The Magazine

GUILT-FREE HISTORY

Mar 8, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 24 • By CHARLES HORNER
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There is, of course, self-interest in this and not a few crocodile tears. Still, Japan's unwillingness actually and profoundly to accept the great developments of the postwar world is what matters. And it matters very much to our foreign policies. Something as helpful to the United States as security cooperation between Japan and South Korea, for instance, is made infinitely more difficult by Japan's inability to confront its record in its former colony. The idea that Japan must be central to a larger Asian balance of power is made operationally impossible by the legacy of Japan's conduct in Southeast Asia. The suggestion that Japan can somehow be the core of strategic resistance to China comes up against Japan's inability to make any credible counterclaim against China's moral pretensions. The hope that Japan can serve as a model of parliamentary democracy in an Asian setting is still thwarted by Japan's persistent failure to offer itself enthusiastically as such.


Instead, the Japanese polity continues to display a uniquely obscurantist view of itself, seeming ever less cosmopolitan on closer inspection. This must concern strategists as much as moralists, for without moral standing -- of the sort Adenauer and Brandt were able to restore to Germany, thereby laying the foundations for Germany's current role in Europe -- Japan will remain strategically weak, too weak to be the kind of ally the United States needs in Asia.


Most disturbing over the long run, of course, is the anti-American subtext of Japan's evasion and obfuscation of its past. At the end of the day, Japan's "innocence" must be an affirmation of America's "guilt," for if Japan is the victim then America is the criminal. Japanese subtly instructed by their leaders that this is the real state of affairs will be open to many different suggestions about Japan's future role, no matter how politely they listen to ours.




Charles Horner is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and adjunct professor of politics at Washington and Lee University.