Saturday, July 23, 2016

If Japan is Fascist, Then So Are You

Last week, the conservative periodical “National Review” took time out from calling Donald Trump a fascist to take a swing at America’s most important ally in East Asia with an article by Josh Gelernter called, “Japan Reverts to Fascism”. The author wrote with great alarm that Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and the coalition it leads recently won a large enough majority in both houses of the legislature to amend the Japanese constitution, the constitution which Japan has had since the end of World War II and which has never been amended to date. He describes all of the ways that, in his mind, Japan is reverting to a fascist state which seems an odd thing for a conservative American magazine to say about a conservative government that is America’s staunchest ally in the region and easily one of our most important allies in the world. Calling someone a “fascist” is usually the trademark of the left. In fact, today, about the only definition of a fascist is anyone who the left doesn’t like. It is a bizarre and inflammatory accusation to make just at the outset. But, he made it and so must back it up. What evidence does Mr. Gelernter present to justify such an accusation?

He begins by pointing out that Prime Minister Abe and many of his compatriots belong to a nationalist group called Nippon Kaigi which portrays the Japanese as the ‘good guys’ in World War II who were simply trying to liberate East Asia from the clutches of the wicked white race only to become the victims of the overpowering force of the Allies. This is, admittedly, his strongest point as a failure to understand and recognize the mistakes of the past leaves a country vulnerable to repeating them and World War II was certainly a mistake for Japan. The Empire of Japan was destroyed by it, so obviously that wasn’t good for Japan or anyone else. However, as troubled as people in the west have every right to be about being vilified, the effort to refute the vilification of Japan is not something that should be considered troubling or at all unusual. Western countries have done immense damage to themselves by indulging in a masochistic guilt-complex and Japan would be wise to avoid a similar mistake. Also, the fact that the Japanese would have a different point of view, whether you think it right or wrong, about World War II should not be considered that outrageous.

For the sake of a largely American audience, allow me to point to some examples that will best illustrate why this is a double-standard. Most Canadians have a very different view of the War of 1812 than most Americans. Most Mexicans think they were the ‘good guys’ in the War for Texas Independence and the Mexican-American War. Although it is not the case today, for much of American history, most British people had a very different view of the American War for Independence than most people in the United States. Does this bother anyone today? Again, until relatively recently, most Americans in the south still thought they were the ‘good guys’ and the United States were the ‘bad guys’ in the Civil War. It is actually normal for countries to have different points of view about conflicts depending on which side you were on. Now, Japan has not been entirely consistent on this point, particularly concerning the other Axis powers Japan willingly joined before the war started but it is perfectly natural for any country to give their own side the benefit of the doubt compared to others. I could also point out that China and Russia also both have different opinions about World War II compared to the western Allies but no one seems to mind that very much.

However, while that first exhibit on the part of Mr. Gelernter may have some, small, bit of merit to it as something America and other western countries should be concerned about, his case goes from that rather shaky bit of ground to fall headlong into a bottomless pit of ridiculousness. He says that the people in power in Japan are still mad about the Japanese Emperor being forced to renounce his divine status, which is something that is debatable but which, in any event, is something that anyone in Japan should have every right to be upset about. He mentioned fairly early in the piece, which I reserved bringing up until now, that part of the proposed amendments to the constitution that the Japanese government is seeking were described by the LDP with the words, “several of the current constitutional provisions are based on the Western European theory of natural human rights; such provisions therefore [need] to be changed.” Mr. Gelernter takes great exception to there being anything objectionable about “Western European theory of natural human rights”. However, isn’t one of those human rights the freedom of religion? Shouldn’t the Japanese be free to practice the form of Shinto, their own native faith, however they choose? Don’t they have the freedom to believe in the divinity of their Emperor just as other people believe in the divinity of Jesus? Isn’t this one of the main points of the version of human rights he’s defending?

This is why I say that, by the logic of Josh Gelernter, if the Japanese are fascists, then so are you, so am I, so is almost everyone reading these lines. Does wishing to worship according to your own beliefs make you a fascist? He goes on from there to point to such things as people flying the Japanese naval ensign, aka “the Rising Sun” flag which was formerly the flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy, is currently the flag of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and so has been in use long before World War II and is still in use today. Does flying a flag of your country make you a fascist? Probably the most absurd thing he points to as evidence, however, is the Japanese national anthem. He seems to have an obsessive paranoia about this song, the lyrics of which are the oldest national anthem in the world so, again, something that was around long before World War II, long before fascism ever existed. It is a song wishing for a long reign for the Emperor which makes it about as “controversial” as the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen”. Does singing your own national anthem make you a fascist? If you think that is a silly question, why does this only seem to apply to Japan whereas in every other country, flying a historic flag or singing your national anthem is considered the most basic and inoffensive forms of patriotism and nothing sinister at all?

He also points to certain words and international rankings about the media to imply that freedom of the press is being restricted in Japan. He warns that the NHK, the state broadcasting network, is a mouthpiece for the government, implying that it spouts nothing but right-wing propaganda. Anyone can watch the NHK (it has an English-language channel) and see for themselves that this is ridiculous. If anything, the content on NHK is viewed by most Japanese on the political right as being skewed toward the left. This should not be considered surprising given that anyone with any honesty will say the same about the BBC in Britain, the CBC in Canada or the ABC in Australia. In the United States, given what is put out by the likes of CNN, MSNBC or FNC, I have a hard time taking such concerns about Japan seriously. The media itself is the biggest threat to a free press these days given how widespread, around the world, dishonesty and bias is. There is a reason why most Americans, in a country that prides itself on its free press, considers the media extremely dishonest and untrustworthy.

Finally, he also mentions the changes regarding the armed forces in Japan and the degree to which Japan has recently been strengthening the Self-Defense Forces. For an American conservative magazine to make an issue of this is appallingly ignorant. The United States has been urging Japan for decades to strengthen itself so as to be a stronger ally. A strong ally is a help whereas a weak ally is liability. That is a fact so basic that anyone should be able to grasp it. Japan is also in a very dangerous neighborhood. Russia still occupies Japanese territory, North Korea is constantly firing missiles in their direction and Communist China has been building up its military forces at an alarming rate while also making claims to Japanese territory. Any other country in the world with any sense at all would be doing everything they could to strengthen themselves in such a position. I will say again, if flying a flag, singing the national anthem and wanting a strong military is evidence of fascism, then almost every other country in the world would be considered fascist as well.

No, there is obviously a double-standard at work here and it just might have to do with those “Western European” theories about human rights Mr. Gelernter is so fond of. The nations of Western Europe and North America have, sadly, adopted a very liberal, internationalist mindset and guilt-complex that is destroying western civilization. An entire people seems bent on suicide and the people of Japan would only be showing great wisdom in wishing to take a different path. Are we holding up these same values at all anymore anyway? Freedom of religion is one Mr. Gelernter does not seem willing to extend to Japan and in the west it seems these days that some religions have more freedom than others. Freedom of speech also seems to be ever more restricted these days. Freedom of assembly doesn’t seem to be evenly applied anymore, it depends on what you are assembling for. Did anyone notice that the Bush family boycotted the recent Republican National Convention? I know, they oppose Donald Trump but it certainly paints an odd picture that a man like George W. Bush who would go to war to spread democracy would stay home and pout when the democratic process in his own party does not go the way he wanted it to.

The left, and now apparently the National Review, has become so fond of labeling anyone they disagree with a “fascist” that the term has effectively lost its sting. Taking a righteous pride in the symbols of your own country, like your flag or your anthem, to revere your monarch, to want strength and security for your nation and, yes, even to defend the honor of your forefathers should not be considered negative things and the fact that some would shows only that there is something very wrong with them, not with Japan. Of course, anyone can agree or disagree with certain points taken by the Japanese government, one can agree or disagree with their views on World War II but to make such accusations as this article does, for the reasons that it does, is simply disgusting and more alarming than anything coming from Tokyo. To love your country, to wish it to be strong and secure and to take your own side in an argument is natural and would previously have been accepted by everyone as simple common sense. If, however, that is the current measure of what it means to be a fascist, then, all I can say, is that the western democracies must owe a profound apology to the spirit of Mussolini.

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Wow, Japan-bashing, how retro of Mr. Gelernter - is his next piece going to be on the threat of Soviet expansionism in Central Asia? I think the rest of the world moved on from that some 25 years ago. Japan is a stable, modern, friendly democracy that is increasingly encircled by a lot of very dangerous neighbors and is backed by an increasingly unreliable ally that has been busy disengaging from global alliances and cutting its military forces as fast as it can. In that context, everyone in the United States that cares in the slightest about the values Mr. Gelernter purports to defend should be cheering Abe and the LDP on in their efforts. A strong Japan is so obviously in America's best interests that it would take an extreme case of willful, intentional ignorance to not understand that.

    The amendments being proposed are so minor, so almost unnoticeable, that it is almost inconceivable that anyone could have an objection, especially someone who isn't even Japanese. They are talking about making the JSDF into an official military - which would end the charade of them being a police force with submarines and fighter planes - and give their personnel the same international treaty protections as those serving in other nations' militaries.

    Another suggestion is to clarify the role of the Emperor as Head of State, which, again, is not worth getting angry over, since he very obviously is already the Japan's Head of State, the Constitution just uses some roundabout language that leaves a bit of legal ambiguity, probably artifacts from it being written originally in English then translated into Japanese. That one is really just a matter of cleaning up and clarifying some badly worded language, which is something that could and should have been done decades ago.

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  3. I wonder, will Abe's government have the courage to restore the proper name of Japan --- Nippon Teikoku?
    The bad apple was "Dai Nippon Teikoku", not "Nippon Teikoku".
    The word "Dai" simply means Greater; a word that always being associated with expansionism, regardless of the country which bears it.

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