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Agreeing the Past Never Happened: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Congress

Next week, on April 29, at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will speak to both houses of Congress. He will be the first Japanese prime minister to speak to a joint session of Congress, and the first to address either house since 1961.

Boehner has said, “His address will provide an opportunity for the American people to hear from one of our closest allies about ways we can expand our cooperation on economic and security priorities. That, of course, includes working together to open markets and encourage more economic growth through free trade.”

Abe will have a summit with President Obama on April 28 and his trip will last until May 2. The rise of China has given both countries, close allies since the end of World War II, much to talk about, and the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership will no doubt be a hot topic as well.

It should be, in one respect at least, a happy meeting: both Shinzo Abe and the Republican Congress embrace historical revisionism; that is, re-purposing the past to be more congenial to the needs of the present. For example, Abe has preferred to blame China for tensions between the two countries rather than acknowledge Japan’s long history of aggression (1931-1945) against China.

John McCain, who is constantly changing his views of the past, and sometimes even of the present, loves himself some Abe, and in January, was happy to see him in Israel.

Granted, McCain’s handshake is cheap, since he will even shake hands with Islamic terrorists. So his judgment must be questioned when he says things like, “I’m a great admirer of Mr. Abe. I’m very happy with our strategic partnership. Our military relationship is excellent.”

Obviously, America wants Japan to be able to defend itself. Abe wants to change Japan’s post-war constitution to enable his country to engage in collective defense, and earlier this month, the two countries agreed to expand their security ties. Japan can defend itself, but it must be very careful how it goes about doing so.

It has been 70 years this year since Japan’s bid to launch what it called the “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere” came crashing to the ground after four years of war, relentless firebombing of Japan’s cities, two atomic bombs, and a Russian declaration of war.

After Emperor Hirohito announced surrender on August 15, Japan formally surrendered on September 2, 1945, which followed Germany’s May 8 surrender by several months. We hear a great deal about the Holocaust and the tens of millions who died at the hands of the Nazis. We hear far less about the millions of civilians killed by the Japanese Empire.

And that is exactly how the nationalist Abe wants it. Which is no doubt fine with the Republicans, who, after all, have made their careers lying about America’s sometimes dark past (e.g. slavery). Abe acts like a man who knows he has to say sorry, and publicly must actually be sorry, but who privately, thinks facts are an inconvenience.

For example, the uncongenial fact of Japan’s use of women in occupied territories as “comfort women” (sex slaves) for the use of the troops. Abe has apologized for this, but he wants 1996 United Nations report to go away. He wants the report revised, which is his way of basically saying Japan’s 1993 apology was a mistake.

China and Korea are naturally unhappy with the direction Abe has taken. Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March may be better known to Americans, but those countries were Japan’s primary victims. American veterans are upset, and all concerned want a formal renunciation by Abe of Japan’s predatory ways.

In the words of South Korea’s foreign ministry, Abe must use his speech before Congress to “show sincere repentance for the past.”

What price the truth? Japan and Korea being at odds is as inconvenient as facts right now, with the rise of China and tensions in the Far East. In March, US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russell said these tensions are a “strategic liability to all of us.”

But a future built on lies about the past seems unpalatable, to say the least, and no more secure. Though it is clear Abe must come clean on Japan’s heinous activities during the war, he is not alone. The United States has a great deal to own up to as well.

Not only should virtue never be a matter of convenience, but it must be recognized that fact is a better foundation than fantasy. If we are to confront the very real threat of China, we must confront the very real facts of our shared history.

And this is true not only of Prime Minister Abe, but our own Congress and Republican leadership. Rather than shared nods and winks, which affirm nothing but a commitment to deceit, let us acknowledge the mistakes of the past, and pledge to do better in the future.

Image: China Daily Mail

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