)

    Continuing…..”Defense spending looks like it will go from 1% to 2% of GDP. As a species, why are we arming ourselves when we need to be greening ourselves …?”

    Phil is a cast-iron source on Japanese stuff. He fully acknowledges that he is “top of the ladder” in terms of how Japanese see foreigners (white anglo male) but there’s personal stuff that really shows why all of the “top” countries are equally family-blogged…..just in different ways.

    1. Acacia

      Yes, I get the appeal to authority, thanks.

      With all due respect, please do read and think about what the LDP is actually proposing for the Japanese Constitution. It is A LOT more than just changing Article 9. In particular, the changes they want to Articles 12 and 97 are chilling. Summarizing:

      1/ The preamble of the Constitution will be revised to remove the government’s determination “to prevent the tragedy of war”.

      2/ Article 9 is revised to allow: (1) the Defense Forces to go to war, (2) the establishment of military tribunals, (3) to declare that conscription will be constitutional, and (4) that citizens will have a “defense obligation”.

      3/ Article 12 is revised such that “responsibilities and obligations” precede basic human rights, and “national interests and social order” are likewise given priority over basic human rights.

      4/ Article 18 is revised to change the conditions of detention (slavery) to allow for “political” or “military” detention. Also, the revision of this article and articles 12 and 36 allow for political or military torture in support of “national interests and social order”.

      5/ Article 19-2 is added to provide power to restrict freedom of the press to report on public figures such as members of parliament.

      6/ Article 20 is revised to allow for “exercise of political power by religious groups” (i.e., including cults).

      7/ Article 21 is revised to give priority to “public interest or public order” over “freedom of assembly, association and speech, publication and all other forms of expression”.

      8/ Article 21-2 is added to declare the state assumes full authority over disclosure of “national affairs”, i.e., the disclosure of information is not guaranteed.

      9/ Article 22 is revised to relax economic regulations, such that business activity is given priority over “public welfare”.

      10/ Article 24 is added to declare that “family members must help each other”, i.e., the state is not responsible. N.B. this overrides Article 16 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, regarding the responsibilities of the state w.r.t. the family.

      11/ Article 24-2 is added to diminish citizens’ rights to a clean environment.

      12/ Article 29-2 is revised to give priority to “economic activity” versus the patent rights of domestic companies. Property rights must conform to “public interest and public order”.

      13/ Article 47 is revised to make a “one-vote gap” constitutional. This is a means for the ruling LDP to gain more seats in the legislature, in more populous regions.

      14/ Article 56 is revised to stipulate that even if the opposition parties refuse to deliberate in the Diet, a small number of ruling party members can proceed with the deliberation alone.

      15/ Article 66 is revised to allow “retired military personnel” to become ministers or prime ministers.

      16/ Article 77 is revised to make it possible to discipline lawyers who are in conflict with state power.

      17/ Article 83-2 is amended to declare that “financial soundness” is to be ensured by law, i.e., austerity may be used to bring the national economy into the black. That is: a permanent state of deflationary recession is to be stipulated by the Constitution.

      18/ Article 94 is revised such that local governments no longer have the “authority to manage property” and the “authority to execute administration” will be centralized.

      19/ Article 96 is revised such that proposals for constitutional amendment in both houses of the Diet no longer require “more than two-thirds” but simply “more than half“.

      20/ Article 97 is revised such that the guarantee of basic human rights is deleted in its entirety. Henceforth, “public interest and public order” are given complete priority over basic human rights.

      21/ Article 98 is added, to declare that the Prime Minister may issue a state of emergency. The Cabinet may enact orders which have the binding force of law. I.e., this is a power equivalent to the Enabling Act of 1933, which marked the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany.

      22/ Article 99 is revised such that the Constitution is no longer a chain which binds state power, but rather a chain which binds all citizens.

      This summary of the LDP’s plan to change the Consitution is based upon a consensus among constitutional scholars in Japan. For details, see:

  19. Terry Flynn

    Thanks. For the record, neither I nor my friend state anywhere that those examples are to be condoned (merely that reform is needed with couple of examples most here would sign off on). Firstly, and this is entirely my fault, there are further redactions of personal stuff in the email I quoted but which probably aren’t clear. Secondly, and as I have repeatedly been forced to emphasize in my contributions over last couple of days, I don’t seek to align myself with all of the late Abe’s policies.

    I, courtesy of a friend who provides insights typically unavailable to us who read NC, tried to put across the “interesting and surpringly progressive” aspects of Abe’s platform. Again, and maybe by not writing essays to convey nuances (which would stay in moderation even longer) I have failed to convey this. It is tiring to have to defend the fact that *of course* we don’t support the stuff you say.

    Probably best for me not to continue discussing Abe’s agenda – more heat than light is now being generated.

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