Philip J Cunningham : In both the revisionist and the human rights camps, getting history 'right' is the key to solving Japan's social malaise and making future progress

Roundup: Talking About History

[Philip J Cunningham is a freelance writer and political commentator.]

For Japan to be the country it deserves to be, its burden of guilt must be lifted. So argues US Congressman David Scott, adding a voice of support to US Representative Mike Honda's House Resolution 121 calling on Tokyo to ''formally acknowledge, apologise, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner'' for the crime of forcing young women to work in military brothels.

Embattled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his neo-conservative cabinet may bristle at the idea of apologising so soon after denying that the comfort women were coerced, but the revisionists would almost certainly agree with Mr Scott that Japan's historic burden needs to be lifted.

The revisionists inadvertently stress the weight of historic guilt by seeking to revise, brush over or deny image-damaging matters, while human rights activists see acknowledgement and apology as part of a cathartic process of atonement that promises to heal the wounds of victim and victimiser alike....

Mr Abe's failure to consider how his narrow nationalism and self-beautifying revisionism might be offensive to Japan's friends and neighbours is putting at risk Japan's deserved reputation as a peace-loving country. Indeed, given Mr Abe's long association with textbook white-washing under the guise of reform and patriotic education, there is every indication that he would have Japan throw off its burden of guilt, not by confronting it, by but by pretending it wasn't there. Given the chance, he would replace the Peace Constitution with something more amenable to waging war.

Despite all this, some would argue that Japan's history is Japan's business. But Japan was, and is, a country with deep, inextricable links with its neighbours, dependent on commerce, the movement of peoples and open borders for its very survival. No nation's history is an island, nor can it be honestly written without reference to others....

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