Japan from the inside out

Plate on Abe: Two columns in one

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 9, 2007

UCLA Professor Tom Plate, affiliated with that school’s Asia Media center, is widely known among East Asia-watchers as being close to clueless—he once suggested Makiko Tanaka would make an excellent prime minister—and as a man badly in need of a good haircut and haberdasher.

In his latest column, Plate holds forth on the Shinzo Abe controversy, and it is one of the most unusual op-ed pieces I’ve ever read. It’s actually two columns in one. The first is the most scathing indictment of Abe I’ve seen yet in the Western media, in which the professor wonders if the prime minister is mentally ill. Yet the second, in effect, tells the Chinese, Koreans, and moralizing Americans to sit down and shut up.

In column #1, here’s a sample of his tone about Abe:

Perhaps in an ideal world, people all across Asia would simply ignore the sad Japanese leader who slides embarrassingly and inelegantly into seemingly pointless denial over the Comfort Women issue of World War II. Perhaps in another world the sight would prompt genuine concern about the leader’s mental health, rather than abject contempt for his soul.

Prof. Plate says it would be unseemly for an American columnist to profess an interest in a foreign election, but then goes right ahead and professes an interest anyway:

…if the prime minister of Japan himself is in retreat from international moral responsibility, it is the job of his sovereign masters to remove him. The Japanese political system needs to offer the world a new prime minister soon. Perhaps the next prime minister will publicly apologize for the immensely inappropriate and insulting remarks of his predecessor.

As always with Plate, there are problems. He says that the comfort women deniers are mostly “old and grumpy” Japanese, while ignoring the fact that Abe is Japan’s first prime minister born after the war.

He also praises Premier Wen Jiabao of China for being open about the past and calling the Cultural Revolution a disaster, and contrasts that with what he calls Abe’s denial that the Japanese Imperial Army “forcibly drafted countless Asian women into prostitution”, without discussing the details.

Yet he neglects to mention that comfort women have actually been discussed in Japanese classrooms, while the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the fighting with India in the 60s, and the invasion of Vietnam in the 70s are non-subjects in Chinese schools. (Chinese involvement in the Korean War rates but a paragraph in Chinese textbooks.)

In the second column-within-a-column however, I agree with him 100%. For example:

It would arguably be better for the equanimity of all concerned if they (Asians) could…accept that in the more youthful sector, Japanese people simply and understandably refuse to accept finger-pointing from Asian leaders for something they manifestly did not do.

Remember that Japan remains, to its honor and credit, a largely pacifist and non-nuclear nation. This is not true of China and it may not be true of the northern part of Korea — two of Japan’s traditional enemies. And it is also not true of the United States, the one country that has in fact used atomic weapons and not only used them, but dropped them on Japan itself…

It is in this kind of context that the declared moral superiority of Korean and Chinese leaders becomes a more clouded issue. If more in Asia were to face up to their own issues of inhumanity, the entire region would become a far better place

Those words should be taken to heart by everyone in East Asia and pasted to the PCs of every journalist in the West who writes about Japan.

5 Responses to “Plate on Abe: Two columns in one”

  1. James A said

    He is a bit of an odd-duck among East Asia specialists. But, I have to give him credit for going a little outside the norm though in regards to editorials on Japan and Asia.

    And I never fail to chuckle when I see his photo. He looks like a white Don King who’s a little too fond of mousse and weed whackers.

  2. tom plate said

    This is from Prof Tom Plate:

    Hey, guys! Say what you want about my allegedly clueless columns (because you do tend to spell my name right) — but I take great exception to the “gell” accusation…It goes up totally naturally, with no artifical chemical additive…don’t ask me why or how…but, I do agree — the white Don King….hey, a guy could do worse! cheers from Los Angeles ….

  3. ampontan said

    Prof. Plate: Cheers from Japan. Have you seen your photo that runs with your columns in the Japan Times? Your hair goes down in that one. It looks very…well, natural.

  4. tom plate said

    Dear Ampontan —

    That hair in the Japan Times pix may even be black, right? It is almost like my college graduationm picture…I used to put stuff on my hair to keep it down!!..But you know the old saying, you can’t keep a good head (of hair) down for long! Cheers with your important work…TP

  5. Teacher said

    Mr Plate,

    Why do you kowtow to Koreans?

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