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Patterns of war reconciliation in Japan and Germany. A comparison.

Hein, Patrick
June 4, 2015

Source: (2010) East Asia. 27: 145-164.

War reconciliation and cultures of memory themes continue to receive
high attention but despite the long list of newly released books praising Germany
which has been thought to be more prone to experience guilt and from it ensuing war
responsibility for its past than the Japanese nation in the aftermath of World War
Two, the long shadows of the past are still prevailing in both countries. Even if
Germany scores better then Japan from a comparative perspective this does not mean
that Germany has internally resolved the problems related to its past once and for all.
Yet, the slave labor compensation legislation in Germany which was meant to
definitely settle the accounts with the past has shown that lasting war reconciliation
is possible. The unwillingness of Japanese Government officials to admit past
wrongdoings, to apologize for coerced war prostitution and to refuse to compensate
former slave laborers has put Japan on the frontline of international criticism. The
claim that Japan as a nation has not learned from history is critically re-assessed
against the backdrop of bottom up NGO reconciliation activities and lawmaker
efforts to enact legislation aimed at resolving the comfort women issue. In contrast to
conventional explanations it is argued that different circumstances, influenced by
distinct historical and political factors in each country, resulted in different
approaches. In Germany the social protest movements led to the institutional birth
of the Green Party. The Greens initiated the reconciliation process for former slave
laborers and changed the political landscape from the bottom. In Japan the social
protest movements did not succeed to settle as a novel political force. Thoughtlessness,
ignorance, conspiracy of silence, “double victimization” stigma, “negative
pacifism” and the reluctance to address the war guilt issue prevented a public
discussion. It is then sought to answer the question: Why do people repress or deny
past wrongdoings despite knowing the facts? It is looked at how consecutive
generations in Germany and Japan have coped with guilt and shame feelings in
different ways. The article concludes that war reconciliation similar to restorative justice is an ongoing, never-ending process. The emotional part of reconciliation
which goes far beyond words of apology, judicial punishment or monetary
compensation and does not necessarily lead always to positive outcomes is given
particular attention. Ways of civil society bottom-up reconciliation in Germany and
Japan are explored. (Author’s abstract).


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