Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Yasukuni Complex

         The Yasukuni Shrine in Japan reopens old wounds on a near-annual basis for many nationalities in Asia.  

     On August 9th, The People's Daily Online, an officially sanctioned media outlet of the Chinese Communist Party, published an editorial entitled "Time to put an end to Japanese 'ghost worship', in which it stated that "every year on August 15th, a historical scar is reopened by the refusal of Japanese politicians to face up to their history of aggression-- a refusal that is encapsulated in their "ghost worship".  It is a unique event in the fact that for at least one day out of the year, China shares a common historical bond with North and South Korea, as well as Taiwan in their opposition of Japanese leaders visiting the shrine to pay their respects to who they see as those who have defended Japan throughout history.  It's not difficult to see the sensitivity surrounding the issue. A number of  convicted war criminals have been enshrined into the complex, including Hideki Tojo and Kenji Doihara, which is the primary source of anger among many who  feel that these individuals are unjustly  honored, which also results in a collective  revision of historical events within Japanese society.  While these bones of contentment are understandable, Japan is not alone in having a difficult time facing their historical wartime demons. 

     Whenever a state is involved in conflict in  either an external or domestic nature,  there are individuals and events that the opposition will undoubtedly see in a negative light.  In the United States, the sensitive nature of the Civil War that took place over 150 years ago still rears its ugly head via flag controversiesmemorials, and burials among Americans in a way that oftentimes would give the impression that the conflict took place much more recently.  It is often difficult for a society to admit that over the course of a particular conflict,  some within their tribe committed acts that went beyond the scope of a defense of their respective nation and its ideals,  and more into the realm of unacceptable human behavior--The acts of a few can shame the collective conscience of a nation.  Shame is not a feeling that any society would enjoy having for any period of time, but it can be a necessary cross that needs to be carried for a time in order for a  society to  move on from a particular conflict, and to  regain a pride that has been damaged.  Some countries have been able to bear this burden well and come to grips with violent episodes in their recent history (post-Nazi Germany, Cambodia,  Peru), while some are still struggling ( South Africa, Turkey).  

Japan is a unique case in that it has shown  a willingness to accept responsibility for its role in the Second World War by adopting and maintaining a Constitution that is a drastically different governmental framework that it had prior to 1945, and is based on democratic values and a pacifist--defense oriented military (although the military aspect within the constitution  could change in the near future).  It also has sectors within its society that has shown a steadfast reluctance to accept the documented episodes of Japanese brutality that took place throughout many of its conquered territories over the course of the Second World War, either by glossing over history in its school textbooks, and for many, the annual visits by members of the Japanese government to the Yasukuni Shrine. 

Ironically, three of the countries who often are most vocally opposed to the Yasukuni Shrine visits still have a "Yasukuni Complex" themselves in varying degrees.  The People's Daily editorial also stated that "Every time this date approaches, right-wing Japanese politicians parade their distorted view of war and history" and that the words from some Japanese officials "are shameless and aggressive" that "disdain the impact they have on the sensitivities of other peoples".  While there is not an official date that members of the Chinese Communist Party Standing Committee collectively get together to mark an official day of respect for those who they see as "heroes", the PRC does have what some could consider a building that is insensitive in its own right. 

Mao Zedong: The Chinese leader whose economic and political policies are  responsible for an estimated 20-70 million deaths. While the CCP criticizes Japanese "Ghost Worship", it practices its own version of honoring a controversial leader--in the flesh.  

While in recent decades, following Mao's death in 1976, the government has admitted "mistakes" were made over the course of Mao's rule, China has yet to come to terms with its own dark periods in contemporary history.  In the case of North Korea, it is not even worth exploring its own version of the "Yasukuni Complex", as it is a necessary component for the legitimization of the Korean Workers Party within the DPRK, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. 

In Taiwan, there has been considerable progress towards recognizing and coming to grips with  the brutal period of Chaing Kai-Shek's Kuomintang one-party rule for nearly 40 years on Taiwan, although there are still many people who have never been unaccounted for, and some within the KMT apparatus have attempted to gloss over the atrocities that took place within Taiwanese society  during this time as "necessary evils" in order to combat the communist threat from China proper.  

It is undoubtedly difficult to say "I'm sorry" as an individual. To do so on a collective level is perhaps even more difficult in that there are varying levels of emotion that must be grouped and packaged into a consensus that can be accepted by a society: guilt, responsibility, acceptance, pride, forgiveness, and surely many more.  The process can only begin by a willingness to take on these emotions, and in many cases certain societies do not yet have the collective will that is necessary to carry out this difficult task. In the case of Japan, perhaps it is time for it to do so, and in this modern age of mass media and social networking, the citizens of China, Taiwan,and even eventually North Korea could take note, and begin the process of  reflection themselves---and shedding their own "Yasukuni Complex" in the process. 


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