Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Further Thoughts on the New Nationalists

Patrick L. Smith, who is not based in Tokyo but in Hong Kong, took a valiant stab this weekend at trying to elucidate the differences in the nationalisms of Koizumi Jun'ichirō and Abe Shinzō (full disclosure: Mr. Smith and I have a meal together every time he comes up for a visit):
Uncertain legacy: Japanese nationalism after Koizumi
International Herald Tribune

By Patrick L. Smith TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2006


But Abe's record is more nuanced than Koizumi's, and he appears to be purposely circumspect when nationalism and sensitive diplomacy intersect. While he is known for his tough views toward Asia, he earned this reputation by speaking out forcefully when North Korea admitted several years ago to abducting Japanese citizens.

"He took a firm stance on an issue involving people's security," said Tsuneo Watanabe, a foreign policy expert at the Mitsui Global Strategic Studies Institute. "This is the essence of Abe's appeal. He actually doesn't say much about China, and I doubt he has hawkish views toward anybody, especially the Chinese."

Abe also has two opportunities Koizumi did not enjoy, policy analysts say. He can guard his high reputation among conservatives and nationalists by striking the required poses while naming a foreign minister capable of talking to Beijing and Seoul at a productive level - a realist, in Sakakibara's terminology.

Equally, Koizumi's Koizumi's brand of nationalism has been influenced by traditional sources of support that are in decline. His promise to visit Yasukuni appears partly to have reflected an effort to win the backing of the Association of Bereaved Families, a group representing those with enshrined relatives.

This association is now losing its previous prominence, as even the children of the war dead are aging. Several weeks ago the association's head, a senior Liberal Democrat, spoke in favor of removing controversial war criminals from the shrine - an important signal that the association is aware of the damage the shrine has done Japan.

Abe may thus be less beholden to elements representing an older, somewhat archaic kind of nationalism in the Japanese context. If so, a product of that tradition may prove more responsive to a newer and more vibrant stream in Japanese thinking.

Now this is almost--but not quite--completely mistaken.

Patrick Smith's analysis and reportage are solid. No problems there.

It is is his sources--Katō Kōichi, Sakakibara Eisuke, Watanabe Tsuneo--who let him down.

It is the data input problem: garbage in--garbage out. This trio have not understood Koizumi. They will not understand Abe.

The fundamental analytical thrust remains correct, however; Koizumi's and Abe's nationalisms are different.

Koizumi's nationalism is a nationalism of sentiment (whether or not such a nationalism is "archaic" or not depends on what one thinks archaic means, I suppose).  It is grounded in the notion of noble sacrifice--of the longing to believe that the flower of Japan's youth did not die in vain. That Japan won or lost the war is secondary--what is insupportable is the repudiation of the valor of those who died fighting in protection of the nation--no matter the ideological reason for their sacrifice.

Hence Koizumi's tearful visit to the former airbase of the kamikaze or his recent visit to the former haunts of Yoshida Shōin (OK, OK, it did not hurt that Abe is ostensibly from Yamaguchi Prefecture--but Hagi is not in Abe's district, is it?)

When Koizumi goes to Yasukuni saying he prays for peace, he is not being glib. He feels he is honoring the millions of young Japanese who paid the ultimate price for the security of the nation.

In Koizumi's world view, it is those who would negate the nobility of these sacrifices who are the enemies of peace. For them, each death was just a historical accident, a lemming's death, an instance of being swept over the edge by the force of a river of humanity suddenly set in motion.

Koizumi wants the world to acknowledge the humanity of the individual Japanese soldier, sailor or rescue worker--and bristles when he is told that he cannot do so in the manner he sees proper. It was when the Chinese and South Korean governments tried to dictate to him what he could and could not do that they become his enemies.

(Note, this is exactly the same active template Koizumi used to identify his enemies on the domestic front. Resistance to his desired way of doing things--not ideology or theory--made one the enemy.)

Abe and the new nationalists have a very different agenda.

Their enemies are:

1) The 1947 Constitution
2) The postwar education system
Normally, by extension, any product of these two working together would be the new nationalist's enemy as well.

Unfortunately, the product of the constitution and the postwar education is what I believe is commonly called the nippon kokumin - i.e., the modern Japanese citizen.

So, in addition to the Constitution and the education system, the new nationalists are enemies of the people.

And it is the people's fault.

The new nationalists take as a given, without ever having conducted a poll to confirm this point, that the populace shares their soul-searing mortification over the 1947 Constitution.

They believe that the people cannot for even one more instant countenance that the founding document of the postwar Japanese state was written up, not by Japanese scholars and lawmakers, but by the idealists at SCAP.

Again, the "people" who share this feeling of inadequacy are the same ones who have done very, very well--thank you very much---living under this constitution for 60 years--and who in some instances (let us say for a little over 50% of the total population) owe all their civil rights to the 1947 Constitution.

The faith in this untested theory--that the people are red-faced with shame at the present Constitution--is the origin of the Abe campaign promise for a constitution made "by our own hands" (and not "by my own hands", as The New York Times would have us believe).

I do not doubt, with the persuasive powers of the prime ministership, Abe will be able to generate support for this idea where none existed before.

Still do the citizens truly despise themselves?

As to the education reform, it is Abe's passion. A product of a private school education from the day he was weaned, he believes the students of public schools are prisoners of an out-dated, unpatriotic and anti-Japanese curriculum, frozen amber by Communist Party control of the teacher's union (Nikkyōsō) and underpowered school principals.

Abe supports a complete revision of the Basic Education Law mandating patriotic thought and teaching.

Of course, we all know what happened when the Kōmeitō's legal experts saw the last LDP draft revision of the Basic Education Law with the new patriotism provisions inside.

They, uh, did not like it.

The problems do not end with the domestic scene. Indeed, the real excitement with education reform legislation will come on the international stage.

I foresee China and South Korea going ballistic (oh, please, let it not be literally!) when they realize that Abe's tight circle of advisors on education reform--the five gentlemen collectively known as "Abe's Brain"--include Yagi Hidetsugu and Shimada Yōichi--the chairman and vice chairman of the Atarashii rekishi kyokasho no Tsukurukai (a.k.a., the Tsukurukai).

If he thinks he is going to slip that one past the Chinese and the Koreans--aiiieaaaa!!!

We will live in interesting times.

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