Yet the equivalent announcement by the Japanese government to revise history is causing no ripples in North America and Europe. The Japanese government, headed by Abe Shinzo, announced that it will "re-examine and understand the background" behind the official Japanese apology for the treatment of the so-called comfort women, the 200,000 women forced to serve as prostitutes for the Japanese army during WWII, not to mention the many other atrocities for which it was responsible. These women were mainly taken from Korea and China, but many Filipino, Indonesian, Dutch, and other women were taken as well.
A previous prime minister, Murayama Tomiichi, apologized in the mid-1990s for Japan's forcing the women into prostitution as well as many other atrocities. Murayama was a member of the Social Democratic Party, while Abe is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has not yet made a state visit to Japan because of its revisionism, called on Japan to embrace "truth and reconciliation" and advised that "historical truth is in testimony from the survivors."
"Japan would only bring isolation on itself if it turns a deaf ear to their testimony and sweeps it under the rug for political benefits," she said. "I hope Japan extricates itself from denial of history and starts making a new history of truth and reconciliation."
Abe, whose grandfather was Kishi Nobusuke, possibly the most corrupt Japanese politician in the modern era, has been pushing for this revisionist view of history for many years.
The mayor of Osaka, Hashimoto Toru, declared last May that the brothels "were necessary at the time to maintain discipline in the army." Hashimoto is one of Abe's close supporters.
Momii Katsuto, a businessman with no previous broadcast experience appointed by Abe to head Japan's national broadcaster NHK, chimed in, saying last January that "such women could be found in any nation that was at war, including France and Germany." Hashimoto defended him, saying that the logic behind Momii’s argument is "sound."
This issue has been simmering in Japan since the end of WWII. Much of the blame must be placed on General Douglas MacArthur who allowed Japan to retain its emperor, permitted war criminals to go free, and encouraged criminals like Kishi to join the government, all in a misguided attempt at fighting communism.
The belief that the comfort women volunteered for duty runs deep in Japanese society.
Two statues of remembrance were erected by Korean-Americans, in Palisades Park, New Jersey and Glendale, California. In both cases, Japanese businessmen asked that they be removed.
In Palisades Park, Japanese businessmen tried to coerce Barack Obama into becoming involved via an online petition. Japanese government officials asked the city to remove the monument. After that effort failed, unknown Japanese defaced the monument.
In Glendale, many Japanese sent emails describing the women as "liars" and willing "prostitutes." Yamamoto Yumiko, the Tokyo woman spearheading the email campaign, said she's one of "many Japanese mothers" trying to fight the spread of "fabricated Japanese history."
Long before this, in 2001, one of Japan's most popular manga artists, Kobayashi Yoshinori, created a comic book titled Taiwan Discourse. The comic book portrayed women smiling as they volunteered to become comfort women, saying that it was a "big move up in the world" for them.
Japanese people refuse to use the word "guilt" when discussing the comfort women. "There were many regrettable incidents," said one man in a non-apology one expected to be followed by, "But Japan suffered just as much as the other countries! Japan is a victim too!"
But given the Japanese educational system, which minimizes its actions in WWII, the ignorance is understandable. In one eighth-grade history textbook, "only 19 of the book's 357 pages dealt with events between 1931 and 1945" with only a footnote on the Nanjing massacre where anywhere from 140,000 to 340,000 Chinese civilians were butchered, often in grisly ways. And Japan is revising its school manuals again to reflect the current conflict with China over the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.
Not surprisingly, China is ramping up its own propaganda. It has created a new national holiday to remember the rape of Nanjing. It wants the world to understand that Japan's treatment of it was comparable to the Holocaust.
There is a war brewing between Japan and China, the two bullies of Asia. The former's fascist, unapologetic, ignorant attitude mixed with the latter's new-found imperialism in the East China Sea and South China Sea will soon erupt into violence over the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands. We must not allow Japan to drag us into another war, especially given that our illustrious leaders have announced that any battle over the islands will automatically trigger U.S. involvement under an American defense pact with Japan.
We must modify the defense pact to exclude incidents involving the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands. And move even more U.S. forces out of Japan and into Guam and other locations away from the impending conflict.
We must re-examine and understand the background behind the Pacific free trade agreement. Abe is desperate to clinch a deal to improve Japan's dismal economy which has remained flat for nearly two decades. Abenomics has resulted in a debt to GDP ratio of 2.3, more than twice that of the U.S. This free trade agreement must be used as leverage against Japan's fascism. Japan must decide: it cannot have both its revisionist view of history and a free trade agreement.
The U.S. would be wise to remember the lessons of WWI. Franz Joseph might very well have sat on his pampered hands after his nephew's assassination in 1914, satisfied to use his Austria-Hungary Empire to track down and eliminate the Serbian anarchists. Wilhelm II of Germany triggered the general war by issuing a blank check, promising Franz Joseph that he could count on the "full support" of Germany in the Austria-Hungary Empire's attack on Serbia.
The aftermath resulted in a redrawing of the map of Europe. Germany, probably the world's great military power at the time, was forced to sign a humiliating surrender, leading to the second act of the European war just twenty years later. Russia, a giant with feet of clay, changed from a monarchy into the first communist state, with millions of people dying due to famine and/or being caught between the Whites and Reds. The Austria-Hungary Empire essentially ceased to exist. And the U.S. for the first time became a major player on the world stage.
Remember what your mother said about reckless friends.