During the 70th anniversary of WWII in Japan, Shinzo Abe expressed regret for his nation’s actions, but found that sorry is the still the hardest word.
Apologising can be a tricky thing. Shinzo Abe knows it. At the 70th Anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War Two, the Japanese PM reiterated the feelings of “profound grief” of his nation, but stopped short of saying the magic words.
Only because he felt they were unnecessary. They’ve already said it. Japan has given numerous apologies in the years since 1945, especially in China’s direction, and the words China desired this weekend were in reference to the vicious exploitation of “comfort women” by the Imperial Army.
Hey Japan, we get it, you were a different person back then, but you should still apologise, because, yeah you were a dick. Anyone who’s endured a mistake in a long-term relationship will know there’s only so many times you can offer the same apology to the same person before it becomes forced.
In the same speech, Abe said “We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologise…”
From an impartial, and simplified view, World War II happened. It will always have happened, and nothing can take it back. So how many “I’m Sorries” will it take to heal Nanjing? How many more generations will force apologies while holding Shinzo’s view? Not that I’m saying Japan doesn’t mean it when they say they’re sorry, nor am I being flippant about the horrors they wrought, but it’s the inexcusable nature of these horrors that cannibalises the meaning of the apology. Words will never do. Words, in the end, will only reanimate the wings of that filthy extinct bird that flew seventy years ago.
To give it some context, Australia has experienced its own complicated diplomatic apology with Kevin Rudd’s momentous “We’re Sorry” nod to the Stolen Generation. It felt good. A red-letter day. A step in the right direction. In the years since that afternoon in 2008, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is yet to be filled. The words had meaning and we took their meaning, but meaning without action is a need without feeling. A further apology without further progress would cheapen the first apology, Right? Japan has had seven decades of these apologies.
Those on the opposing bank of the East China Sea claim that the apology given was indirect and means that they’re not truly sorry. Moreover, it’s a clear indication that the Japan that they knew is sneering behind the regretful face and the olive branch offered in understanding hands holds hidden barbs. So, how do you demand an apology by refusing to accept it?
Japan has so far avoided widespread compensation to the families of these “comfort women”, instead offering a stoic “we know”, backed by publicised legislation. The other view of this legislation is that Japan is improving the future, as opposed to addressing the past. Despite history stating the facts, it still remains a matter of opinion and if you were burnt as badly as China, you’d distrust the person holding the candle. With these neighbourly relationships forever painted with the mistakes of the dead (a situation exacerbated by Japan’s recent tweaking on their pacifist stance, with regional neighbours fearing the return of Japan’s expansionist past), there is the danger in the coming years that the words will lose the original meaning and serve as a reminder of contemporary diplomatic failures. A wedge to drive the gap between the two; one hurt from the actions, the other hurt from an inability to allowed to move on.