“…Never Forgive, Never Forget…” — Assuaging Consciences
22 January 2023
Here in Australia at the start of the new year, it’s been quite a month so far. Along with the almost-universal approval of the newly-minted Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong, come the downsides.
The state of New South Wales (NSW) has been the conservatives’ jewel in the crown, following the fall of Victoria to the evils of Labor, a rabble of leftists hell-bent on social justice, improving the lot of those less able to fend for themselves, and lifting standards of infrastructure to world best-practice. Yes, a den of iniquity indeed. However, it is not the comparison of states’ good and evil which is the object of this critique, but the effects of bad or heinous acts long past. It is about fact, admission, and contrition.
In the lead-up to the NSW elections on 23 March, an opponent of Premier Dominic Perrottet (but on the same side and a minister in his government) ‘warned’ the Premier that a photo existed of Perrottet on his 21st birthday party, 20 years ago, wearing a Nazi uniform. To date the photo has not publicly surfaced but has been sighted and apparently is real. Perrottet has admitted his wrongdoing, saying he was young and stupid, and has apologised to the Jewish population at large and various peak Jewish bodies, who have accepted his apology as genuine. Comparisons have been made with the similarly egregious wearing of the horrendous uniform by Prince Harry when he was the same age. However, in comments in the Age newspaper in Melbourne, one Jewish reader wrote simply, “Never again. Never Forgive. Never Forget.”
That the Shoah was one of the worst atrocities ever is not in contention, nor is the fact that Germany has made restitution, apologised formally, and written into law anti-Nazi legislation. This means that movement will never again be permitted on German soil. However, there is a looming geo-political situation encompassing Australia, the US, the UK, and Japan which is occupying much thought, reflection about the past, and the impact on the future.
The Japanese Ambassador to Australia, Mr Shingo Yamagami, is perhaps best described as the epitome of a Wolf Warrior. Of late, he has mounted a charm offensive with the seemingly-fawning Murdoch media. However, the most recent prominent article is that of January 13, in the Sydney Morning Herald, sister publication to Melbourne’s Age newspaper, and not of the Murdoch stable. Journalist Matthew Knott was feted to a special degustation lunch at the Japanese Embassy, the outcome of which was part-food review, part-promotion of the Japanese view of world affairs, an unabashed puff-piece with little analysis or commentary. Whilst continuing to paint China as the villainous party and threat to world stability, the Ambassador also raised the prospect of far closer military and security cooperation between Japan and Australia, even being part of both the Quad and AUKUS, which would become “JAUKUS”.
Since the Japanese loss of WW II, consecutive Japanese governments have forgotten, hidden, or re-written their warring history, especially in terms of the ways in which they treated other Asian adversaries. For example, while Germany recoiled in horror at the despicable acts of Auschwitz, Japanese governments have denied any wrongdoing in Nanjing, apart from their takeover. Germans were repulsed by the various incursions and invasions by Hitler and his cohort, yet the Japanese took sex slaves from Korea and China, overrunning those countries as well as Malaya, Singapore, Burma and Thailand. Former Japanese Prime Minister, the late Shinzo Abe, was preceded as Prime Minister by his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi. From 1941, Kishi was the governor of invaded Manchuria in China’s north and was infamous for using slave labour as part of his Japanese government portfolio of commerce and industry. He was later imprisoned as a “Class A” war criminal but released three years later by the Americans as an ally against the fledgling Communist government of China, and became Prime Minister of Japan in 1951. Worryingly, the Kishi ghost still haunts the world stage.
Of relevance is that of the nationalist, ultra-conservative rule of Kishi, his grandson, and many other Japanese Prime Ministers, only two have eschewed rearmament and the rise of Japan as a military power again. All others have embraced the spirit of Bushido, the Way of the Warrior. While Ambassador Yamagami has couched his criticism of China in diplomatic terms, his quote “I’m…a China realist…We’d love to see the day when China becomes a responsible, law-abiding member of the international community…” says much about his need to mould China to his world view. What he has said is subjective and an opinion. By his own admission, he is a ’spy-master and spy-catcher’ in a former life, so his views have been determined by the mindset of those he serves and the political orthodoxy of the day. However, as a diplomat, his job is to foster friendship, not criticise or belittle other countries. It is also not his duty to pass commentary on another country other than where he is posted. It is a clear breach of protocol.
Japan has never formally apologised for the atrocities unleashed on China or the rest of Asia, let alone the world. Japan was made to give concessions to the West, including allowing American military bases on Japanese soil (which did not go well), but some from the Japanese war effort, like some from Germany, were taken up by the West as research scientists and allowed to continue their work, albeit with different guidelines and methods of working. Japan paid no restitution to nations which had suffered terribly at their hands. Indeed, it is estimated over 20 million Chinese alone died with the Japanese invasion and occupation. Successive Japanese administrations have either refused to acknowledge their terrible wrongdoings of the past during the two Sino-Japanese Wars, or have re-written their internal history books to minimise their misdeeds.
Although tragically similar in hideous acts against humanity, the responses from Germany and Japan could not be further apart or more stark. On the one hand, there is full disclosure and recognition of pain and suffering of victims, a deeply-felt sorrow and regret, a sincere apology, legislative framework to prevent such movements from ever gaining re-establishment with penalties for infractions, and restitution, restoration and/or compensation to those who had suffered, as much as could be given. That is the German response and true contrition which continues to this day, regardless of the fact most of the perpetrators are now long-gone. Then there is Japan.
From whitewashing history to outright denial, to reverence for those war criminals buried at a shrine and regularly visited by those in power, Japan has shown no consideration for those broken by the war. Despite protests by North and South Korea, China, the Philippines and others, Japan has turned a deaf ear to their entreaties for at least an admission of wrongdoing and an apology for the inestimable injury caused. In various forums and publications, Japanese ‘historians’ and politicians have denied strenuously any part in the outrages committed and witnessed by so many, in astonishing acts of wilful cognitive dissonance. Opposition voices to these denialists, like the late Ienaga Saburo, are few, drowned out by nationalist sentiments and modern, geo-political alliances of convenience.
Drawing all these disparate threads together, there appears to be a confluence of allies forming in the Asia-Pacific region as a bulwark against so-called China ‘expansionism’. Regardless of the facts and lack of evidence of China’s expansion or ambitions against Australia, Japan, America or Britain, the alignment is an unsubtle warning to China to toe the West’s line or face military might and strengthening sanctions already in place. While as part of the Quad India has not sought to become a protagonist in this latest attempt at China containment, it becomes clearer daily a plan is afoot. China is to be stopped from accruing any further economic or humanitarian benefits from Pacific nations, and a mix of colonialist threat and economic penalties will be imposed on any who give succour or friendship to China. The West is obviously aware how galling such an alliance with Japan bolstering the West’s position will sit with China.
At present, China is attempting to lower the temperature heightened by the sabre-rattling of two American administrations and the last Australian government, and to be fair, the Australian government has cautiously responded positively. China and the Chinese Ambassador to Australia, H.E. Mr Xiao Qian, has welcomed Australian involvement in the Pacific, ‘partnering’ with China in giving aid and infrastructure. However, this unwelcome intrusion and comment by the Ambassador to one of China’s most bellicose and long-standing enemies serves only to destabilise any rapprochement between Australia and China. While former Australian diplomat John Menadue’s assertion that the Japanese Embassy in Canberra is “…leading the anti-China campaign in Australia…” might be slight hyperbole, the Japanese Ambassador is stoking Sinophobia and mistrust of any Chinese actions. Coupled with the rise in right-wing politics and militarism in Japan, and renewed calls to revoke Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution (prohibiting the raising of an offensive military force), Ambassador Yamagami’s comments cause deep concern as to Japanese intent in the Asia-Pacific region. Given the deep military aid and support America gives Japan, it is not hard to see how an enlarged alliance encompassing Japan would help America establish and assert dominance in the Pacific to sublimate or nullify any Chinese presence or engagement with Pacific nations. Australia of course would benefit as one of the coalition, so the Ambassador’s comments cynically pander to Australian self-interest.
While it is unthinkable for military combat to again occur in the Pacific theatre, the establishment of JAUKUS sends signals of command and control of the region by colonial powers. The message also means to Pacific Island nations that supremacist mindsets have little changed over centuries and the stage again is set for them to be exploited by imperialists. However, while we may not revisit the tormented years of WWII, economic and humanitarian blackmail and rule is a possible threat, used as a blunt weapon against China, with other nations suffering as a result. In the meantime, Japanese wartime sins and barbarisms are swept from view in a volley of accusative, Sinophobic comments. Truth and justice is buried under geo-political posturing and confrontational sentiments.
The world is slowly emerging from the worst pandemic in living memory and humanity has had to find new ways of working together to combat this global scourge. Many nations have shown courage, resilience, and humanity in helping others fight Covid and minimise sickness and fatalities. While putting aside differences and attempting cooperation on a wider scale is an albeit distant hope, it is now apparent there are some hell-bent on ensuring this is a forlorn ambition, born of selfishness and bitter enmity. Until Japan puts to rest its red haze of China-hate and bears its soul to be cleansed of iniquities past, as with the South African Truth Commission, there will be no peace.
In the interim, many will harbour pain and suffering, many will be unforgiving despite the effluxion of time, and a large part of the world will remain living in sorrow. Surely humanity is better than this? While one can and must never forget, one may at last be allowed to lay the ghosts of misdeeds past and forgive those who transgressed.
Disclaimer: the author’s father lost most of his adolescent friends in China who joined the Resistance and were tortured and murdered by the Japanese invaders. To this day, he suffers PTSD and memories of the horrors he witnessed and against which he fought.
Anthony Leong is the President of the Victorian Branch of the Australia-China Friendship Society and also Secretary-General of the Pacific-China Friendship Association.
 First coined to describe Chinese spokespeople and Ambassadors openly critical of policies they saw as contrary to China’s interests.
 A security discussion group composed of USA, India, Australia & Japan.
 The military/naval consortium of Australia, UK & USA, formed for production & sale of submarines to Australia.
 Hundreds of thousands were murdered, many by torture & atrocities, & much of the city destroyed.
 Australia considers the Burma Railway the ultimate Japanese brutality against Australian POWs, forced to build the railway with little food, water, or medical aid. Over 100,000 people died on that construction, of which almost 3000 were Australian POWs.
 Indeed, some were ‘prized’ for their findings in live vivisection ‘experiments’ and other unfathomable acts of brutality.
 The Yasukuni Shrine, burial ground for Japanese soldiers and war criminals.
 John Menadue, “Pearls & Irritations”, 15 January 2023