Sunday, September 13, 2009

Apology, But Not Sorry

In today's Dallas Morning News there was a surprising article on the lingering affects of torture and how hard it is to forgive the torturers.

It is not, however, about the terrorist suspects tortured by American agents. Instead, was about the few remaining survivors of the infamous 1942 Bataan Death March on the Philippines. This horrific trek was followed by Hell Ships and years of suffering as POWs of Japan mainly as slave laborers for private Japanese companies.

Only this May did the Ambassador from Japan offer an apology. Even then it was only a reconstructed Murayama war apology statement reworded to include the Bataan Death March. Corregidor, and POWs from "other places."

Interestingly, the Ambassador's statement was never published in English or Japanese by the Japanese government. The Embassy has also refused to clarify what Japanese word was intended when the English "apologize" was used. The nuances in Japan's apology words make a difference.

The Dallas journalist asked the men, all in their 90s, how they felt about the May apology and the possibility of being finally included in a peace and reconciliation program for POWs. Since 1995, a Peace, Friendship, and Exchange Initiative program invited Allied POWs and their families to Japan. The program also funded limited research on the topic.

The survivors quoted in the article had remained bitter and unforgiving. The brutality and inhumanity of their captors was beyond civil comprehension. The risk taken by the Japanese Ambassador was unappreciated.

For all of the men, the apology was seen as "a little late." There were too few left to hear it.

The possible invitation program, as they understood it, just seemed hypocritical. There are not many 90-year olds who can travel to Japan. As one said, "It just doesn't make any sense for us to go over there now." Others said they have no interest in reliving the painful memories of captivity.

"To me, it's a sick joke," said Bill Adair, a 92-year-old retired Army major from Dallas. "Why in the hell are they just getting around to apologizing now?

The answer is really quite simple. No one before this past year had coordinated American politicians with Japanese politicians in an effort to seek an apology for the POWs. It is significant that there is now political interest and effort in Japan to resolve lingering history issues.

To be sure, this interest is not supported by the conservative, ruling LDP. But they are on their way out, something the Japanese Foreign Ministry had long been cognizant of if not preparing for. It will be the DPJ that will be working with a bi-partisan group of American congressmen and senators.

It also helped that Japan's departing prime minister, Taro Aso, comes from a family that used Allied POWs in its mines. For years Mr. Aso denied that this happened. Only this year was he forced to admit it, which helped highlight the issue internationally.

The task, now left, is for the Obama Administration to put its weight behind encouraging Japan to do the right thing toward members of America's greatest generation. Thus far, the issue has been a nuisance and tepidly received. The Alliance Managers continue to maintain a rigid understanding of the elements of the U.S.-Japan Alliance.

And lastly, the Japanese Foreign Ministry needs to consult with the veterans and scholars as to what would actually be an appropriate Peace, Friendship and Exchange Initiative for remembering the American POWs. Simply inviting the few ambulatory old men to Japan is cynical.

The Initiative is an incredible opportunity to initiate the long-delayed dialogue on the Pacific War between the U.S. and Japan. A program that includes families, scholars, NGOs, political actors, researchers, and public programs can ensure that the dialogue is broad and constructive. Most important, it can put the "sorry" in Japan's apology.

N.B.: I had absolutely nothing to do with this article, was not interviewed for it, and was surprised that it was published. So don't blame me.


  1. Anyone who argues that "only" a resolution passed by the Diet can be considered an "official" apology is ignorant of constitutional practice in parliamentary democracies. Members of cabinet, including the chief cabinet secretary (who is a minister of state, despite arguments by some that he isn't) are imbued with ultimate responsibility for their portfolios and are thus "official" representatives of the state. Parliamentary ministers are imbued with sovereign authority in their area of activity and enjoy the confidence of parliament until the PM decides to relieve them or until parliament, or the Diet, decides to relieve the government as a whole. Likewise Ambassadors are plenipotentiary actors, that is, they have the full powers of their government overseas. Anything that ministers or ambassadors do or say as part of their job is "official." They bear ultimate responsibility on behalf of the sovereign, in this case, the Japanese people "symbolized" by the Emperor.

    Japan is not the U.S. where cabinet members are simply extra-consititutional aides to the president (although even here apologies by secretaries are still considered "official"--see Armitage's 2002 apology to the families of South Korean girls crushed by trucks).

    But the real reason why nobody should argue that "only" an apology issued by the Diet can be considered official is that, technically, "even" an apology issued by the Diet is not considered official. The same goes for the British system. There are simply no constitutional arrangements devised to issue formal or official apologies in Japan. Or anywhere, as far as I know.

    While there are provisions in the Japanese constitution for resolutions pertaining to the expulsion of members, a lack of confidence in the government and the like, there is nothing that says that a resolution reflecting the collective opinion of the Diet in any other way is "official". In fact, as in the United States, such resolutions are extra-constitutional bits of fluff. Unless people howling about an "official" resolution passed by the Diet can point me to a piece of law outlining the process for an official Japanese apology, you will have to excuse me for being unsympathetic to their complaints that Japan has not "officially" apologised.

    The truth is, when you are generating new concepts that pertain to official action, a lot lies with convention. And that means it is largely up to the Japanese to decide what constitutes an official apology in their political context. Some people may prefer a Diet resolution as an apology because the Diet is the body that represents the will of the Japanese people as a whole. Fair enough. But to claim a diet resolution, along with a few other exceptions, is the only "official" form of apology is simply inaccurate.

  2. There is less depth to your understanding of Japan's legislative practice than you believe.

    A definitive, official government statement must fit one of four conditions:

    1) a bill passed by the Diet. The Prime Minister, representing the Cabinet, submits a bill to the Diet (art 72), which becomes a law upon passage by both Lower and Upper Houses (art 59) and the signature of the competent Minister of State and the countersignature by the Prime Minister (art 74);
    2) a statement by a cabinet minister in a full session of the Diet;
    3) a statement by a prime minister in an official communiqué while on an overseas visit;
    4) a statement ratified by the Cabinet, known as a cabinet decision, kakugi kettei.

    In reality none of the first three examples of official statements are possible without a cabinet decision. A cabinet decision is the definitive expression of official government policy in Japan.

    The ONLY apology from Japan to receive a kakugi kettei is the Murayama Statement. And he had to threaten to resign to get that. I am talking about official, formal, unequivocal.

    Note, The Anon Comment was eliminated the first time I tried to accept it--yes my Apple track pad has a complete life of its own. So I somehow retrieved it from my emails.


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