Tokyo 2020: History Repeated?

Since its decision on Sept. 7, 2013 to approve Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) has been roundly criticized for its refusal and/or inability to grasp the severity of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima. The I.O.C.’s detractors are certainly right to express their concerns about how the radioactive contamination in and around Fukushima might affect nearby Tokyo. However, in so doing, they have neglected to describe how else Tokyo’s selection, an inadvertent yet implicit endorsement of Japan’s recent propensity for behaving aggressively, might be disquieting.

Tokyo’s selection to host the 2020 Summer Olympics comes at a time when a resurgently nationalistic Japan, plagued by economic malaise and social paralysis, has gradually renounced its characteristic post-World War II pacifism, thus unsettling its neighbors, most of whom have previously been victims of Japanese aggression. It follows on the heels of the Japanese navy’s unveiling of an Izumo-class helicopter destroyer, whose strong resemblance in size and shape to an aircraft carrier (which Japan is constitutionally barred from possessing) has raised more than a few eyebrows, and whose very presence informs Japan’s regional adversaries, namely China and Korea, of Japan’s intent to recapture its former glory, even at the expense of its good relations with them. Indeed, true to his reputation for embodying the xenophobic radicalism and militant nationalism of Japan’s fast-growing right-wing minority, Japan’s outspoken Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made little effort to cultivate bonds of mutual goodwill with Japan’s neighboring countries since his election late last year, even as his bid to bring prosperity to Japan has met with some success on the home front.

Nor has Mr. Abe’s second in command, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, allayed fears of a second coming of Japanese aggression. Mr. Aso, whose approval of constitutional change is well documented, set off a furor upon suggesting at a Jul. 29 seminar that Japan would benefit from parroting the political tactics of Adolf Hitler, who, in 1933, successfully subverted the Weimar Constitution and consolidated his nascent rule over Nazi Germany.

Perhaps most alarming about Tokyo’s selection, however, is the evident dismissiveness with which the I.O.C. regards Japan’s skewed interpretation of the events of World War II, a recurring point of contention between Japan and its neighboring countries. Contrary to popular opinion, the practice of historical revisionism in Japan is hardly sporadic. No, rather, it is epidemic. Its noxious presence can be discerned in school textbooks, literature, the media, and politics. Its pervasiveness is such that most Japanese schoolchildren, if asked to describe the extent of their knowledge of World War II, might respond with abject bewilderment or, at best, a string of historical perversions justifying and/or mitigating Japan’s aggression during the war, the severity of the Nanjing Massacre, the use of comfort women by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army, and the existence of Unit 731, amongst others.

Indeed, just recently, Toru Hashimoto, who, in his capacity as Mayor of Osaka city, is an influential figure in Japanese politics, recanted his earlier claims of disbelief at the forcible recruitment of comfort women by the Imperial Japanese Army, but proceeded to justify such actions as being a natural and necessary part of war. He also agreed with Mr. Abe’s devastating claim that the definition of aggression has yet to be determined, and therefore that Japan could not possibly be labeled an aggressor during World War II.

Such remarks, evidence of a grave ignorance of universally accepted historical facts, are reflective of Japan’s sorry state of affairs. They indicate that Japan, however wealthy and evolved, cannot address its past crimes with honesty and courage, even for the sake of fostering genuinely peaceable relations with the victims of its aggression, and further that Japan is not worthy to host the Olympic Games, with its contrary motif of goodwill through sport and fair play. Should Japan wish to become deserving of the I.O.C.’s decision, it must commit itself to spending these next seven years in earnest contemplation of its treatment of history. As things stand, however, Japan seems intent on traveling along a path faintly reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s. One can only hope that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will not be for Japanese Neo-Imperialism that which the 1936 Berlin Olympics was for Naziism.

Copyright © 2013 Elliot Silverberg. All rights reserved.

About Elliot Silverberg

I am an essayist, freelance journalist, poet, and screenwriter; an avid reader with a fascination for historical fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy fiction; a student of the Ancient Greek and Roman cultures; and a tennis enthusiast.

Posted on September 28, 2013, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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