Walter Hamilton. Copy and Paste

Sep 2, 2014

The Japanese have coined a new word, kopipe, from the English phrase ‘copy and paste’. It featured, for instance, in recent reporting of the discredited stem-cell researcher caught out copying images and data from one research paper to another. But the word kopipe has many possible applications, such as in the ongoing debates about history and Japan’s expanding security alliance with the United States.

On the matter of history, let me do some copying and pasting of my own from the text of the San Francisco Peace Treaty which Japan signed in 1951 to formally bring to an end the Second World War. Here is what it says in Article 11:

            Japan accepts the judgments of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East [IMTFE] and of other Allied War Crimes Courts both within and outside Japan, and will carry out the sentences imposed  thereby upon Japanese nationals imprisoned in Japan. The power to grant clemency, to reduce sentences and to parole with respect to such prisoners may not be exercised except on the decision of the Government or Governments which imposed the sentence in each instance, and on recommendation of Japan.

What are we to make, then, of Japan’s current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who patently does not accept the judgments of the war crimes tribunals? Abe, on the contrary, is a determined revisionist who apparently thinks that those responsible for making war on their neighbours and conducting or condoning systematic atrocities are worthy of celebration. (For the record, the President of the IMTFE was Justice William Webb of Australia.)

During a parliamentary budget committee hearing last year Abe said the war crimes trials were a case of the Allies imposing their view of events on the Japanese. And in April this year Abe sent a message of support to a Buddhist event honouring Japanese who died after being convicted of war crimes. Abe wrote that they had ‘staked their souls to become the foundation of the fatherland,’ according to a report in the Asahi newspaper. The annual ceremony is held before a memorial statue that describes the war crimes tribunals conducted by the Allied powers as ‘retaliatory’ and calls executed Japanese war criminals ‘Showa Era (1926-1989) martyrs.’ Showa is the era name of the reign of Emperor Hirohito by whose authority Japan waged war in China and the Pacific. The memorial statue records the names of about 1,180 war criminals who were either executed or who died of illness or committed suicide in detention camps.

It’s not the first time Abe has sent a message of encouragement to the event. Last year he wrote: ‘I want to establish the existence of a new Japan that would not be an embarrassment to the spirit of the war dead.’

Abe’s maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, wartime Munitions Minister, was held as a suspected Class ‘A’ war criminal himself though never put on trial. He later made a political comeback and served as prime minister between 1957 and 1960. Abe could be described as a kopipe of his blood relation. But while Kishi’s unpopular policy of closer military co-operation with the United States eventually cost him the leadership, Abe’s pushing through of a new interpretation of Japan’s post-war constitution that effectively strips away its pacifist intention has come at little political cost. The Japan of 2014 is much less alert to its wartime responsibilities than the Japan of 1960. (It is worth noting that Abe’s language when addressing the subject during his speech to the Australian Parliament in July was not as conciliatory as that used by Kishi when he visited Australia in 1957.)

The Japanese Government makes a lot of noise about the importance of observing international law­­­­ in its territorial disputes with China and South Korea, and over issues such as whaling. When convenient, however, it seems ready to bend or ignore laws and commitments. The official explanation that Abe was acting purely in a ‘private’ capacity when he honoured Japan’s war criminals is the usual ‘copy and paste’ for the double standard.

Abe’s kopipe method was evident, too, during last month’s ceremonies marking the end of the war and the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The war dead would be more than embarrassed, one imagines, if they had been able to hear the Prime Minister read out a statement in Hiroshima that was, in large part, identical to the one he made at last year’s ceremony. Some official had simply copied and pasted from the old speech and so little concerned was Abe for reflecting sincerely on the past he read the whole thing without either noticing or caring.

Finally, and probably most importantly, there is the continuing ‘copy-and-paste’ militarization of Okinawa, the island prefecture that occupies less than 1% of Japan’s landmass but plays host to 74% of its US-only military bases. For decades politicians have promised the people of Okinawa that their disproportionate share of the burden would be reduced. A primary focus of groups campaigning for the pledge to be fulfilled has been the Futenma Air Station operated by the US Marines in the centre of Ginowan City. The facility is an obstacle to local development and seriously affects the lives of nearby residents with its noise pollution and constant danger of aircraft accidents.

In 1996, the US agreed to return the land––but only on condition that another location was found in Okinawa.  As a result, work preliminary to the construction of a new facility recently began in Oura Bay at Henoko, Nago city, near the existing American base Camp Schwab. The city’s mayor and many others are fiercely opposed to the project, so the Japanese coast guard has been mobilized to haul in any protestors trying to breach a large exclusion zone in the bay proclaimed under a little-used provision of the criminal law.

According to Professor Gavan McCormack of the Australian National University, Oura Bay ‘happens to be one of the most bio-diverse and spectacularly beautiful coastal zones in all Japan. It hosts a cornucopia of life forms from blue––and many other species––of coral…through crustaceans, sea cucumbers and sea weeds and hundreds of species of shrimps, snails, fish, tortoise, snake, and mammal.’ McCormack goes on to say: ‘If the project proceeds, it will rival in scale Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay, take a decade or more to complete and cost somewhere in the vicinity of $25 billion. Those [foreign leaders such as Tony Abbott] who believe they share values with [Shinzo Abe] should look carefully at the burgeoning confrontation in Oura Bay between the Abe state, with its monopoly of force, and local, non-violent, democratic citizens.’ 

Kopipe, rather than original thinking and genuine engagement, seems to be the fashionable way in Japan these days.

Walter Hamilton is the author of Children of the Occupation: Japan’s Untold Story.


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