With a shrinking population – its births last year were the lowest ever – Japan is really in no position to make things harder for itself. Despite its tech-savvy, homogeneous culture, which makes getting along more of a family affair than in countries beset with over-immigration (the Japanese are famously opposed to taking in new citizens from beyond its shores), it has a smaller population footprint than many of its neighbors. Thus every Japanese citizen, especially those under 70, ought to be valuable to the nation as a whole.
So what does Japan do? Like a sly classroom bully more renowned for book-learning than street smarts, Japan has once again taunted its former enemies of World War II. Asian survivors of the war are still living. In Japan, of course. Also in the Philippines.
Some of the Filipina survivors lived through the physical pain and mental anguish of daily, brutal rapes. They were forced into unpaid prostitution as – what a euphemism! – “comfort” women, available to Japanese soldiers as the men desired and depending on their rank. Essentially, the women were treated as vaginas poked without regard for their own human needs or pain.
If this starts to sound like a lament for the recent rape victim in Delhi who was tortured, beaten, threatened with death, tossed under the tires of a bus, the yet-unnamed woman who fought valiantly for her life – well, naturally there are similarities.
In the Indian case, the six rapists carried iron bars. In the case of the Japanese armed forces, they carried guns and knives. If you imagine that women facing such threats had any choice about whether their bodies would be cruelly invaded, think again.
A recent New York Times piece reports that “Japan’s new (and former) prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and his conservative government may revise Japan’s 1993 apology for forcing thousands of women to be sex slaves in the service of Japanese soldiers during World War II”.
So a nation finally brings itself to apologize for wrongs done to civilians during its occupation of their countries decades in the past. Nearly 20 years after that, a conservative – read: “what, me feel shame?” – politician makes noises indicating that that long-overdue apology may now be retracted.
The mind boggles.
Prime Minister Abe and his ilk may regard this as a small matter, easily swept under the rug of statesmanship errors. At under 60 years old, he might perceive that the women brutalized before his birth are a mere handful of the unimportant elderly. And apologies mean “face” is lost. Conservatives everywhere love to preserve “face” . . . especially when they don’t deserve it.
Aw, shucks. I hate to spoil the self-pity party, but has Abe looked southwest toward that giant land mass across the Korea Strait?
China, yes. Where the Japanese landed during WWII, where they also forced women into sexual torture (that’s what unwanted sexual entry is) accompanied by its henchmen, pain and despair. Like Dementors, those men swallowed their victims’ joy and self-esteem, leaving behind decades of work to recover. It’s no accident that rape carries a high incidence of PTSD, just like experience in combat.
Yet in combat, you face the enemy as part of an armed group. In rape, you face them unarmed and entirely alone.
So Japan seeks to de-apologize for the intense harm it caused women during the 1940s. It seeks to minimize, to diminish the brutality of its actions.
Is it mad?
Revising the 1993 apology is the ethically wrong thing to do. It’s also the least prudent course of action. In thumbing its nose at Chinese women’s pain, Japan would be thumbing its nose at these women’s children and grandchildren. At their relatives, their neighbors, their friends. Their support groups.
Collectively, Japan would de-apologize to a nation that over the next twenty years will develop in a skewed sex ratio population the extraordinary ability to fling soldiers into war . . . and the need to do so in order to avoid tumult and violence in its large cities to the east and south.
Japan is like a single-child family dissing its next-door neighbor with ten sons (and two daughters). Does it have the right to do so? Certainly. There’s no law against folly.
Yet Japanese conservatives would be better advised to let sleeping dragons lie. Japan simply doesn’t have the numbers to play the school bully.