Japan from the inside out

Still digging

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 15, 2012

The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error.
– Hannah Arendt

No persons are more frequently wrong than those who will not admit they are wrong.
– François de la Rochefoucauld

THE first rule for politicians and business leaders who find themselves in a hole after a serious blunder is to stop digging. The exigencies of their particular situation cause most of them to forget this rule, to their regret.

But some politicians think shoveling is a patriotic duty, particularly when they’re digging the hole to shore up plummeting public approval ratings. South Korean President Lee Myong-bak dispensed with a shovel and went straight to the backhoe last month by visiting the Takeshima islets, deliberately insulting the Japanese Emperor, and breaching diplomatic protocal by refusing to accept a personal letter from Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, all within a matter of days. Someone interested in pacifying the resultant ill-will would have realized that his first order of business was to stop digging. He chose to climb aboard a steam shovel instead.

Last weekend it was reported that Mr. Lee met for two hours on 5 September with Korean specialists on the Japan-South Korean relationship for a discussion of the situation, and, apparently, to vent. The media concentrated on this lament:

“My statements were distorted and then conveyed to Japan.”

Another rule for politicians and business leaders who find themselves in a hole is that no one believes the “I was misquoted” excuse. Then again, he also complained that he didn’t know a reporter was present at the event during which he shot from the lip about a possible Imperial visit to Japan. The South Korean reporter in question took one for the team by modifying his account of the president’s remarks, though it amounted to troweling around the edges. Mr. Lee was first quoted as saying that the Emperor wanted to come, but then it emerged that the Emperor has never said he wanted to visit Korea, and no one in the Japanese government —- who would have to approve it — knew anything about it. The reporter helpfully changed the presidential comment to “if he wants to come”.

That missed the point by a considerable distance. The rest of the original statement was:

“If he’s going to come to say something like “deepest regret”, like he did before, he doesn’t have to come. If he comes to South Korea, he has to apologize from his heart to all the South Korean independence activists who have left this world.”

He thereby insured that this Emperor will never visit South Korea.

Mr. Lee had another excuse for the specialists, however:

“Every time the issues of the past emerge, relations with Japan grow worse. I thought this vicious cycle might be broken by a visit from the King of Japan. I thought he might be able to bring an end to it somehow during his term.”

That turned the hole he was digging into a pit. Here’s why:

* He and other South Koreans are going to have to ditch the “King of Japan” business if they expect anyone in this country to take them seriously. Japan doesn’t have a “king”. It’s either Tenno or Emperor. (The Japanese use a different word for other emperors.) The Americans managed to call Wilhelm the Kaiser during World War I without resorting to “king”, but this seems to be beyond the diplomatic understanding of anyone in South Korea.

It’s a deliberate grade school smarty pants insult. The Japanese know about it because the South Korean news media includes that term in the Japanese-language translations of their website articles. Rather than making people angry, it makes them dismissive, as in “Oh, the Koreans again”, with a roll of the eyes.

If his specialists in bilateral relations haven’t told him this, he needs new specialists.

* The Emperor of Japan determines neither his travel arrangements nor what he says when he is fulfilling his diplomatic duties. The government makes those decisions. None of this is critical if he’s on a state visit to Italy, for example, but any visit to and statements about South Korea will be carefully calibrated and the result of long internal discussions.

If his specialists in bilateral relations haven’t told him this, he needs new specialists.

* Since the Emperor has already apologized and Mr. Lee gave it the back of his hand, he must have something else in mind. Kneeling while apologizing is one expression of humility and contrition in the Confucian tradition, which is strong in Korea. That’s what an apology means in Korean terms. Heo Mun-do writing last month in the New Daily explains:

“Prime Minister Noda and the government flew off the handle when President Lee Myong-bak demanded the apology of the King of Japan. Seeing this, we can understand there are several varieties of their tendency to close themselves off in their island country by postponing the effort to overcome their history.

“Even if 100 or 300 years pass, one thing will remain: For the Japanese Emperor to prostrate himself and pray at the tomb of Empress Myeongseong (assassinated by Japanese agents in 1895), as Willy Brandt fell to his knees at the memorial for the slain Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto.”

They’ll have to wait more than 300 years. An estimated six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Under Japanese rule, both the population and the life expectancy on the Korean Peninsula roughly doubled, and females were educated for the first time (in the Korean language).

There is an unpaid debt involved, but it is an unpaid debt of gratitude.

This, by the way, is tied in with the South Korean effort to equate one of the Japanese military flags with the swastika, There’s no finer way of encouraging the Japanese to find more ways to use it.

* Speaking of assassinations, the Japanese aren’t sure the South Koreans are capable of handing the security for an Imperial visit. One reason is the Korean attitude toward an assassin of their own, the peculiar An Jung-gun. In 1909, An shot and killed Ito Hirobumi, the Japanese resident-general of Korea (and the first Japanese prime minister after they instituted the Cabinet system of government).

An was an independence activist who supported the merger of Japan, Korea, and China to repel the “White Peril”. Some people like to give him credit for coming up with the idea of an East Asian entity before the concept of an EU arose. As An fired the shots, he shouted the rough equivalent of “Korea, Banzai!”— in Russian. He thought that killing Ito would promote Japanese-Korean friendship. He was an admirer of the Japanese Emperor Meiji, and he cited Ito’s deception of the Emperor as one of the 15 “crimes” that Ito committed which made him worthy of killing.

An Jung-gun was designated a Korean national hero in 1970, and a museum is dedicated to his memory in Seoul. Indeed, some South Koreans still think that An should be a symbol of Korean-Japanese friendship, and no, I am not making that up. From the Joongang Ilbo:

“There are a lot of ways in which Korea and Japan can help one another. “Hero,” a song-and-dance dramatization of national independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun that won the JoongAng Ilbo-sponsored Musical Awards in 2010, was staged at Lincoln Center in New York in August 2011. United Nations envoys were invited to the performance by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.”

Those who thought the Japanese would get a fair hearing at the UN, raise their hands. Anyone?

“As Ahn is our hero, Ito Hirobumi [the first resident-general to colonize Korea, whom Ahn assassinated] remains so to the Japanese,” said the musical’s creator, Yun Ho-jin. “Such an understanding in the play drew empathy from ambassadors from various countries and underscored the bigger message of peace in Asia, which had been envisioned by Ahn in his manifesto written in prison.” Negotiations are under way with a Japanese agency to stage “Hero” in Japan in 2015 as a part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic normalization.”

Doesn’t that read as if it could have been lifted in toto from the North Korean news agency’s website?

Every country prefers to write their national narrative to suit themselves, but as long as the South Koreans are creating song-and-dance dramatizations of the visionary An Jung-gun for the Lincoln Center and think it will improve bilateral relations, it is not possible to guarantee the safety of Japanese Emperors on the Korean Peninsula.

* Mr. Lee is also angry that Japan won’t do anything to resolve the comfort woman issue. The anger is pointless, because most Japanese consider the matter resolved, and most of them know the issue was distorted to begin with. The president’s comment about the problem at the meeting, however, was most revealing:

“Japan is too insistent on law and principle.”

The newspapers thought this was a hint he might not demand that the Japanese government accept legal responsibility. If so, he’s going in circles — that’s why the Asian Women’s Fund was created with Japanese government assistance nearly 20 years ago.

But everyone else will read that and see he’s admitting the South Korean claims have no basis either in law or in principle. Japan has to assuage their feelings. Too bad he’s singlehandedly made certain that what he wants will never happen.

As one Japanese commentator put it after reading this report, Mr. Lee should be apologizing to Japan for creating a misunderstanding between the countries before offering these excuses. But no one expects it from a man determined to keep digging that hole.

Media help

The news media in both countries made half-hearted efforts to spackle over the differences, but the cracks in the wall are too big. The photo above shows President Lee and Prime Minister Noda meeting at the APEC summit in Vladivostok on the 8th after the latter smiled at his counterpart and walked over for a handshake and a five-minute conversation. Here’s what the Korea Herald thought this meant:

“Seoul and Tokyo are moving to mend ties strained over historical and territorial disputes as they recognise the growing importance of bilateral cooperation over North Korean threats and other issues of mutual concern.”

The two foreign ministers met for a few minutes as well.

The media tried to parlay that photo op into rapprochement, but it’s all just a cup of cold water on a hot rock. Incidentally, a passage from that same article gives us an example of objective journalism in South Korea:

“Japanese politicians have been spewing out remarks denying its past ahead of the possible parliamentary elections expected as early as next month. Tokyo has also said that it would bring the issue to the International Court of Justice, although the legal process cannot proceed without Seoul’s consent.”

Further down the page:

“Also on the sidelines of the Apec forum, President Lee and Hillary Clinton held talks Sunday. They stressed the need for cooperation between South Korea, the US and Japan in resolving North Korea’s nuclear issues.”

That’s not all Mr. Lee told her, either. According to Japan’s Nikkei Shimbun, he also said:

“Japan is headed toward right-wing extremism. They should discard this extreme rightwing attitude for the sake of peace in East Asia.”

No, that doesn’t sound like he’s “moving to mend ties” to me, either.

Meanwhile, NHK reported that Mr. Lee “expressed respect for the Japanese” during his meeting with the experts on the 5th. Both the Asahi and the Yomiuri Shimbun picked up the story. Unfortunately, it was replastering of the sort that the Korea Herald attempted. One expert at the Lee meeting later told the South Korean media that the word “respect” was never used. Rather, Mr. Lee noted that Japan couldn’t be ignored because it had four times the economic strength of South Korea.

Virtual Reality

One of the primary reasons the problems between the two countries are unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future is that the Koreans are living in their own state of virtual reality, as one Japanese commentator put it. Japan is still viewed in absolutist terms, and anti-Nipponism is the state religion.

What better way to describe this state religion than by using the perspective of a religious theorist and commentator? Here’s Douglas Wilson:

“I have earlier made note of what are called plausibility structures. They explain why it is easy to be a Mormon in Salt Lake City, a Muslim in Mecca, and a secularist in an MSNBC newsroom. But let us refrain from applying it to first order beliefs, like religion, and fifth order beliefs, like the notions that those eyewear fashions you wear are even remotely okay, and turn to apply it to second order beliefs, like politics.

“Yesterday, I was looking over a magazine rack at a bookstore in Spokane that I like to haunt (Aunties), and happened to thumb through a copy of Adbusters which, shall we say, is off my beaten path. Page after page was gritty rage-against-the-machine stuff, and it was uber-hip, and I felt my consciousness being raised just standing there. Nothing was more apparent than the fact that these guys thought they were being Authentic. They embraced that risible proposition because the editors and readers of this thing inhabit the same plausibility structure. What they all take for granted can be done in a spirit of serenity because nobody who shares their particular cocoon will ever call them on it. Very few people who flip through it will think it as funny as I did.

“In the blog world, and sometimes in the comments section of this blog, different plausibility structures collide. This results in what some people call debate, but which is very rarely a real debate. People resort to their plausibility structures for ammo (what they call facts), get up a head of steam, and ram into somebody else with another set of facts. Nobody sinks, usually, but rather they just bob on over to another blog. Sometimes they float back on over. And thus it is that we have the death of argument….

“…Recognizing the force and reality of plausibility structures is only relativism if you live in the plausibility structure of a sociology department somewhere. Truth is always worth fighting for, and plausibility structures make the fight necessary.”

Here’s another opinion made possible by a plausibility structure that exists in a different virtual reality from the truth. It’s from an op-ed on the comfort women by Bak Jeong-hun in the 9 September Chosun Ilbo. He is writing about the now discredited Yoshida Seiji, who claimed to have gone comfort women hunting while in the Imperial Japanese Army on Jeju:

“30 yen was a not insubstantial amount of money (in those days), but it is just not possible that a Korean woman would want that money and volunteer to become a comfort woman. They probably would have caused an uproar if they were taken forcibly. That’s why Mr. Yoshida and his subordinates tricked them. They told them they would perform general duties, like cleaning or washing.”

The article was written to praise Yoshida Seiji as “a Japanese of conscience. “ Mr. Yoshida wrote a book in the 1980s that was the spark which kindled the current controversy. His claims have been disproved by a Japanese historian and the local Jeju newspaper. They’ve been rejected by the Asahi Shimbun, who initially used them to turn the controversy into a crisis. Mr. Yoshida himself has now admitted it didn’t happen on Jeju after all, he had to embellish the story to sell books, and he was used by “human rights hustlers”.

The real world no longer takes Yoshida Seiji seriously. Only those in the Matrix would still think Yoshida Seiji is a man of conscience, or that Korean womanhood is by nature an unsulliable flower, or that it would be easy to fool someone of normal intelligence by offering a salary for cleaning and other chores that would make them the richest washerwomen in East Asia.

Or think that the King of Japan should kneel at the tomb of Empress Myeongseong.

It’s not possible to manufacture 50 million red pills and expect every South Korean to take one simultaneously. Too many of them prefer the blue ones.

Monk Higgins can’t stop himself either.

One Response to “Still digging”

  1. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    A: You read this? Except for the statment about Noda’s intention, amazingly objective for a Korean media, isn’t it?
    A: Unusual, especially because their other editorials are often so weird. The one in this post comes from the same paper.

    I also thought it was needlessly insulting (but typical) that they would say the current Emperor is more friendly to Korea than the average Japanese.

    But then they live in their own reality.


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