Sorry, National Interest, Yasukuni Has More in Common with Arlington Than You Think

The National Interest ran a piece yesterday by Mindy Kotler entitled “Sorry, Japan: Yasukuni Is Not Arlington”. Kotler sets out to refute Prime Minister Abe’s claim that his visit to Yasukuni Shrine was analogous to a president’s appearance at Arlington National Cemetery, but her approach is to portray the latter as uniformly beautiful and honorable while the former is irredeemably ugly and despicable. I submitted a comment, but as the magazine has not seen fit to run it, I offer it here. (I have altered one word, the ninth; the original used the more delicate “it”.)

Of course Prime Minister Abe is full of shit, but isn’t it funny how one’s own country’s jingoism always smells sweeter than that of others?

To suggest that Arlington has no political significance is absurd. Nor, by any objective standard, is it untainted by war criminals. Henry “Hap” Arnold was commander of the Army Air Force and therefore shared in the responsibility for cruel incendiary attacks that killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese noncombatants, many of them children. To state this fact is no disrespect to others interred at Arlington. What it does suggest is that Japan is not the only country where memorials serve to obscure memory and avoid contrition.

I wholeheartedly agree that there are odious things about Yasukuni, and millions of Japanese oppose Abe’s visit. But this simplistic, unreflective piece does nothing to aid their cause.

Some additional comments:

  1. The headline is really unfortunate, blaming as it does an entire country for the sins of Abe, or at most, of his political party and supporters. An anti-Japanese tone creeps in as well with remarks like “Many Japanese still believe that Imperial Japan should not be subject to the rules or values created by the West.” Such East vs. West thinking is no more enlightened coming from Americans than from Japanese.
  2. Kotler asserts that “American politicians do not come to Arlington to make statements about current foreign policy. Indeed, any effort to go beyond recognition of the sacrifices made by American would backfire internally as well as externally.” Oh, really? What, I wonder, does she make of these remarks by George W. Bush at Arlington in 2005?: “Because of the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, two terror regimes are gone forever, freedom is on the march, and America is more secure…. And we must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, by defeating the terrorists, advancing the cause of liberty, and building a safer world.”
  3. According to Kotler, “Yasukuni is about rejecting the judgments of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal…. The Tribunal is deemed ‘victor’s justice.’” In fact, there are genuine questions about the conduct and decisions of the Tribunal. But if anyone sought to hand Japanese rightists support for their claims of hypocritical “victor’s justice”, they could do no better than to harp on Japan’s war crimes, while turning a blind eye to those of their own country. Congratulations.
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