Excellent rebuttal of Tamogami in Asahi — but not on the Internet

Page 15 of today’s Asahi, the opinion page, has run three excellent articles analyzing and rebutting the controversial arguments and actions of recently dismissed ASDF Chief of Staff Tamogami. I’ll quickly summarize their points:

(UPDATE: In case you missed it, you can read Tamogami’s full, six-page essay here (PDF))

Shinichi Kitaoka — Professor at Tokyo University specializing in Japanese diplomatic history

Tamogami is wrong and uses questionable secondary sources (such as Mao: the Unknown Story) to support theories that are widely rejected by the historical community. Tamogami’s views on politics appear subtly masochistic and emotional. For example, his complaints that Roosevelt tried to lure Japan into firing the first shot are “shameful” since international politics is by nature a game of trickery. Most military leaders around the world are well-educated and act gentlemanly, and in these respects Tamogami has failed miserably to meet the conditions for leading a branch of the armed forces. The incident has done enormous damage to the public’s faith in the Self Defence Forces.

Shunichi Karasawa — commentator and member of the Tondemo Gakkai, a group dedicated to debunking urban myths and conspiracy theories

Tamogami is a classic conspiracy theorist — despite the presumed access to primary information that would come with high office, Tamogami instead chose to use secondary sources that supported his theories without examining them, and then failed to prove his point. Writing about politics or history requires one to avoid the temptation to simplify complex situations, but apparently Tamogami lacked the patience. Maybe this is an expression of the SDF’s frustration over the unclear status of the force during a time when the US-Japan relationship is changing.

Tamogami has a reputation as a capable man of action. This preference for quick resolutions makes it easy for someone like that to get caught up in conspiracy theories since they are always looking for someone to blame.

After publishing the essay, he has displayed an attitude that he is more or less satisfied that he did something significant. This pattern of saying something and not seeing much need for followup or verification is also typical of conspiracy theorists.

Perhaps part of the reason his arguments have generated support on the Internet is because they offer simple answers in a complicated world. But we should not just laugh off his essay. It’s a dangerous world indeed when officials in high office can so easily be led astray by wild theories.

Toshiyuki Shikata — Teikyo University professor and former vice president of the National Defense Academy

Shikata argues from the perspective of a former officer and notes that Tamogami quite clearly did not follow the proper procedures when writing his piece. He notes that normally pieces related to work require vetting by the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and if he had gone through proper channels this inane essay never would have seen the light of day. Of course Tamogami knew that, somehow claimed the essay was unrelated to his duties, and decided to go for maximum political effect by publishing through the contest route while still in office. He then echoes Karasawa in stating that the SDF is “depressed” over its unclear status, but goes further to suggest that the constitution be revised to clarify things.

All well and good, but you won’t find any of these arguments on the Internet, at least not until I typed them up (we might see a translation in the English edition, but not the original Japanese). As usual, the right-wing has a leg up on more level-headed commentators in terms of Internet outreach. Tamogami did not hestitate to make his thoughts known in full on the Internet (possibly because he couldn’t have published them elsewhere), and the impact has been astounding. But Asahi, a mainstream media dinosaur, can only trot out its heavy hitters in the dead-tree edition.

Blogger-economist Nobuo Ikeda argues that the Asahi Shimbun, as the longtime promoter of the comfort women issue and the Nanking Massacre, two incidents that he feels are overblown, has lost credibility to criticize Tamogami, since Asahi has a history of engaging in the same sort of demagogy.

But I would say the Asahi suffers from more than just a credibility issue, if indeed they do. They just are not actively engaging the Internet audience, and this should be a real cause of concern if they want to maintain any status as a forum for opinion leaders.

14 thoughts on “Excellent rebuttal of Tamogami in Asahi — but not on the Internet”

  1. Ikeda’s argument seems pretty weak to me. Saying that the Nanjing Massacre (remember “Nanking” is obsolete) and the comfort women issue are not significant simply isn’t true as long as the victim countries are going to keep the issue going. People in Japan are perfectly free not to care, but then they may be making the choice to alienate those countries.

    Note that on Tuesday Taiwan’s legislature voted unanimously on a resolution seeking apology and redress from Japan. This is not China or Korea, where anti-Japan feeling runs rampant. Taiwan is quite possibly the second most Japan-friendly country in the world right now, after the United States. Not to mention the fact that this was a unanimous vote, between violently opposed parties, one of whom (the DPP) has spent the last two weeks accusing the other (KMT) of essentially trying to reinstate martial law. To dismiss these historical issues as “overblown” is wishful thinking, not a reality-based assessment of politics.

    As for the Asahi (and much of the rest of Japanese print media) Internet strategy, I could not agree more. While the Japanese newspaper industry is currently on a financial footing far stronger than the US, and presumably other markets, they are still going to have to move online sooner than later, and without really trying before it becomes a life or death matter, they could lack the experience needed to succeed.

    It is also true that keeping editorials off the web site diminishes their potential impact. I’m sure we all remember the New York Times’ bizarre failed experiment with a subscription service for their Op-Ed content. Their columns, which before and after the subscription period have been consistently among the top 10 most blogged and emailed articles on the website, completely disappeared from that top 10 list, for something like a year.

    As for Don’s comments on Karasawa, sounds worth looking into but regardless he is easily the least important of the three writers on this particular page.

  2. I think that the Japanese left are in a far stronger position than the Tamogami-types. Despite this, however, I think that when something important like this is produced to change minds (as opposed to what pays the billz), that they should suck it up and put it online.

    In the Asahi’s defense, however, all of this was read out on TV this morning.

    “Ikeda’s argument seems pretty weak to me.”

    I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Ikeda’s argument, but his criticisms of the Asahi approach to say, Nanking (in the above linked post but mostly elsewhere) are at least worthy of response by the Asahi. The Asahi, for example, has firmly decided to stick with a death toll of around 250,000. Not all historians are comfortable with anything near this level. David Askew is probably the historian in the English-speaking world who has done the most research on the massacre as a historical event and he now favors a death toll of around 50,000 if I am not mistaken.

    If a broad geographical and temporal definition is applied, I lean toward 250,000. I acknowledge, however, that a broad definition and leap of faith in the absence of adequate source material is necessary. It is the last point that the Asahi has had little to say about. As a result, Ikeda’s argument it may not be kind, but it is at least worth considering. By not using careful historical argumentation, the Asahi is only playing into the hands of critics.

  3. Just an RSS comment on Asahi feeds. Looks like about everything is available — except for the English edition.

    What could be the possible logic of having the technology and service available, but only using it for Japanese language feeds?

    Interesting comments on Tamogami, thanks for making the information available to those of us who don’t have access to the print edition of Asahi. Or the ability to translate a copy of if I had one in my hands.

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  4. “his criticisms of the Asahi approach to say, Nanking (in the above linked post but mostly elsewhere) are at least worthy of response by the Asahi. The Asahi, for example, has firmly decided to stick with a death toll of around 250,000. Not all historians are comfortable with anything near this level.”
    My understanding of the figures are pretty similar to yours. The problem isn’t so much a matter of numbers as defining the scope of what can be considered “The Nanjing Massacre” and what is the bloody campaign leading up to it. Anyone who mentions casualty numbers should also specify which they are referring to.

  5. I don’t find Ikda’s argument weak.I thought he summed it all up pretty nicely.
    Although I found his argument on Asahi is pretty old-fashioned.

    “Note that on Tuesday Taiwan’s legislature voted unanimously on a resolution seeking apology and redress from Japan.”

    Not particulary a surprise.Taiwan isn’t pro-Japan.They are just Pro-Taiwan.
    And current Ma administration is the most anti-Japanese regime in the past two decades.
    Added to that Japan bashing is the only way to bridge political polaraization here in East Asian democracy.It happened in Hong Kong in 1997 over the Senkakus and recently South Korea had used the Takeshima to swtich off the anti-American sentiment over American beef import.
    Plus you lose nothing by demanding foreign government to kow-tow when you know the ither side won’t kick you back.It gives you the feeling of moral superiority for free.Taiwan was under Japanese hands for over half century.I don’t see any problem seeing Taiwanese doing what we had allowed American/Canadian/Dutch congress did.

  6. I think we should take a fairly restrictive view of the Massascre scope, not because I’m actually a right-wing Japanese pundit, but because the most visceral imagery is from the civilian rapes and deaths following the occupation rather than the various killings (even if dodgy, like that “kill a hundred gooks” thing the newspapaers either palyed up or made up) leading to it. Otherwise we get to admitting that quarter of a million were killed and people thinking that was just the civilian deaths in a few weeks after the fighting was done.

  7. You can find brief comments by Mr. Hata and Mr. Koketsu in Mainichi. Mr. Koketsu is a liberal historian on civilian control.


    Although his opinion is different from me in several points, I don’t find Ikda’s argument in this post weak, too. It’s both leftwingers and rightwingers who don’t respect the academic arguments and engage in political mythmaking by using the past. This kind of attitude contributes solely to eternalize the history problem and instabilize the regional order.

  8. OK, I looked again at the Ikeda blog post now. I must admit that my initial response was based on Adam’s use of the word “overblown”, and I was thinking more of the arguments saying that the massacre never happened, or just isn’t worth talking about, as opposed to “overblown” in the sense that the numbers have been inflated. It is certainly valid to say that numbers may have been inflated or deflated by one side or the other, but when records are so sketchy it’s unlikely that a remotely accurate number will ever be produced. After all, this was not the Nazis, who used IBM punch-card proto-computers to keep track of each victim.

  9. “when records are so sketchy it’s unlikely that a remotely accurate number will ever be produced.”

    The unfortunate thing is, that until the Chinese side acknowledges this and drops the clearly impossible idea that 350,000 civilians were killed in a period of three weeks just in the city of Nanking and its immediate vicinity, guys like Tamogami are not going anywhere.

    What to do?

  10. “After all, this was not the Nazis, who used IBM punch-card proto-computers to keep track of each victim.”

    Yeah,but Roy,Japanese troops had it’s internal combat records of confirmed kills.
    Besides,the number isn’t the real issues.The issue is it’s been reported over and over again that Japanese had never acknowledged the massacre itself.It’s in the textbook,it’s in the newspaper,and over dozens of books had been published on the issues.

    Anybody read Chalmers Johnson’s “Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power”?
    How about John Dower’s “Empire and the Aftermat:Yoshida Shigeru and Japanese experience 1878-1954”?The former is a book about Japanese military’s search and destroy mission in the rural area helped Chinese peasant adopting Chinese nationalism and communist leadership in the 30’s.The latter is unauthorized biography of Yoshida Shigeru and focused heavily on Yoshida’s consul days in Mukden being a strong supporter of aggressive policy of the army about the same time.Yet as I checked the index of both works,there were no word of “Nanjing massacre”.Considering both Dower and Johnson are both highly critical of “Japanese historiocal amnesia”,I found this rather odd.But then again,Nanjing Massacre became a hot issues in the mid 80’s.Maybe it just wasn’t the flavor of the month at the time of publication.

  11. We’ve definitely long passed the point where anyone could realistically say that there is any “amnesia” about the Nanjing Massacre. I doubt you can find anyone out there who hasn’t at least heard of it (at least anyone who would care), and most discussions of the Nanjing Massacre degenerate into an attempt to assign symbolism.

    Coincidentally, I just ran across this article on the Nanjing Massacre by Richard Bush (no relation to the current president, I think) who is rumored to be the Obama administration’s advisor on Taiwan strait issues. His breakdown seems pretty fair to me, and has the tone of someone going out of his way to be diplomatic (i.e. noone is unilaterally to blame, the situation is at fault more than any of the parties)- a skill that will turn out very useful if the rumor is correct.

  12. a bit off topic
    Some readers of this blog may have already known, but I think this research on “net-uyoku” should be well known to those interested in J-cyberpolitics. Its results confirm my impressions, although its methode seems to have a certain limit.


  13. Thanks Mozu! I hadn’t seen that paper before but I’ll definitely read through it some time.

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