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War, Memory and Identity

Page history last edited by Bob Andrian 8 years, 6 months ago



War, Memory and Identity, and Japan's Post-Occupation Economic "Miracle"


     From an historiographical perspective, different schools of thought have emerged among historians who interpret Japan's modernization from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 through the U.S. Occupation and the emergence of the nation as a global economic superpower. 


1. The "modernization" school (Edwin O. Reischauer): historians view the Meiji revolution, led from above by enlightened absolutists like Ito Hirobumi (the architect of the Meiji Constitution), as basically a success story that Taisho democracy built upon in the 1910s and 20s. In this view, the decade of the 30s becomes an historical aberration replete with various anti-modern elements (militarism, autocracy, censorship, etc.). Militarists took over and essentially hijacked the country; fortunately they were defeated. The American Occupation then put Japan back on course towards increased democracy and miraculous economic growth.


2. The "modernist" school (Mauryama Masao): historians see Meiji's modernization as a period of flawed enlightenment and irrational thought. Instead of real parliamentary democracy,  true individualism, and enlightened rule, Japan witnessed the rise of the "emperor system," where loyalty to the emperor and the suppression of dissent grew over time. Taisho democracy became a fiction and ultimately the war can be seen as an irrational one. Japanese leaders behaved like idiots and the people followed like sheep ("good" sheep given the extensive media and popular support for ultra-nationalism). The American Occupation therefore afforded Japan a second chance towards democratization, which they embarked on successfully.


3. The "Marxist" school (Norma Field): historians view the Meiji revolution as glaringly incomplete and unsuccessful. The bourgeois was too weak in Japan, while the samurai class was too strong. The regime possessed too many feudal elements with the main one, the emperor, in control, leading to the absence of any real democratization in terms of social and economic equality in particular. Economic dualities (rural vs. urban, big corporations vs. small, industry vs. artisanship, etc.) became especially pronounced during the height of so-called Taisho democracy. The Great Depression augmented class inequalities and class conflict. Absolutism masquerading as constitutional democracy allowed for social control over workers and peasants. Fascistic trends in the 30s led to repression at home and aggression abroad. In this view, the Occupation served as a second opportunity to complete a revolution, but attempts at achieving true political, social and economic equality were quashed by both the U.S. and Japanese conservatives (witness the witch hunts for socialists and communists among other developments).


          In discussing the controversy that enveloped the Smithsonian as it planned an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II or the Great East Asia War or the Pacific War, depending on one's perspective, David Sanger, in his New York Times article, "Coloring History Their Our Way," quotes one museum official as saying:


"The [American] veterans want the exhibit to stop when the doors to the [Enola Gay] bomb bay opened. And that's where the Japanese want it to begin."


Obdurate nationalism in both the United States and Japan helped contribute to what might be called the "myth of severed history" in each country's collective imagination. In 1995 the Smithsonian exhibit featured the Enola Gay with fuselage "flying solo," while Japan celebrated the 50th anniversary of the "Beginning of the Post-War period." By focusing on Pearl Harbor and other pre-atomic bomb, Japanese atrocities towards the U.S. in an historical vacuum, Americans could conveniently ignore roughly 90 years of quasi-imperialism towards Japan. As for the bomb itself, Japan had received its just desserts. By focusing exclusively on Japan's victimization at the hands of the bombs, Japan could sever its bestiality towards the rest of Asia from 1931-45. Remembering the atomic bombs could conceal Manchuria and Nanking.


Out of context: the Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian in 1995 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War:



Out of context: a "Cherry Blossom" Kamikaze plane at the Yasukuni Shrine




And the U.S. was complicit in abetting Japan's historical amnesia and acceptance of war guilt. By insisting that the Japanese refer to the war as the Pacific War (and not the more common Great East Asian War) in an effort to minimize Japanese nationalism, Occupation authorities truncated the war to a five-year period and centered it in the Pacific as a conflict solely between the U.S. and Japan. Absent a "past," the "present" for Japan would begin with Hirohito's surrender. The Pacific war had been wrong; its villains were the military-dominated Japanese government; its victims the Japanese people who had been duped by their leaders. But now American led and supervised redemption was at hand. Japan would experience a new beginning of peace, democracy and prosperity. 


Of course as we saw in our last class, democracy did not preclude censorship. For example, in order to obtain bio-chemical information from the Japanese, the U.S. suppressed information about Japan's bio-warfare unit, Unit 731, which had conducted germ warfare and vivisections of Chinese prisoners while alive and usually without anesthesia.



Even Japan's left-leaning intellectuals who wanted to label the war, the "15-Year War," also wanted a future of progress for their country. Indeed as long as peace and prosperity continued, what reason was there to alter the nation's memory of the past, let alone question its conscience. (Although the war was actually discussed more critically in Japan than in Germany during the early in the 1950s---the left complained about Japanese war crimes, the right insisted the war had been just, and the Ministry of Education (right) and Japan Teachers Union (left) argued over what to include in history textbooks (they still argue today))---it would ultimately take Hirohito's death in 1989 to begin to see Japanese challenge this myth-history, something Kenzaburo Oe ("Denying History Disables Japan") insisted must happen for Japan's rehabilitation to occur. When the Japanese Prime Ministers (and other government officials) pay visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in August, however, such rehabilitation suffers in the face of misguided nationalism and a momentary return to "State Shinto."


Prime Minister Koizumi, despite protests from South Korea and China in particular, visited the Yasukuni Shrine in 2006. 




Predictably and understandably, South Korea reacted with indignation:



Any mention after the war of the atomic bomb was out of the question. (John Hersey's Hiroshima, which appeared in The New Yorker, in 1946, was not published in Japan until 1949. Video of the bombs' impact was kept concealed by Occupation authorities.The first artistic depiction of the human effects of the bombs did not appear until 1950 where the artists Iri and Toshi Maruki collaborated on grand murals starkly depicting the victims of Hiroshima. Toshi also illustrated in water color an award-winning children's book on which the animated film, Hiroshima No Pika, (2005) is based. (The couple went on as well to paint the victims of the rape of Nanking. The documentary film, Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima, 1986, captures the Marukis' work; I highly recommend it to you.) You can view the Hiroshima murals here.




As the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty of 1952 outlined, in return for having military bases in Japan (Okinawa especially), the United States provided military protection for the Japanese, thus allowing them to focus on economic growth without having to commit resources for self-defense. Although Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution clearly renounced any wartime activity, the Japanese created a national police force called the "Self Defense Forces," which numbered 75,000 by 1950, about 1% of GDP, a similar percentage to today's, which puts Japan 10th in the world. The issue of whether Japan should in some way amend Article 9 to allow for more than "self-defense forces" has been and continues to be a divisive one.


In November, 1970, Japan's famous novelist, Yukio Mishima, gave a speech to a group of Self-Defense Forces, then committed seppuku, or ritual suicide. The act shocked the nation. In his speech, Mishima attacked Japan's essence, or lack thereof:


We have seen postwar Japan stumble into a spiritual vacuum, preoccupied only with its economic prosperity, unmindful of its national foundations, losing its national spirit, seeking trivialities without looking to fundamentals, and falling into makeshift expediency and hypocrisy. ... We have had to stand idly by while the policies and the future of the nation were entrusted to foreign powers ... We dreamed today the real Japan, the real Japanese, and the real bushi [samurai]  We are angered by postwar Japan's overlong sleep. ... We believe that we, as Japanese, have no greater duty than to exert ourselves to the utmost for the day, when through constitutional revision, the Self-Defense Forces can stand on the principle of founding an army ... (Huffman, Modern Japan, 189) 


Yukio Mishima in November, 1970 delivering the speech that preceded his suicide



Mishima was focusing on a variety of problems including Japanese war guilt, the marginalization of the emperor system, modernism, pacifism, and postwar democracy. The political analyst, Kano Tsutomu, wrote in 1971 that Mishima's suicidal act was a "collision of 'modernization and nationalism.'" (as quoted in Huffman, 188)


As Japan started to grow stronger economically, the direct result of the Korean War---Japanese large corporations (zaibatsu) supplied American troops during the war and became increasingly connected with U.S. corporations---the revised Security Treaty of 1960 angered many Japanese because of the country's renewed dependence on and subordination to the U.S., the price of pacifism. Japan's economic clout was not being matched by its political profile. Many referred to the nation as a "timid colossus." Numerous Japanese objected to Japan's obsequiousness in consistently supporting U.S. war efforts in Vietnam, though many believed that "Japan must cooperate fully with the United States in carrying our the latter's policy of world management," noting that "American internationalism" was a far better option than "communist internationalism."


The 1950s and 60s witnessed the emergence of what would become known in Japan as the "Iron Triangle," the tight (and not infrequently), corrupt alliance among Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), big business (notably the keiretsu, or bank-centered conglomerates), and Japan's bureaucrats, especially those in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), foreign affairs, and finance. The LDP became a political machine, its various factions wrestling for influence, and from 1955 to 1994 was the dominant political party in the Japanese Diet. (It was only recently displaced by the Democratic Party of Japan.) Prime Ministers were often tied to suspect, favored business deals, which themselves were the indirect byproducts of targeted industrial policy directed by the MITI ministers. (Today's "MITI" is "METI," the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.)


Japan's Prime Minister in 1960, former MITI minister Ikeda Hayato, announced that by 1970, national income would be doubled. And, indeed the economy grew on average by 10.6% annually throughout the 60s as did national income. Japanese families continued to save more and more and spend less and less on food and clothing. Consumer spending grew, and so did Japan's industrial output, though in distinct stages. Heavy industry (coal and steel, shipbuilding) was targeted first, then consumer products and automobiles for export markets, and finally knowledge-based products like computers and electronics. (Buruma, Newsweek)


By 1969 Japan was the world's leader in production of cameras, commercial motor vehicles, motorcycles, radio sets, and shipbuilding; and the runner-up in aluminum, cement, computers, crude steel, and television sets. The export economy was booming, as was the nation's confidence. Japan's hosting of the summer Olympic games in Tokyo in 1964 (when the Shinkansen, or first bullet train was introduced) and Expo' 70 in Osaka signified that country's reemergence into the world with shining cases of national pride. In Osaka there was even talk that the 21st century would be the Japanese century.


One of the original classes of Shinkansen from 1964




From a cultural perspective, rapid economic growth witnessed the rebirth of the samurai tradition in the person of the "salaryman." In return for absolute loyalty to the company, Japanese workers received lifetime employment (though this was basically true only in large companies) and promotion through seniority. As time went on, however, particularly during the 1980s when Japan was awash in capital---from 1970-85, GDP rose 450%---questions arose about how much happiness prosperity was bringing to the salaryman. We will examine "company man" disillusionment in a later class.




What price, progress was a lament of many in the late 1960s as frustration with rapid industrialization and urbanization grew. Industrial plants took over beautiful landscapes, housing could not match urban population growth, environmental pollution spewed from industrial wastes (including a notorious case of mercury poisoning in a fishing village called Minamata), and poor quality university education frustrated students (along with the country's support of the Vietnam War). The global energy crisis of the early 70s raised oil prices four-fold on a country that depended on that commodity for 75% of its energy. And yet the vitality and resilience of the Japanese brought about policies that curbed inflation and reduced oil dependency to 55% of energy needs by the end of the decade. 







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