Saturday, January 24, 2009

Grasping at the Wind

The day of the inauguration in Washington of the new American President, the NHK camera pulled in close to the face of a man on the street in Obama City, Fukui Prefecture.

"Do have anything you wish from the new American President Barack Obama?" asked the interviewer.

"I hope," replied the man in the baseball cap, "That the first thing he does is resolve the abduction problem."

The depth of public fascination with the North Korean abductions issue has always bewildered me. Why should the public should care so much about these few individuals plucked off beaches and streets a generation ago--crimes for which Kim Jong-il apologized -- especially since there are a few hundred other Japanese citizens still held hostage by the DPRK regime, unable to return to their homeland after emigrating in the 1950s in the company of their North Korean spouses? The size of fraction of the public that believes the resolution of the abductees issue supersedes any other issue in negotiations with the DPRK (and seemingly, with the United States) is incomprehensibly high. One would think that nailing the lid on the DPRK's nuclear and missile threats would take precedence-- being that they pose an existential threat to the citizenry.

What could I believe?

- That the Japanese people despise the bureaucracy, particularly the bureaucrats of the Foreign Ministry and the National Police Agency, for their years of casting doubt on the validity of the claims of the families of the abducted?

- That the Japanese people need an enemy, an avatar for raging tempest of irrational fear?

- That in an increasingly childless society, many can be swept up in deep sentimentality about the disappearance of children? (If so where is the outrage over the hundreds of children killed and injured every year, authorities and neighbors all averting their gaze from evidence of abuse? Or for every parent and child separated by this blessed land's child custody laws and practices?)

- That the bombardment of the populace's minds by right wing propagandists had convinced most of the public of the ultimate importance of clinging to a hopeless project of raising the dead? (For the remaining abductees are dead, either that or hideously broken.)

Looking at the report, I could only mumble of paraphrase of Hamlet:

"What is this man on the street in Obama to the abductees, or they to him?"

Perhaps it is that the abduction issue is a surrogate for the pent up mass of frustrations felt by the periphery for the center. The victims and their families were peripheral -- socially, economically, even in terms of geography. Their plight was ignored and even scoffed at by the elites in their enclaves of Tokyo's Chuō, Chiyoda and Minato Wards. For those reeling from the indignities inflicted by the powerful, suave and successful in the name of globalization and rationalization, "Resolution for the families of the abductees!" could be a deeply resonant cri de coeur -- an unanswerable challenge to power from citizens who had believed (wrongly as it turned out) that the Government of Japan would always protect them.


Added Entry said...

First, a disclaimer -- I have no connection to any of the abductees.

To me, it's the "Twilight Zone" factor. Everyday people just disappear, vanish, gone, leaving grieving families.

Then years later to discover that they had been kidnapped by political agents and transported to North Korea by submarine.

It is painful to look at the faces of Megumi's parents. After decades of searching, are they any better off than the day when she disappeared?

Anonymous said...

It's related to your comment on the wingnuts, but don't forget that Abe/Koizumi/LDP used the issue for electoral purposes fairly relentlessly. Imagine if the same was done during the Presidential election with the POW/MIA. It'd have a pretty similar effect, I would imagine.

The sad truth of history is that people's emotions are easily manipulated, especially by nationalist tropes.

Unknown said...

Because some of the abductees were from Obama city, the issue does hold a special resonance with the people leaving there, so while maybe misguided I don't think it is completely off the wall for some man on the street in Obama to say that the abduction issue is priority number 1.