North Korea's nuclear test reopens the question of Japanese rearmamentby Francis Fukuyama / November 19, 2006 / Leave a comment
The apparently successful testing of a nuclear weapon by North Korea has raised the issue of proliferation in the region and, in particular, the question of Japanese rearmament. In this context it is worth considering the recent election of Shinzo Abe to leader of Japan’s Liberal Democratic party (LDP), and therefore prime minister. Abe’s predecessor Junichiro Koizumi was a bold leader, who brought the Japanese economy out of the doldrums and smashed the LDP’s faction system. But he also legitimised a new Japanese nationalism. Abe is, if anything, even more committed to building an assertive and unapologetic Japan than Koizumi, who for the past five years has managed to antagonise China and South Korea with his annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine.
Anyone inclined to think that the controversy over Yasukuni is an obscure historical matter that the Chinese and the Koreans use to badger Japan for political advantage has probably never spent much time there. The problem is not the fact that 12 Class-A war criminals are interred in Yasukuni; the real problem is the Yushukan military museum next to it, which is operated by a private religious foundation. Walking past the tanks and machine guns, one finds a history of the Pacific war which, the museum proudly explains, restores “the truth of modern Japanese history.” It follows the nationalist narrative according to which Japan was a victim of the European colonial powers, one that sought only to protect the rest of Asia from them. It describes Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea, for example, as a “partnership.” One looks in vain for any account of the victims of Japanese militarism in Nanjing or Manila.
One might be able to defend the museum as one point of view among many, but for the fact that there is no other museum in Japan that gives an alternative view of 20th-century Japanese history. Successive Japanese administrations have hidden behind the fact that the Yushukan museum is run by a religious organisation to wash their hands of responsibility for the views expressed there. But the truth is that Japan, unlike Germany, has never come to terms with its responsibility for the Pacific war. It has never had a real internal debate and never tried to propagate an alternative account from that of Yushukan to its young people.
My exposure to the Japanese right came in the early 1990s, when I appeared on…