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[These are notes prepared for my launch of this new book by a friend and former colleague, on Thursday 5 July 2018 during the biennial Asian Studies Association of Australia. The second half is posted on 1 August 2018.]

I am honoured and humbled – in three ways – to launch this latest book by my former colleague at USydney’s Japanese Studies Department, Dr Yasuko Claremont, which examines “Civil Society and Postwar Pacific Basin Reconciliation”.

I am humbled as it is the first time to launch a book … which makes me feel a little old!

But I am also humbled because Yasuko puts me to shame for her productivity; since retiring in 2015, she has also produced two other books. This evidence of “life after retirement” makes me feel young again!

I am further humbled because this book makes me realize how much I still need to learn about history and society in Japan (and indeed in Australia – the book’s major comparative reference point, along with Korea and China / Taiwan). Although I research and teach Japanese law “in context”, I tend to delve more into the law than the context. Yet both are deeply intertwined, and law in fact crops up in several chapters throughout this book.

This thought-provoking book derives from a conference at USydney in 2015, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. That built on conferences on post-War reconciliation held from 2011 at USydney, in Japan and in South Korea. Several other books came out of those collaborations, including “Citizen Power: Postwar Reconciliation” edited in English and Japanese by Dr Yasuko Claremont. It was based on a photographic exhibition in the Sydney Law School library, curated by Dr Claremont, which vividly illustrated the variety of grass-roots initiatives within Japan and around the Asia-Pacific region aimed at promoting post-War reconciliation.

This new book has five parts, comprising thirteen chapters written mostly by academics in Australia and Japan. There is also a lucid introduction by the venerable Emeritus Professor Donald Keene, himself a wonderful exemplar of cross-cultural bridge-building, sub-titled “From Enemy to Friend”. Keene highlights the remarkable restoration and expansion of positive relations between Japan and the US, beginning even during the post-War Occupation. He remarks (p7) that:

“Freedom of speech, assembly, religion and other essential freedoms were ordered by the occupation forces [and, I would add, enshrined in the 1947 Constitution], but they had long been desired by the Japanese. The novelist Takami Jun, who kept a detailed diary of the war years, described his distaste for the militarists: […] ‘The Americans respect the Japanese as human beings, probably because they themselves are respected as human beings. The Japanese maltreated other races because they themselves had been maltreated by other Japanese. This was because the rights and freedoms of the individual were completely denied. In Japan, there was no respect for human beings.’”

To me, this highlights the importance of the rule of law, and basic human rights, as a bulwark against authoritarian politics … and therefore tendencies to oppress individuals not only domestically, but also through waging war abroad. (Such institutions provide some comfort in light of growing authoritarianism in contemporary US society and politics.) So I believe war derives more from (geo)politics and economics, rather than some other factors outlined in Keene’s introduction, such as “differences concerning religion” (p1). After all, apart from Japan, the most deadly regimes in the 20th century – waging war externally and/or against local (sub-)populations – were directed by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the Kim dynasty and other autocratic leaders; and their “democides” were not driven by religion. We must therefore examine carefully the causes of deadly conflicts to understand how to avoid them and recover from their aftermath.

The first part of this book looks more closely at “conflicting attitudes towards Imperial Japan”. The chapter by Takashi Yoshida, “Tracing ‘victimizer consciousness’”, looks at how the Allied Occupation forces promoted a new narrative of how Japan had been the victimizer and therefore should bear guilt for the Pacific War, in contrast to the Imperial government’s narrative of Japan as the savior of Asia and a victim of Western aggression. However, contrary to recent neo-nationalist or revisionist accounts, Yoshida argues that this rethinking was welcomed by most Japanese citizens, and featured in post-Occupation “victimiser consciousness” literature from 1952 until the early 1960s.

It struck me how Japanese society has therefore been grappling for several generations with how to conceptualise victimhood – a relatively new concern in the West, according to a recent study by two US sociologists focusing especially on the “culture of victimhood” emerging notably across university campuses. They contrast this culture with the “culture of honour” in antiquity (whereby people were quick to take offence and responded directly, typically with physical force), which had been gradually displaced by a “culture of dignity” (whereby people were slower to take offence, and then responded indirectly – invoking institutional or legal norms – in a way I would connect to the Christian tradition). Nowadays, in the West, there is a growing tendency again to take offence quickly (seeing oneself as victimized), but still to respond indirectly.

The next chapter in Part 1, by Tomoko Aoyama, focuses more exclusively on literary developments, namely a fictional series published over 1947-8. The 17-year-old protagonist yearns for a new Constitution renouncing war – “a prediction of what [had] already happened” (p 26)”: the famous Article 9.

Part 2 of the book widens the scope by examining “reconciliation in post-War Japan, Australia, China and Taiwan”. A real eye-opener for me was Christina Twomey’s chapter subtitled “POWs and Australia’s relationship with Japan, 1945-60” (based on her own new book). A third of the 22,000 Australians captured during the Pacific War never survived, and the remaining POWs endured extreme privations. Yet most leaders among the returnees, as well as Australian parliamentarians on both sides of politics, urged forgiveness and restoration of good relations with the Japanese people. They were driven by strong Christian beliefs as well as instrumentalist reasons, including geopolitical concerns about the rise of communism in Asia and prospects for cross-border trade. I wonder whether leaders and citizens in Australia nowadays would be so ready to forgive if it were to experience again (God forbid) another devastating war.

Another interesting chapter for me, as a jurist, was Aiko Utsumi’s “‘Reconciliation’ in postwar history – the need for resolution resulting from Japan’s colonial period’. It begins with a summary of the lawsuits brought in 1998 by Chinese forced labourers against the Nishimatsu Group. The Hiroshima High Court ordered compensation, but the Supreme Court reversed in 2007 based on the 1972 China-Japan Joint Communique in conjunction with the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty. Nonetheless, in 2009 the Supreme Court noted that Nishimatsu had acknowledged its historical responsibility, agreed to payments, and would erect a memorial. Utsumi then looks at how different scholars and courts, including recently in Korea, have interpreted such inter-state agreements on Japan’s wartime responsibility, insofar as they may preclude private rights to claim compensation.

Aside from the legal technicalities, I am interested in the broader question about whether and how litigation can result in real redress (and hence reconciliation) vis-à-vis government (in)action. A recent book by Celeste Arrington entitled "accidental activists" argues that Japanese complainants often obtain better overall outcomes compared to Korean counterparts over similar problems – eg claiming about segregation of those suffering from Hansen’s disease or leprosy. This is because even protracted or unsuccessful litigation can highlight a social problem that both sides of politics end up recognizing and addressing through appropriate legislative solutions. In Korea, by contrast, early mobilization of the political (opposition) process led to polarization and legislative stalemate.

[The rest of this book review is available here.]

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