Why Japan Cannot Learn from Germany


Original post :http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/what-japan-cannot-learn-from-germany/

Arguments that Japan need only adoptGermany’sattitude to its wartime past overlook a great deal of history.

Reports on contemporary Japanese diplomacyusually mention and often focus on the large role thatthe historyof World War II plays in Japan’srelations with its Asian neighbors. Japan’s murderouspast keeps makingheadlines, often through comments from politicians, public officials,lobbying groups, or historians. U.S. President Barack Obama’sstatement, during his recent Korea visit, that Japan’suse of South Korean comfort women during the war was anegregiousviolation of humanrights is but one of many examples.
In trying to understand why Japan’s pastcasts such a long shadow onto its present, one promising approach is to comparethe country to itserstwhile World War II ally, Germany. That country’stargeted campaign of genocide still plays an important role in shaping thecountry’s national identity, but Germany’s past still does not weigh as heavily on its relations with itsneighbors as Japan’s does. Through a difficult and arduous process ofconfronting, remembering, and on occasion apologizing for itsNazi past, Germany has come to terms with its history andreconciled with the victims of its past aggression. Facedwith this evidence, it is tempting to conclude that the more strained, sometimes poisonedrelations that Japan has with its Asian neighbors are a direct productof the way in which it dealt – or failed to deal – with its wartimehistory.

The most recent instance of this line of argument can be foundin Jochen Bittner’s New York Times op-ed, “What Germany Can TeachJapan” published last month. Bittner argues that postwar Germany hasbecome “normal” – definedas “earning and enjoying the trust of itsneighbors” – because it dealtproperly with its history of genocidal mass murder. If Japan alsowants to become normal, he recommends, it should simply follow the Germanexample.
But it is not that simple. The fact thatGermany has achieved “normalcy” cannot be reduced to the way it dealt and deals with its history.Factors beyond Germany’s control, including fortunatecircumstances and cooperative neighbors,played a far more important role and make Germany’s recipe for normalcy impossible for Japan. A brief glance at Japan’s postwar history reveals at least five factors which explain why, almost 70 yearsafter the war, Germany is surrounded by friendly alliesand Japan is not.

First, as unity among theAllies who had vanquished Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan duringWorld War Two after 1945 gave way to the competition between capitalistdemocracies and communist autocracies, West Germany was integrated into NATO,while Japan found cover under America’s nuclear umbrella. German dependence on amultilateral treaty system, supported by three nuclear powers (United States,Great Britain and France) gave that country some room to negotiate, and on occasionsexploit, differencesbetween its three protectors.Differences between the U.S. and France were to become particularly importantfor Germany’s future. Japan, on the other hand, hasbeen locked since 1945 into a bilateral relationship with the U.S.where the latter enjoys (and shows little inclination to relinquish) monopolypower in matters of protection, leaving Japan relatively little negotiatingroom.
Second, while the ideological conflictbetween the U.S. and the Soviet Union is commonly known as the Cold War, theterm is appropriate only in the West. In Asia the conflict between thecapitalist and communist camp was fought at a much higher temperature in aseries of proxy wars: first in Korea, then in Vietnam (and secretly in Laos andCambodia) and finally in Afghanistan. This did not create a climate thatencouraged Japanese foreign policymakers to seek freedom from U.S. protection.The already close security relationship only grew closer.

Third, Germany bordersFrance, a country that aspired after the war to return to the status of a “Grande Nation,”independent of superpower influence. To do that,France needed a relationship to balance her dependence on U.S. protection. Whatbetter choice than Germany, the world’s second largesteconomy before the war, soon to become Europe’seconomic powerhouse. Certainly, the West German government deserves credit forseizing the opportunity that France offered and for developing theFranco-German relationship over the years into what today is the EuropeanUnion. But this would have been impossible without France’s goodwill, initiative and cooperation. Faulting Japan for nothaving done something similar is short-sighted, forwhich country in the Far East is Asia’s counterpart to France? Most Asian countries were still colonies in the early postwarperiod, thus unable to formulate an independent foreign policy and formalliances with Japan. In fact, the only nation of France’s stature in Asia in the postwar period was the People’s Republic of China. Doesanyone seriously believe that Washington would have stood by idly watching ifJapan had sought to establish a relationship with communist China similar tothat between Germany and France in Europe?
Fourth, German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s “Ostpolitik” – that is, his offer ofreconciliation across the Iron Curtain, memorably symbolized by kneeling infront of the Ghetto Uprising Memorial in Warsaw in 1970 – became possible only after Germany had cemented its Atlanticrelation with the U.S. and begun laying the foundation for the EU. Only becauseGermany enjoyed the military protection provided by NATO, access to Europeanmarkets, and peacein Europe didGerman leaders feel able to try not only more democracy,but also a rapprochement with communist neighbors in Eastern Europe. Within theU.S.-sponsored security architecture put in place in Asia, Japan never enjoyedthe degree freedom that Germany exercised under Brandt. Offending U.S. interests was and remains toorisky for a country that depends on U.S. protection in military affairs andaccess to U.S. markets.

Finally, while the end of the Cold War wasexperienced as a turning point for many European countries, especially inGermany, there was no corresponding watershed moment in Asia. As the SovietUnion dissolved, its republics and satellites regained true sovereignty, andGermany was reunited. In spite of the tremendous economic growth experienced inAsia, the predominant perception there is one ofpolitical stasis. Korea remains divided. So does China. Authoritarian regimesare still in place. The year 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin wall at thecenter of Europe, and the Tiananmen Square massacre in Asia. So isit any wonder that Japan sought and seeks to align itselfmore closely to its protector, the U.S., while occasionallytrying to negotiate some freedom within the existing structure? AsJohn Mearsheimer has convincingly argued, Tokyo’srecent hard line against Beijing can also be understood as an attempt to assurethe U.S. of Japan’s loyalty in the unfoldingcompetition between China and America. If one recalls theAncient Roman precept “divide et impera,” one wonders if thorough reconciliation among Asian nations reallyis in America’s interest, as continued American dominance over theregion is premised on division.

Given all thesedifferences in Germany and Japan’s respective geopoliticalenvironments, it is not really fair to explain Japan’s failure to become “normal” like Germany by pointing to thedifferent ways in which these two countries have dealtwith their past. Perhaps the question of whetherJapan is normal should be decided bycomparing it not with Germany, but with othernations around the world, most of which find it hard to apologize to thepeoples they have victimized in the past. It tookFrance 50 years after Algerian independence before President Fran漀椀猀 Hollande admitted in 2012 that French rule overAlgeria had been “profoundlyunjust and brutal” – yet he still made apoint of not apologizing. Has England apologized for massacrescommitted during its rule over India? Not yet. Have we heard Italy apologizingfor its genocidal campaign in Ethiopia during the 1930s? Or Turkey for thegenocide of the Armenians? Don’t hold your breath. Andall the people of Vietnam have gotten out of the U.S. so far is Robert McNamara’s statement that the Vietnam war was “wrong,terribly wrong.”
The true tragedy is not that Japan hasfailed to face its past, but that this failure is so common among the nationsof this world that it is normal.
Why Germany

One difference is that Germany was almost reduced to the stone age via bombing, shelling, Soviet retribution. They like japan did not give up easy but as amazing as this may sound were a nation that was more completely destroyed. Their whole system of beliefs caved in.