The above is shot at ruins St.-Nicolai-kirche, in downtown Hamburg. It’s an interesting monument, and a good symbol of the difference in attitudes towards war between Japan and Germany.

Unlike Japan, Germany has expended much energy and emotion in trying to come to terms with the aftermath, and implications, of its actions in the 20th Century. Throughout Hamburg there are signs of contrition, little notes of acknowledgement, reassurances that lessons have been learnt. From the little brass pavers, engraved with the names of jewish residents who ended up in concentration camps, to the humble, and contrite, descriptions of the events that lead to St. Nikolai standing in ruins, it’s all very open, matter of fact. No hiding. So much so that you’d probably worry that many generations are going to be burdened with the guilt of their fathers.

Drink! Drink! Drink to our fathers
For they are real men and we are just boys
Boys! Boys! In games playing dangerous
And blood of baby must be spilt
To make up for our daddy’s guilt

— Sons find Devils, Virgin Prunes

Why Is Japan so different? It’s too easy (lazy?) to…

I got bored. But the picture is nice.

[Update: back again]

It’s too easy (lazy?) to blame it all on culture, on the Japanese being insular, and referencing  a Christian sense of guilt / confucianism also feels like a dodge. Karel van Wolferen tells a more complete story of what happened in Japan during the early days of the occupation. The US was mostly interested in using Japan as a bulwark against communism in Asia. Consequently they drew from the pool of right-wing, nationalist (war criminals) that that has (successfully?) organised the kantougun in Manchurian / Korea.

Rather than prosecuting, as happened in Nüremburg, class A war criminals were “re-habilitated” and made the heads of important ministries. The labour movement in Japan was consequently crushed. The teachers union, for example, has had a decades long battle with the Ministry of Education, which was mostly run by people from the Tokubetsu koutou keisatsu. The bureaucracies controlling the police, health care (green cross), and even major corporations like Dentsu, have similar backgrounds.

Such a situation was impossible in Europe, mostly due to the involvement of the Russians in securing the peace. Had the Red Army reached Japan before Hiroshima and Nagasaki were A-bombed, maybe Japan would have a different attitude to its past. Which is a lot of would have, could have, should have…

When all the mechanisms of education, media, and control are in the hands of avowed nationalist, right-wing parties it’s hard to imagine any other outcome. Perhaps that’s the lesson of The Enigma of Japanese Power: if you can control enough of the system change becomes incrementally more and more difficult.

It is always why i think that the DPJ staying in power, however ineffective it might appear at times, is so important. Ozawa, for all his faults, really understands that the real struggle is about wrestling control out of the hands of the bureaucrats and into those of the directly elected.

Something of a ramble. Sorry… been on my mind. The contrast is a little stark.

5 thoughts on “Attitudes

    • That’s a nicely done emotive piece, but i don’t think it’s saying anything particularly interesting.
      The hard part for me, as an anglo-saxon (genetically speaking i’m not, but in terms of cultural origin), is that if we were judged by the same standards over our colonial adventures (slaughter of native americans, slavery out of Africa, oppression of South East Asia, Opium Wars in China, etc.) we’d look as bad, if not worse. Fortunately, we aren’t. But that’s only because we have placed ourselves above judgement by being the authors of history.
      There is no denying that Japan needs to face up to its past, and that what it did was horrendous. None at all. However, if all you do is condemn, then you simplify the discussion to the point of moralistic idiocy. If my ramblings were supposed to get anything across it was that it’s not that simple.

  1. I think Hamburg’s St. Nikolai is no different to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The former largely stands for what happened to Hamburg during Operation Gomorrha, even though the basement exhibition also shows what German bombers did to other European cities, the church is still perceived by locals mainly as a monument to those thousands of people who suffocated and were burned to death during the allied bombings of the city. The thing that always gets me is that this place doesn’t need any explanation at all, let alone an exhibition. The feeling is more along the lines of: you started it, you paid for it. I imagine the Japanese feel the same when looking at that ruin in Hiroshima.

    As for Dentsu, the former IG Farben was founded by BASF, Bayer, Hoechst and AGFA – all of which are still going strong, despite having been involved in the Holocaust. Same goes for the Quandt family who owns BMW ( All of those companies are at the very foundation of German economy. The was no way the allies could have rid Germany of the industry involved in WWII – simply because most companies were. Germany, like Japan, was used as a stronghold against communism by the US but then again, the Eastern half was set up as a bulwark against the West by the Soviets – giving us 28 years of Cold War. So I can’t quite see how the Red Army would have secured peace in Europe.

    • Thanks for the comment. It maybe that i’m seeing things that aren’t here…

      We shall discuss the nuances over beer!

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