A letter to the IHT – MONDAY, AUGUST 22, 2005
Japan and the war
By reducing China’s wartime grievances with Japan to mere “bickering” about the past triggered by their new power rivalry, David Lague, in an otherwise fine article, has got cause and effect backward (“In China, new competition rekindles old anger,” Aug. 15).
The Chinese after World War II said no to revenge and reparations on the historical judgment, shared by many Americans at the time, that the Japanese people had been lead into the war by a military cabal and were therefore innocent, indeed fellow victims. The growing affirmation today of long discredited wartime goals by Japan’s elected leaders and prominent intellectuals (no longer just the right fringe) is therefore disturbing not only to Asians. Most importantly it destroys the emotional, political, ethical and face-saving minimum required by the Chinese nation to engage Japan seriously despite the absence of postwar compensation or any really convincing apology. That minimum – the admission, at least, that its goals were wrong – is no more than Europe has asked and consistently received from the Germans.
Americans should move beyond their pollyannaish expectation that the two Asian giants will make up on the cheap over World War II, given a nudge from us. We should also rethink our glib assumption that it necessarily would work to benefit our own national interest. It is patronizing to ask the Chinese to swallow their unrequited wartime pain in a way we would never dream of asking the Poles, Israelis or Russians to do. And patronizing to the Japanese as well, implying that they are capable of nothing better.
Ivan P. Hall, Berlin