JOHN MENADUE. What a post-war contrast – Germany and Japan; Angela Merkel and Shinzo Abe.

For all its atrocities in the 1930s and 1940s, Germany has become an exemplar country promoting prosperity and peace. Angela Merkel stands out as a world leader more than any other.  By contrast, Japan has again become a divisive country in its region and its Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been acquiescing and promoting an ultra-nationalist cause. Germany quickly came to terms with its past. Japan has refused to.

 Both countries were reviled in 1945 for their crimes against humanity.  Since then Germany has rebuilt its economy and political institutions.  West and East Germany are now united.  Germany has been the key country in building European unity after centuries of disastrous wars.  Long may that continue despite the folly of Brexit.

German leaders since the war knew that peace in Europe depended on fraternal relations between Germany and France. A succession of German leaders – Adenauer, Brandt, Schmidt and now Merkel – have led Germany in a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe.

Despite domestic opposition from the extreme right in Germany, Merkel has shown courage in taking the pressure off Greece and Italy as countries of first asylum and has agreed to settle over a million refugees.  Oh for leadership like that!  Merkel has correctly assessed that the Trump presidency represents a turning point in the Atlantic alliance and she is responding accordingly.  She is carefully constructing a relationship with the rising China.  One disappointment however has been that she has cooperated with the US in taking NATO up to the borders of Russia despite US undertakings not to do as the price for German re-unification.

What a contrast we have with Japan.  Its economy has been stalled for 20 years and Abenomics shows no sign of ending the malaise. To cover for domestic failure, worsened by population decline, Shinzo Abe has decided to placate the ultra-nationalist right.  It is the old story of governments promoting fear and division.  In this case, The Japanese government has promoted fhostility to its large neighbors, China and the Republic of Korea.  Hate-speech is growing in many parts of Japan, particularly in the media and even in schools and kindergartens.

Shinzo Abe is equivocal about Yasukuni Shrine which includes enshrined Japanese war criminals.  Senior ministers deny the Nanking massacre and ‘comfort women’ are dismissed as scheming prostitutes rather than slaves of the Japanese army.  Ultra-nationalist voices press for a more ‘patriotic’ education system that downplays past atrocities.  ‘Honest history’ is not encouraged in many parts of Japan.

Only yesterday(30 August 2017) the Japan Times reported Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso as saying ‘ Hitler,who killed millions of people,was no good even if his motive was right.’ That type of comment is par for the course for some Japanese Ministers today.

Why this contrast between Germany and Japan;  and Merkel and Abe?

I suggest there are several reasons.

What is now becoming clear is that one reason is that US occupation of Japan was a ‘soft’ occupation.  In contrast was a divided Germany and particularly a Soviet determination to root out fascism.  In contrast to Europe where Germany was divided, Stalin chose not to put his armies into northern  Japan and divide the occupation with the US.

A key influence in the ‘soft’ occupation was that the Japanese Emperor was retained in position, even with reduced powers, despite his role as Head of State in complicity in the push for war.  This clearly gave ultra-nationalists encouragement.  In the short term, it made the occupation much easier with undoubted Japanese cooperation.  But some of the root causes of the war just went underground.

By contrast, the old German leadership destroyed itself and with a tough occupation, it was easier for new Germany governments to root out those who had caused such tragedy in the 1930s and the 1940s.

In the occupation of Japan, the Korean War was a god-send for many . It put an end to the purging of the ultra-right.  In effect, Japan was recruited into the Cold War and past behavior was largely forgotten.  A former Class A war criminal suspect, Nobusuke Kishi, who was imprisoned by the US for three years for his cruelty in Japanese occupied Manchukuo, was rehabilitated. He became Prime Minister of Japan in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  That was a major switch that allowed Kishi, a suspect Class A war criminal, to become Prime Minister of Japan within a decade. It says an awful lot. Shinzo Abe is his grandson.

The US has a track record of ‘soft’ occupations.  After the civil war, US Presidents and Andrew Johnson in particular (1865-69) refused to crack down on slavery and racism in the South.  The leaders in the South may have lost the war, but they never accepted the result. It took Lyndon Johnston 100 years later to reverse the Jim-Crow laws in the South that enforced segregation.

The 200 years of Japan’s isolation pre-Meiji (1868-1912) also meant that ultra-nationalism had become deeply entrenched in Japan with fear of foreigners and isolationist policies.

There was also another very important reason for the different paths that Germany and Japan took after 1945.  In contrast to the influential Social Democrats like Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt in Germany , the Japanese Socialist Party has been an abject failure.  The German Social Democrats have been influential both in government and in opposition. Even today they are in a Grand Alliance with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.

By contrast, we have seen  almost uninterrupted conservative government in Japan since 1945. The Socialist Party has been almost always on the fringe. One result of the Socialist Party failure is that even today, the Japan Communist Party polls well over 10 % of the vote.  It is one of the largest non-governing Communist parties in the world.  This is despite the eclipse of Communism almost everywhere.

Several very senior Japanese government officials told me when I was in Japan in the late 1970s that they invariably voted for the Communist Party, not because of any endorsement of its ideology, but in protest about the corruption of the Liberal Democratic Party and the incompetence of the Socialist Party.

What a contrast we now see more than 70 years after the end of WWII.  Germany has become a unifying leader in its own region and beyond.  Japan pursues divisiveness and hostility towards its neighbors, countries that in the past it has occupied and inflicted  on them untold human suffering..

Angela Merkel offers strong leadership and encouragement. Shizo Abe is a  problem.

John Menadue was Australian Ambassador in Japan 1977-81.He initiated the Australia Japan Foundation and the Australia Japan Working Holiday Agreement, the first such agreement between Australia and an Asian Country. In 1999 he was awarded  by the Emperor the Grand Cordon of the  Order of the Sacred Treasure for promoting relations between Japan and Australia.


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3 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. What a post-war contrast – Germany and Japan; Angela Merkel and Shinzo Abe.

  1. John Thompson says:

    I recently spent a couple of weeks in Germany mainly to see how it was coping with the very large number of refugees it had taken in. But one of the things that struck me in my travels and my discussions with Germans was the open, frank and honest admission of their previous government’s culpability for the tragedy of World War 2. Most major cities have museums or monuments acknowledging the reprehensible actions of their German National Socialist government that led to the war, and were committed during the war, and affirming the need to ensure that such actions are not repeated. I think this national recognition of guilt has allowed Germany to move on positively, and it compares starkly with successive Japanese governments’ refusal to acknowledge its country’s wicked record in World War 2. Abe’s government has been particularly delinquent in this regard.

  2. Kaijin Zah says:

    “First signs of a healthy democracy, A healthy labour movement and a healthy film and television industry.” [Gen. D. Macarthur to Emperor of Japan, (paraphrased)] They started well, but sadly I think your analogy holds water. Merkel does actually listen to the labour movement in Germany, some of her so called softening on carbon targets was actually about ordinary German jobs. A difficult cart to balance but in terms of the whole of the Century equation, the two horns of the bull we must wrestle.
    Interesting to see the figures on the Communist Party next time the LNP overstates our friendship with Japan somebody should quote that. 🙂

  3. Ramesh Thakur says:

    To complete the storyline, Germany has moved from being the enemy of the free world under Hitler to the leader of the free world under Angela Merkel. Meanwhile if Malcolm Turnbull is joined to one hip of the tweeter-in-chief, Shinzo Abe is joined to the other.

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