Friday, December 27, 2013

Yasukuni is no Arlington

Judge Pal at Yasukuni Shrine
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe headed a carnival of reporters and sycophants to the Yasukuni Shrine on December 26th. In a well-planned visit, the Prime Minister paid homage to both the known defenders of Imperial Japan and their enemies. Abe brushed aside criticism by saying that going to Yasukuni is no different than an American president’s visit to Arlington National Cemetery.

Beyond being war memorials to some who served their country, there is no similarity between Yasukuni and Arlington. They share neither the same history nor spirit. Any effort at comparison questions who won the Pacific War and why. It revises Japan's modern history. This is what Prime Minister Abe wants for to do that is to disavow Japan's pacifist constitution and its decades of democracy.

Arlington National Cemetery was created from the estate of General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederacy. Occupying Union Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs appropriated the grounds around the mansion in 1864 to use as a military cemetery. Meigs wanted to ensure that if the Lee family returned, their home would be surrounded by tombstones and widows in mourning. The intent was for Lee's estate to symbolize the pain and suffering caused by the South's engaging in the Civil War.

Unlike Yasukuni, Arlington is a cemetery. The bodies or ashes of those who served and their family members are interred on the grounds. The fallen will continue to rest at this national park as long as the United States exists.

None of this is true at Yasukuni. It is a religious shrine established in 1869 to embed the Shinto faith, the Imperial institution, and the divinity of the Emperor into the national polity. At Yasukuni, those fighting for the Emperor from the civil wars of mid-19th century Japan through the end of the Pacific War were transformed into divine spirits to join as one with the Emperor. Here the common foot soldier became equal to the Emperor.

At Arlington, men and women of all religions and races are buried. At Yasukuni, only the souls of identified and approved members of Imperial Japan's military who died on the battlefield--although there have been many exceptions--can be apotheosized with the Emperor. Some Japanese social classes are not allowed; and the unknown are not mentioned.

Yasukuni is now a private shrine. It hosts a museum glorifying wartime deeds. The Yushukan displays a museum full of memorabilia and trophies of past conflicts, especially the “Greater Asian War” and related “incidents.” The narrative boasts of how Japan liberated Asia from the Western colonialists. Its website states “the truth of Japanese history is now restored.”

In contrast, Arlington does not dwell on the glory of any war and claims no truth. It is a quiet place of reflection and contrition. Arlington’s website is subdued and factual. It reviews the rules for interment, outlines the property, and notes the names of famous people buried there, especially women, Jews, African Americans, and Japanese Americans.

Most important, one of the criteria for those buried at Arlington is that they have had to have been honorably discharged from the military. Those court-martialed or tried for war crimes cannot be interred. This is not the case for Yasukuni. In addition to the 14 Class A convicted war criminals who were found responsible for carrying forward the Pacific War, there are thousands who violated both Japanese and international laws.

Yasukuni is about rejecting the judgments of Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. Many Japanese conservative nationalists believe that Imperial Japan should not be subject to rules created by the West. To emphasize this point, a large monument to Tribunal Judge Radha Binod Pal, who rejected its judgments, stands on a plaza at the Shrine (see above).

Yes, buried at Arlington are soldiers from campaigns of which Americans are less than proud. And there are many that escaped justice. Americans, however, do not visit the cemetery to honor them or to consider them gods. And unlike their Japanese counterparts, American politicians do not come to Arlington make political points, especially on the souls of the defeated. For Japan’s leaders, Yasukuni has become a tacit political expression of Japanese defiance and autonomy.

A visit to Yasukuni is a political act. The rites, the grounds, and museum all focus on Japan's Pacific War. The story Yasukuni wants to tell is that Japan liberated Asia and that their fellow Asians should be grateful. Mostly, the Shrine swipes at the United States and the Allies for not believing this narrative. And finally it is a protest against the Peace Treaty and Constitution that remove the divinity of the Emperor.

The Yasukuni Shrine is about declaring victory. The Emperor God was right, the barbarians were wrong. Yasukuni is not about contrition or reflection, but about certainty. It is a place of defiance and this is what separates it most from Arlington National Cemetery.

1 comment:

  1. The author of the original article has chosen to color some facts with a lot of "mind reading" to twist the intention of Yasukuni Shrine into some kind of demon burial pit. PM Abe being followed by a "carnival" of reporters??
    In mentioning the stealing of Robert E. Lee's private property to punish his family was typical of the writer's mentality.
    Indeed there is a strong religious connection to Yasukuni Shrine as the Shinto religion is connected to the Imperial Family and soldiers who served their Emperor and country. If I am not mistaken, there is a religious etching on each tombstone to show the soldiers faith.
    This follows a common thread of how some people think they should control other countries. The huge cry from this country when Japan tried to correct the name of a famous war site is good example. The Japanese navy incorrectly named an island "Iwo Jima" because they did not check with local inhabitants to the correct vocalization of the characters used in its name. Japan wishes to correct this mistake now but are being told that too many Allied soldier died there. Perhaps the toll in both civilian and military loses suffered by the Japanese (a much higher number) means nothing? So the "western dictators" think the island name can not be Iwo To (Salt Island).
    This childish insult to soldiers who died for their country must end.


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