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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Japan Prime Minister Abe’s Yasukuni visit deals blow to Japanese-US ties

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's shameful visit to the notorious Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday strikes a serious blow against US-Japan relations. The visit was completely unnecessary and directly flouted friendly and constructive advice from the Obama administration. Americans should view the present Cold War era alliance with Japan as not only unnecessary but in fact counterproductive given the trend of rising militarism in Japan.

Often people in the US and in Europe perceive that WWII started in Europe with Hitler's attack on Poland in 1939. But the fact is that the road to WWII started with the Japanese invasion of China in September 1931.

Then 10 years later, the Japanese treacherously attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Americans will never forget this day of infamy and betrayal.

Abe's visit to the notorious shrine is a direct affront to US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden who both have worked hard to calm tensions over issues in the East China Sea. Just recently, Biden on his visit to the region encouraged the creation of joint Sino-Japanese mechanisms for crisis management.

Obama and Biden are doing their best to respond to a changing world and to the emerging multipolar international system. They have been acting in good faith toward Japan on the basis that Japan is believed to be a friend.

The American people have not held a grudge against Japan about WWII. But the increasing militarism and unacceptable behavior of leaders such as Abe may well bring back memories of WWII and cause perspectives to change.

My godfather served in the US Navy during WWII. He fought in the Pacific. I remember as a child in the 1950s hearing about his participation in the Battle of the Coral Sea. He returned home after the war and lived out his days in San Diego, California. I still have some letters he wrote to my late parents during the war.

A cousin of my father was not so fortunate. He did not return from his duty in the navy in the Pacific as he died from a kamikaze attack against his ship.

There was never once that I recall a negative word about Japan or the Japanese in my family's household. The war was over and that was that. Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen on both sides had done their duty for their respective countries. Time to move on, was the feeling Americans had.

This generous attitude of many in the older generation of Americans can change as Americans of the present generation and future generations reflect on WWII. The insulting behavior of Japanese politicians such as Abe, combined with Japan's trend toward militarization and extremism, may well open eyes and dispense with a heretofore "polite" attitude. The world has seen the results of such trends before.  American opinion, if betrayed, turns rapidly.

Has Japan ever really sincerely apologized for WWII? Germany so apologized and the memory of Nazi horrors is seared into German consciousness. It has consistently demonstrated its good faith through its economic integration in Western Europe and through its constructive and peaceful foreign policy. 

Abe's shameful behavior shows Japan's official attitude for the entire world to see. He is the prime minister of Japan. He is not a private citizen making a personal religious commemoration for spirits of the war dead.

Washington must reflect carefully on its national strategy and the Asia-Pacific component. So far, the unimaginative policy has been to continue the Cold War alliance structure and to revamp US relations with the region on the basis of increased military power projection to encircle a rising China.

The Abe shrine visit should be a clear warning to Washington that this strategy is deeply flawed and not sustainable.  The US alliance with Japan and Japan's rising militarism may well prove fatally counterproductive.

Contributed by Clifford A. Kiracofe

The author is an educator and former senior professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

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