Japan's Difficult Reconciliation

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

G. John Ikenberry's Aug. 17 op-ed, "Japan's History Problem," provides excellent analysis but misses three key points.

First, Japanese normalization and historical reconciliation are not entirely at cross-purposes. Revising Article 9 of Japan's constitution to make the Japanese military legal, while Tokyo continues to disavow offensive capabilities, would bring Japanese law in line with reality. Constitutional reform is important for making Japan's defense policy and contributions to international security trustworthy and legitimate.

Second, the history problem in Asia is not just Japan's problem. China and Korea have biased nationalist histories to address as well. Moreover, while apologies and conciliatory behavior from Tokyo may remove the most immediate obstacles to cooperation with China and Korea, this is a long way from these countries accepting Japanese leadership. South Korea and the United States may share national interests with a more engaged Japan, but it is doubtful that China will see an elevated Japanese role as in its interest, no matter what Tokyo does to bury the past.

Finally, East Asia is not Europe. Europe is filled with democracies and has no North Korea. Even so, Russia is far from becoming a member of NATO or the European Union. Achieving an East Asian security organization inclusive of China would be a great asset to regional peace. But different regional contexts may call for different paths to integration.

For the United States, regional security in East Asia is best pursued by expanding the sphere of cooperation centered on strong alliances, built during the Cold War and transformed to meet contemporary international challenges.


Cambridge, Mass.


As a German, I read G. John Ikenberry's thoughtful op-ed with the utmost interest. The author rightly observed that Germany's reconciliation efforts were largely facilitated by regional organizations, in particular the European Union but also others, such as the Council of Europe.

What is rarely noticed in this respect was the important work of the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Braunschweig. It successfully spearheaded efforts to harmonize Germany's history schoolbooks with those of our neighboring countries and former enemies, France and Poland.

In recent years the institute has established contacts with Russia, the Baltic states and the Czech Republic.

The difficulties in arriving at common descriptions and assessments of major historical events, especially wars, are obvious. But the merits of a joint basis for educating younger generations in that conciliatory spirit are enormous and have long-lasting benefits. In recent years Japan has stirred serious emotions among its neighbors because it has edited its own schoolbooks without sufficient sensitivity to and coordination with its neighbors.

Perhaps it could learn from the German experiment.



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