Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Lessons of August 15, 1945

On August 15, 78 years ago, Japan's Emperor Hirohito broadcast to his subjects "that our empire accepts the provisions of their [the Allies] Joint Declaration [of the Powers, Potsdam Declaration]." The fighting was to stop. Whether he believed this was a surrender or not, is still subject to debate. What the Japanese people heard that day was a recording of his statement made the night before. The Emperor's voice maintained its divine distance from his subjects as he explained "the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest." He concluded by asking the nation "to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable."

Memories have faded and most Americans are surprised to learn that Japan was an enemy during WWII. One result of this fugue is that governments East and West find little opposition to their rewriting of WWII history and its aftermath. Generally, this has not been for the better and always for personal political gain. Worse, Washington counts many of these countries as allies and remains silent.

These revisionist histories have undermined the values that have shaped the postwar "liberal democratic order."  Authoritarian regimes now erode individual freedoms, human rights, and humanitarian cooperation. Glorifying strongmen, dismissing war atrocities, identifying perpetrators now as victims, and co-opting the victor's history as one's own is upending the legacy and lessons of WWII. A new "glorious history" is being promulgated in Poland, Hungary, China, Japan and other places. Unashamedly, the Polish government claims that Poles were uninvolved with the persecution of Jews and a Japanese diplomat praises the "Bushido Spirit" of the famed Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team to their sons.

Thus, it is welcome that this fall there are a number of seminars and conferences examining the immediate postwar period

In Japan, the revisionist, denialist history has become normalized by two decades of conservative nationalist governments. Western Alliance Managers consequently do not recognize that nationalist populism has consumed the body politic and they have concluded incorrectly that Japan is "stable" and "unscathed from the populist wave" around the world. Little attention is given to how Japan's official war apology has been diminished, voting districts are unconstitutional, or to Japan's well-funded history disinformation campaign. 

Prime Minister Kishida's address at the Seventy-Eighth National Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead yesterday repeated his predecessor Abe's 2015 statement that makes no mention of apology or remorse to Japan's victims. He, like Abe and Suga before him, promises only: "We will not forget, even for a moment, that the peace and prosperity that Japan enjoys today was built atop the precious lives and the history of suffering of the war dead." Ceremony photos and documentsKishida marks 78th anniversary of World War II end without mentioning Japan's wartime aggression, Associated Press, Aug. 15, 2023.

As a new book by a Brookings scholar supports this celebratory view of contemporary Japan, The author sees the Japanese government as having reinvented itself to encourage more political engagement with the world and a greater military presence in the region. This is a new self-confidence that will award Tokyo with credibility and global leadership. To be sure, I have not read the book (then again neither have the folks who recommend it on the dust jacket). I have, however, heard this argument repeatedly over the decades that Japan has changed and it is in our image. Someone once observed that Western efforts to "fix" Japan always result in the tutor being broken-hearted.
See: Japan’s Quiet Leadership Reshaping the Indo-Pacific by Mireya Solis, (release August 24, 2023).

Or watch the book talk: Japan's Quiet Leadership: Reshaping the Pacific, Wednesday, September 6, 89:30-10:30am EDT, Washington, DC, Hybrid. Sponsor: Brookings Institution. Speakers: Mireya Solís, Director - Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies; Kurt W. Tong, Managing Partner - The Asia Group (grandson of Philippine internee Rev Walter Curtis Tong); Yuichi Hosoya, Director of Research, API & Professor, Keio University; Demetri Sevastopulo, U.S.-China Correspondent, Financial Times.

But not everyone forgets: Memorial service for POWs in Yokohama passed down to next generation, August 12, 2023, Mainichi Shimbun

Here are a number of talks and conferences this fall that examine Japan's Pacific War and its aftermath. I hope you can attend in person or virtually. 

A. Friday September 8
MJHA Distinguished Annual Lecture
Tessa Morris-Suzuki on Writing War: History in Occupied Japan and its Echoes for Today

Hosted by The Modern Japan History Association
Speaker: Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Professor Emerita of Japanese History, Australian National University . 

Date/time and registration information:
Online, free.
Saturday, September 9, 2023 | 9:00-10:30 AM Australian Eastern Standard Time
Friday, September 8, 2023 | 7:00-8:30 PM (EST) 

As the world edges into a new Cold War, rising political tensions in East Asia are reflected in growing conflict over memories of history, and particularly of the history of the Asia-Pacific War. Increasing nationalism in all the countries of the region finds expression in rewritings of that history. In Japan, a central feature of recent waves of historical revisionism has been a focus on the shaping of historiography in the post war occupation period. The period from August 1945 to May 1952 was the era when historians first struggled to give meaning to the disastrous events of the war which had ravaged East Asia during the previous decade or more. The diverse ways in which they did this has had an enduring effect on the way in which the war is remembered to the present day. In the context of contemporary controversies over history, it is important to return to that occupation era and to reassess the possibilities and limitations of the way in which the history of the war was written by those who had just experienced it in their own lives.

B. Saturday September 16
Annual Symposium
Occupation: The Legacy of the Asiatic Pacific War 

Hosted by The Admiral Nimitz Foundation.  
 Richard B. Frank, internationally recognized leading authority on the Asia-Pacific War; Dr. Xiaobing Li, professor of the Department of History and Geography and the Don Betz Endowed Chair in International Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO); Ricardo Trota Jose, professor of history at the University of the Philippines, Diliman; Mindy L. Kotler is founder and director of Asia Policy Point. Special guest, Marie Vallejo, author of Dauntless, a book about the First and Second Filipino Regiments.

Date/time and registration information:

In person and online. Fee.
Saturday, September 16, 2023, 9:00am-5:00pm (CDT)

The Admiral Nimitz Foundation is excited to welcome you back to this year’s Annual Symposium. The focus this year will be on Japan's occupation of Asia. Titled, “Occupation: The Legacy of the Asiatic Pacific War,” the symposium will explore the nuanced ramifications of the Japanese occupation.

C. Saturday September 23
6th Annual Conference on WWII in the Philippines
War Crimes - From WWII Until Today

Hosted by: Bataan Legacy Historical Society in partnership with the University of San Francisco's Philippine Studies Program, Memorare Manila 1945 and USF Kasamahan
Speakers: James Zarsadiaz, Director, Philippine Studies Program, University of San Francisco; Prof. Mark Hull, Professor of War Crimes, U.S. Army Command & General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth; Philippine Consul General in San Francisco Neil F. Ferrer; Father Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., President, University of San Francisco; Benjamin Hall, Fox News State Department Correspondent, Eyewitness to War Crimes Today (Via Zoom); Jose Custodio, Fellow, Consortium of Indo Pacific Researchers; Christopher Capozzola, Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Richard Frank, Pacific War historian, author, Tower of Skulls; Marie Vallejo, author of Dauntless, a book about the First and Second Filipino Regiments; Kate LaFerriere, daughter of Frank Innis, former civilian POW in Los Banos; Cynthia Bonta, survivor of the Los Baños massacre, mother of California Attorney General Rob Bonta; and Richard Foye, author of Foye And The Filipinos Bailout, Escape, And Rescue Of A Navy Fighter Pilot In World War Two Luzon, is the son of Ensign William Foye, an F6F Hellcat Pilot and a member of the Air Group Twenty assigned to the USS Enterprise (CV6).

Date/time and registration information:
In person, Facebook LiveTaped, fee
Saturday, September 23, 2023 | 10:00am - 4:00pm (PDT)

The conference aims to present the war crimes the invading Japanese perpetrated upon soldiers and civilians in the Philippines. A compelling discussion on war crimes in the Philippines and its effects on subsequent generations as well as similarities in today's world.

D. Thursday December 7 to Saturday December 9
16th International Conference on World War II
Finding Hope In A World Destroyed: WWII Liberations & Legacies

Speakers: [there are no affiliations listed on the website and your editor simply did not have the energy to track everyone down]: Jason Dawsey  ; Francine Hirsch  ; Robert Hutchinson  ; Günter Bischof  ; John Curatola, Military Historian at the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy; Rana Mitter, University of Oxford; Yuma Totani, University of Hawaii; Yoshikuni Igarashi, Vanderbilt University; William Hitchcock  ;Blanche Wiesen Cook  ;Jeremi Suri  ;Lizabeth Cohen   ; Krewasky Salter, Pritzker Military Museum & Library; Marcus Cox  : Kara Dixon Vuic  ; David Davis  ;Jeremy Black   ; Robert Citino, National WWII Museum; Richard B. Frank, Pacific War historian, author, Tower of Skulls;  Craig Symonds, Distinguished Visiting Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History for the academic years 2017–2020 at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island; Trent Hone, a Vice President with ICF and an award-winning naval historian, author of Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898–1945; Allan R. Millett   ;Keith Lowe   ;Ronald Spector, professor emeritus, George Washington University; John McManus  : Conrad Crane  ; Steph Hinnershitz  ; Catherine Musemeche  ;Dave Gutierrez  ; Jim McNaughton  ; Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, PhD,   ;William Hitchcock  ;Jeremi Suri  ;Major General Peter Gravett  ;Cameron McCoy  ;Robert Edsel  ;Alexandra Richie  ;Wendy Lower  ; Paul Hilliard  ; Kirk Saduski   ;Donald L. Miller  ; John Orloff

Panel of particular interest (December 7):
Aftermath in Asia
Chair: John Curatola, Military Historian at the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy
“The War That Never Really Ended: WWII’s Long Legacy”: Rana Mitter, University of Oxford
“Justice in Asia and the Pacific Region, 1945-1952: Allied War Crimes Prosecutions”: Yuma Totani, University of Hawaii
“Japan’s Decade After Defeat: Occupation and Democratization”: Yoshikuni Igarashi, Vanderbilt University

Date/time and registration information:
In person only in New Orleans, LA, fee

The International Conference on World War II is the premier adult educational event bringing together the best and brightest scholars, authors, historians, and witnesses to history from around the globe to discuss key battles, personalities, strategies, issues, and controversies of the war that changed the world. The agenda, speakers, and times are not yet set.

Contested History's Shadow

US Moves To Lock In Gains At Camp David Trilateral Summit

By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University and APP member

First published in The Oriental Economist, August 14, 2023

When the leaders of Japan and South Korea join President Joe Biden at Camp David on August 18, it will cap a year of remarkable progress in bringing relations in the region back from the depths of dysfunction.

The summit will showcase the attempts by the Biden administration to institutionalize trilateral security cooperation – tying the three countries into a pseudo-alliance built on intelligence sharing, missile defense, cybersecurity and strengthened nuclear deterrence.

For American security officials, these steps have gained fresh urgency from the tightening of another alliance – between North Korea, China and Russia. In an eerie echo of the Korean War, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a highly symbolic visit to Pyongyang in late July, along with a senior Chinese Communist Party official.

The irony is that Moscow is now seeking arms from North Korea, rather than providing them. But in any case, the Kim Jong Un regime now feels emboldened, marrying new missile tests with bombastic threats.

The Pyongyang axis was perhaps also energized by the efforts of the U.S. to shore up its pledge of nuclear deterrence – so-called “extended deterrence” – to both Seoul and Tokyo.

Before the Shoigu visit, the U.S. and South Korea convened the first official meeting of a new Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) in Seoul, attended by senior U.S. national security official Kurt Campbell, designed to reassure Koreans of the American pledge to come to their defense and deter a North Korean nuclear attack. The meeting was dramatized by the visit of an American nuclear missile-armed submarine to South Korea, the first since 1981.

The Camp David summit will offer some new icing on the trilateral cake that has been baking for the past year. That will take the form of a joint declaration, still under negotiation, that will set out a shared security perception and interests, with some reference to North Korea and China, as well as the war in Ukraine. An agreement on mutual consultation in case of crisis and the convening of annual trilateral summits is also on the agenda. Economic security issues like cooperation on semiconductors and technology ties to China will also be part of the summit.

But this is short of what the Americans originally had on the agenda.

The Americans want to create a trilateral extended deterrence dialogue – broadening in effect the NCG created with South Korea. But senior American and Korean officials in Washington told this writer that these plans were opposed by both the Japanese and Korean governments.

Japanese officials are wary of any multilateral nuclear discussions, which are considered beyond the political limits in Tokyo. And the Koreans do not want to dilute the importance of their bilateral Washington Declaration, adopted earlier this year in the Biden-Yoon summit.

The Camp David summit is actually a rescheduling of a meeting that was planned for the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Hiroshima but did not take place due to Biden’s need to rush home to deal with the U.S. debt limit negotiations.

U.S. security officials had hoped to follow up on earlier agreements to share missile defense information in real-time, formalized at the trilateral defense ministers meeting in June in Singapore, and the establishment of trilateral joint exercises for anti-submarine and missile defense.

Locking in the gains

The symbolism of a stand-alone summit at Camp David, site of many famous meetings, will still capture the headlines. But behind this lie serious concerns about the fragility of this progress, no matter how much it will be celebrated in all three capitals.

The Biden administration is trying to lock in the gains of the past year to create structures of cooperation that can endure beyond the current administrations in power in Seoul and Tokyo. Lurking behind that there is a fear, strongly felt in Japan and South Korea, that the U.S. elections could return to power an American president who has no real commitment to these alliances.

There are considerable forces in both Japan and South Korea that seek to undermine, if not reverse, what has taken place in the past year. Both South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio suffer from low popularity and ongoing challenges to their leadership.

Serious unresolved issues in the realm of wartime historical justice could re-emerge at any moment. And there are gaps in strategic perception among all three countries that remain largely unaddressed, especially in Washington.

The failure to forge an effective regional trade strategy on the part of the Biden administration undermines whatever progress has been made on trilateral security. The most obvious and effective vehicle for cooperation remains the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

There is a clear benefit if South Korea joined the CPTPP, particularly if China seeks to join the grouping. But the Biden administration, for domestic political reasons, can offer no public push for that move.

While South Korea and Japan are bound by their alliance with the U.S., they do not share the same priorities.

For Korea, the central issue has been and always will be the division of the Korean peninsula and the ongoing threat of the North Korean regime to seek reunification by military means. While Seoul worries about the Sino-Russian partnership that has emboldened Pyongyang, Korean policymakers are reluctant to be drawn into an overt balancing strategy against the PRC.

For Japan, while North Korea is a shared threat, the main security focus is on China and on the tightening alliance between China and Russia, propelled by the Ukraine war. The possibility of Chinese use of force in resolving the Taiwan question has become a much more urgent issue as a result.

But the Japanese also reflect the same views as Koreans about the need to avoid a path toward full-scale economic war with China and to continue to seek ways to engage Beijing.

“Amid the intensifying rivalry between the United States and China, Japan finds itself in an increasingly delicate situation, caught between its security guarantor and its leading economic partner,” former Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Tanaka Hitoshi wrote recently.

“As a staunch ally of the United States, Japan is committed to reinforcing the alliance framework to deter unilateral changes to the status quo and uphold regional stability. At the same time, despite significant debate and diverse views on its China policy, Japan’s geographic proximity, extensive people-to-people connections, and strong economic ties with China mean that it must carefully navigate tensions and avert unnecessary instability or chaos.”

Ironically, that is true as well for the U.S. although its current political climate does not allow a frank discussion of this reality, though that is changing slightly.

The politics of normalization in Korea and Japan

The greatest source of potential challenges to this progress toward a trilateral security pact is the attempt to push ahead in Korea-Japan relations without really resolving the issues of colonial and wartime history.

The normalization of relations is largely the consequence of the change in administrations in Seoul, though even during the previous progressive administration there was a growing conviction that the severe downturn in relations needed to be reversed.

Yoon has very clearly repudiated the use of anti-Japanese tropes in Korean domestic politics and taken steps to unilaterally resolve the forced labor issue, the Fukushima nuclear wastewater discharge controversy, the export control problem and lingering barriers to security cooperation such as the fire control incident of 2018.

Still, Yoon’s personal popularity remains relatively low, though support for his administration has stabilized somewhat. That said, the polarization of Korean politics remains unchanged. The opposition Democratic Party is gearing up for what promises to be a highly contested and crucial election next spring for the National Assembly, where the Democrats still hold a majority.

The key issues pushed by the progressives are aimed squarely at Yoon’s foreign and security policy agenda, as well as at issues of domestic economic reform. These include the Fukushima discharge, the confrontation with trade unions over labor policy reforms, the unilateral and unreciprocated settlement of the forced labor compensation suits, and the charge that Yoon is undermining Korean independence by subordinating policy to the U.S. and Japan.

The Korean left argues that Yoon’s tilt against China is dictated by the US and Japan and endangers the Korean economy, which is suffering from slowing growth driven in part by a steep decline in exports of Korean semiconductors, batteries and other technology goods to China.

Even among conservatives in Korea, there is a growing concern that while Korea has embraced a confrontation with China, it may find itself alone as the U.S. pursues the resumption of engagement with Beijing. If the economy continues to suffer, with Korean businesses seeming to be put at risk due to the anti-China policy, this may shape the coming election as a potential turning point for Yoon’s foreign and security policy shift.

The politics of normalization in Japan are not nearly as perilous as those of Korea. Prime Minister Kishida’s efforts to improve the optics of relations – the visit of Yoon to Japan, the reciprocal visit to Korea, and the joint appearance at the memorial for Korean victims of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima – are generally viewed positively in Japan.

Within elite policy circles in Japan, based on this writer’s conversations in Tokyo this year, there is recognition that President Yoon has taken serious and even politically risky steps to improve relations and that it is the Japanese interest to support those efforts. Skepticism about Korean commitment to normal relations and the easing of anti-Japanese feelings in Korea has eased considerably.

The history problem will not go away

However, Kishida has been unwilling – and perhaps politically unable – to offer significant concessions on the historical justice issues, most specifically to encourage Japanese corporations to offer contributions to the fund used by Korea to compensate forced labor victims and their descendants.

Nor was Kishida willing to directly address the issues of Japan’s wartime conduct or its colonial rule. All of that was widely noted by Koreans and influenced the view held by Koreans that Yoon made all the concessions on this issue and the Japanese did essentially nothing.

Kishida remains effectively constrained by the strength of the more conservative and historically revisionist elements of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), mainly organized by the former Abe faction but not confined to its members alone.

He may not feel able to take the steps needed on history issues until he holds another general election under his leadership and, if successful, ends the constant discussion of his succession within the LDP. Kishida, however, also shows no personal interest or conviction to confront the history issues more directly.

There is a belief in Tokyo, echoed in Washington, and to some degree in the Presidential administration in Seoul, that the history issues have been effectively contained and even resolved. That will probably be reflected in the outcome of the Camp David summit. But that is an illusion, and a dangerous one.