Sunday, March 15, 2009

Scratch that Idea

Amb Kazuhiko Togo is a veteran of Japan’s history wars. He had worked hard to construct governmental, official-sounding apologies that satisfy both the myriad interests in Japan and Japan’s still-wounded victims. Now, after years of exile in the West, he searches for some middle ground on contrition for Japan. He tries to reconcile Japanese admissions of its wartime atrocities with the desire to protect national honor. He discusses his thoughts in an edited book, East Asia’s Haunted Present.

An important thesis of his writing is his belief that the April 27, 2007 Japanese Supreme Court decision on forced labor ended/nullified any claims, state or private, against Japan. Government-to-government agreements normalizing relations with Japan’s former colonies and enemies ended any and all efforts for additional legal remedies for redress and apology.  
What is left, he argues, is Japan’s “moral dignity.” 

With legal immunity firmly in place, the Japanese people are free to take the moral high road and pursue other remedies toward understanding and reconciliation. Togo raises this possibility especially in regard to forced labor from Chinese, Koreans, and Allied POWs. Industry and government were clearly responsible for what happened to these forced laborers, and continued denial is counterproductive.

Unanswered is how would Japanese government or industries interpret what is “moral” and what would compel Mitsui or Mitsubishi to pursue the moral course. An answer was provided on Monday, March 9th.

The Japan Times reports the Fukuoka High Court dismissed a damages suit against the government and two companies, Mitsui Mining Co. and Mitsubishi Materials Corp., by 45 Chinese who were forced to work as laborers in Japan during World War II. The plaintiffs had filed the suit in February 2003, seeking monetary compensation and an apology to be published in Japanese and Chinese newspapers.

The court acknowledged “forcibly taking the Chinese to coal mines in Fukuoka Prefecture was an illegal act committed jointly by the government and the companies. However, it noted that individual Chinese have no right to demand war reparations from Japan due to a postwar agreement.”

Last April, however, the High Court's presiding judge, Koji Ishii, recommended the two sides settle out of court as “the pain the victims have suffered was big.” But negotiations were broken off, the Times reports, partly because the government rejected the suggestion.

Interestingly, also on March 9, the International Labor Organization again admonished Japan for its failure to address its wartime violations of the 1930 Forced Labor Convention, which Imperial Japan signed and ratified, with respect to comfort women and industrial slavery (forced labor). [Relevant portions of the 2009 report are on pp. 222-224; pp.252-254 of PDF version] 

Neither domestic judicial suggestion nor international legal obligation appear to persuade official Japan that there is a “moral” element to wartime apologies. Neither guilt nor shame are components of Japan’s war responsibilities. Today’s Japanese leaders define their own compromises on these issues and declare that they are to be accepted for what they are. 

So, with the Fukuoka decision concerning forced labor for Mitsui and Mitsubishi, the first test of Amb Togo's suggestion to use a "moral attitude" as a tool of war reconciliation has failed.

Some Reading
“NHK's Finest Hour: Japan's Official Record of Chinese Forced Labor” By William Underwood, ZNet, June 20, 2006 

“Japan's historical Memory: Reconciliation With Asia” By Kazuhiko Togo, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 52-4-08, December 23, 2008.

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