The Japan-Korea tunnel gets revisited

Goh Kun, a former prime minister of Korea, is proposing a Japan-Korea tunnel as part of his campaign for president. With this tunnel intact, Japan and Korea would be directly linked by rail and highway, and assuming that North Korea comes out of its isolation in the future, it would be possible to ship goods between Japan and Europe entirely by rail (through the trans-Siberian).

This is hardly a novel idea. Back during World War II, the Japanese government had a long-term goal to run high-speed rail service from Japan through Korea and into the Asian mainland. Transport historian Roderick Smith:

The need for expansion of capacity [in the Tokyo-Osaka-Fukuoka corridor] was recognised, and work actually started on a new standard-gauge (4 ft 8 1/2 in. or 1,435 mm) line in 1940. A key part of the motivation behind this new line was to link Tokyo with the western part of Japan, which, in turn, linked up with Japanese-held territory in China and Korea. It was planned that fast electric trains, already nicknamed dangan ressha (Bullet Trains), would speed along this line towards Kyushu and perhaps even through an undersea tunnel to the Asian mainland via the Korean peninsula. Although the undersea Kanmon tunnel was completed between Honshu and Kyushu in 1942, thus directly linking two of Japan’s four main islands for the first time, the Pacific war had started in 1941 and it was to be some time before the railway network could be further expanded.

A few of the tunnels blasted as part of this plan were eventually used for Japan’s first high-speed railway line, the Tokaido Shinkansen, which opened in 1964.

Anyway, they could be on to something with this tunnel. Besides freight, an overnight high-speed train from Tokyo to Seoul could prove very popular, and in the future, it could even be extended to Beijing or farther. A big investment, sure, but perhaps not as hare-brained as it might initially sound.

LDP faction wants to deny forcing of comfort women

I don’t normally like to just cut and paste news articles (translation is of course a different story) because it’s just a lame way to blog without having any ideas, but The Yomiuri does not keep their stories accessible online for an indefinite period, and this one from today’s edition is a critical followup to my little essay of two days ago. Ask yourself, what would these men consider “conclusive evidence”? About a month ago I attended a lecture at which three old women from Taiwan came to speak about their experiences as sex slaves to the Japanese army, which I personally found extremely convincing. (I have been meaning to write a long blog entry about that lecture, so someone people remind me to do so.)

LDP split over ‘comfort women’ / Lawmakers plan to seek revision of 1993 statement on culpability
Continue reading LDP faction wants to deny forcing of comfort women

The day’s news in Patriotism and rememberance

Glancing at today’s top stories at The Japan Times, I am struck by how thematically linked many of them are. Now, of course it is a slow-news Sunday with few actual current events to report on, which leads the news people to slot the historical stories into the front page, but we can still see an interesting congruence of themes in four of today’s top stories.

The big story is that the New ‘patriotism’ education law takes effect. All readers of this blog already know that this law has been in the news for some time, it has been debated by everyone, protested against by citizens groups, teachers unions, parents and students, and contested by a coalition of the DPJ and other minor opposition political parties, who in the end failed to stop its passage by the eternally ruling LDP. While I haven’t read the actual text of the law [available here] yet (which I really should do soon), we do all know that the controversy stems from one particular section of the comprehensive education law-containing many provisions on reforms generally accepted as necessary-in which it states that “an attitude that respects tradition and culture and loves the nation and homeland that have fostered them” should be promoted by throughout compulsory education, which incidentally I believe has also been extended to include high school for the first time, in one of the less politically charged provisions of the law.

This rather innocuous sounding passage sounds like part of the basic curriculum of lower education in pretty much any country, and one could argue does not even sound any different from what is already taught in classrooms throughout Japan, but many people think of the recent case of teachers being disciplined for not singing the national anthem and feel a worry that the actual implementation of these newly mandatory provisions is another stage in the resuscitation of a particular pre-war style of nationalism. In reality, the debate is not over whether patriotism and shared national values should be taught to children, but what meaning that patriotism has, and what those values are.

The worry among the opposition camp is that the official patriotism will be a doctrine of subservience to the state, which could someday lead to a return to the military days of the past. The fact that the education law was passed in the same parliamentary session as the bill elevating the head of the Self Defense Forces to a cabinet level minister does not appear to them to be a coincidence. But the opposition has their own narrative of patriotism, primarily based on the doctrine of pacifism and anti-militarism that was embraced throughout Japan after the multifaceted disaster of Japanese Imperialism and the Second World War. The relentless defense of these principles, primarily in the guise of Article 9 of the American imposed postwar Constitution-the protection of which seems to be invoked in virtually every campaign poster of a politician campaigning against the LDP-represents a particular vision of Japan, which they are proud of and want to protect. This is an attitude that I think should be considered a form of patriotism.

While statements by the reigning Emperor tend to be somewhat bland and cryptic, this seems to be the attitude expressed by Akihito, the Heisei Emperor, in remarks made on his birthday-which was also a top story today. Although I mentioned above that it was The Japan Times in which these four stories were placed next to each other, I’m going to present the somewhat longer quote from the BBC article (also the front page of that site).

“Now that the number of those who were born after the war increases as years pass by, the practice of mourning the war dead will help them to understand what kind of world and society those in the previous generations lived in,” Emperor Akihito said, in remarks made on Wednesday, but only made public on Saturday.

“I sincerely hope that the facts about the war and the war dead will continue to be correctly conveyed to those of the generations that do not have direct knowledge of the war so the kind of ravage of war that we experienced in the past will never be repeated,” he added.

However, the emperor avoided touching on how people should honour those who died in World War II.

(The original Japanese statements can be found here at the Yomiuri)
Somewhat limp statements like these are a result of how it is generally considered inappropriate for the Emperor to engage in any political activity, or suggest or endorse any particular thing or action, lest it remind us of the bad old days. If you read the entire statement of the”symbol of the State and of the unity of the people,” you can see that he is very careful only to specifically reference the deaths of Japanese soldiers and civilians and the general horror of war, but he also hopes that the “history of both Japan and the world” should be “properly conveyed to the generation of people who have not directly experienced war” so that “the horrors of war like those of the past shall not be repeated.” Right wing supporters of the new education law may argue that children will be upset by learning about evil things done by their own country in the past, but it is difficult to believe that this sort of education encourages the strong anti-war sentiment in present day Japan. Could anyone really say that the Emperor’s desire for the history of war to be taught in such a way that it helps encourage students to be anti-war is unpatriotic?

The concept of “patriotic” education is not inherently nationalistic or jingoistic. I believe that growing up I was taught about American history in a way that was intended to strongly foster patriotism, but not by entirely white-washing the past. Among the things I specifically recall studying in American History class at some point over elementary school, middle school and high school classes are: slavery and segregation (lesson plans inspired in no small part by the fact that the public schools of Montclair, New Jersey were in the twelve years I spent there roughly 50% black/white), smallpox blankets, the Salem Witch Trials, Manifest Destiny, industrial revolution child labor, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, the Wounded Knee Massacre, the Trail of Tears. And this is not even a complete list of the various injustices committed by the United States of America that I was taught about in history class.

A Kobayashi Yoshinori or Shintaro Ishihara might think that I went through a history curriculum written by anti-American rabid communists or something, but as I already said these were actually patriotic lessons. How could that be? Well, slavery had Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad and the abolitionist movement-lessons of heroism and virtue. Segregation brought us Brown Vs. Board of Education-a lesson that our system of law is eventually a system of justice and the civil rights movement, with Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and other heroes, and of course the eventual end of legalized segregation. The Salem Witch Trials lead to separation of church and state, a fundamental principle of American society. The dark side of the industrial revolution eventually led to the labor movement and various legislation and a significant improvement in worker’s rights. And so on. I do not recall if it was ever spelled out, but in retrospect the basic narrative is clear. Not “America is perfect,” but “America’s founding principles are good, and if we work at it, someday they can be fully realized.” How similar my education was to the national average I have no idea, but I expect that this core narrative is standard. And today’s third article, telling us that President Bush has signed a law providing for the preservation and restoration of all the Japanese internment camps from World War II. “The objective of the law is to help preserve the camps as reminders of how the United States turned on some of its citizens in a time of fear.”

Right wingers in Japan deride the teaching of things such as comfort women, war crimes and colonialism as anti-patriotic, saying that it will make children feel bad about their country. But it is all about the approach. Certainly teaching children about the mistakes and excesses of the colonial decades makes them feel bad about that time, but presented correctly it makes them feel good about living in today’s Japan: a nation which has moved past that stage. Perhaps by being over-reactionary about terms such as “patriotism” and “nationalism,” peace activists, politicians and teachers in favor of actually teaching kids about the past are in fact making a serious strategic error. By saying patriotism=right wing makes it all too easy for the rightists to label them as unpatriotic, when many of them are actually very patriotic.

And now the fourth and final article, Sex slave exhibition exposes darkness in East Timor, which describes the findings of a Truth Commission by the East Timor government on the systematic rape of East Timorese woman by Japanese soldiers in so-called “comfort stations” during Japanese occupation of the then Portuguese colony, as well as the far less organized rape of East Timorese women by Indonesian soldiers during their occupation of the now independent country. While all of this is very interesting, particularly how characteristics of the local society led to different recruiting practices of comfort women from certain other colonies, the following passage is the one relevant to the current essay. [Emphasis added]

Citizen groups concerned about the lack of accountability for the wartime sex-slave atrocities convened a people’s tribunal in Tokyo in 2000 that found the late Emperor Hirohito and high-ranking Japanese military officers guilty of crimes against humanity. The verdict was later censored from an NHK documentary on the trial amid allegations by a major daily newspaper that two heavyweight Liberal Democratic Party politicians — Shoichi Nakagawa and Shinzo Abe — paid a less than comfortable visit to the public broadcaster before it was aired. [Detailed article on this case here at Japan Media Review]

Charges of government censorship of NHK, which seemed sensational and cynical at the time, are now quite believable in the wake of news that now Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered NHK to focus on the North Korean abductee case. Fears that Japan is returning to 1930’s style thought control are both premature and somewhat hysterical, but increasing interference with NHK and education is inarguably more of a step in that direction than away from it. However, while the LDP did manage to pass this bill, opposition to it was fairly strong, and the Abe administration is not looking particularly popular, so it is always possible that we have another amendment of the education law by a future administration to look forward to. Yet, I think the return of education that teaches Japanese kids to take pride in their country is here to stay. The big question is, what will teach them to be proud of? German style guilt based education is entirely off the table, but that does not mean that history class has to be sanitized. There is a big difference between teaching children to be ashamed of the past and teaching them to be proud of having surpassed it.

Part 2: A brief history of Philippine-US relations: Early colonial rule

Since it turns out that all of my books on the Philippines are back home in the US and I’m not going to hit the library for a blog entry, I’m relying on a combination of memory and internet sources. I apologize for any errors, tell me if you spot any, and don’t quote this in your schoolwork.

Continued from Part 1: The “Nicole” Rape Case.

The fact is barely remembered in the US, but The Philippines was a colonial possession of the United States from approximately 1900-1946. The exact date at which The Philippines became a US colony is open to debate. The US purchased the Philippines from Spain in 1898 after winning the Spanish-American war, but since The Philippines had already declared an independent republic earlier that year, after years of resistance against Spanish colonial rule, and with neither the nascent first Republic of the Philippines nor the United States recognizing each other’s legitimacy as administrator of the country, the Philippine-American war broke out. The US defeated the Philippine military and established a colonial government in 1901, headed by Governor General William Howard Taft, whose experience in this job led to his later role as President of the United States.

Although The Philippines was a colony of the US, administration of the colony was markedly different from the colonies of European nations that still existed, or the colonies that Japan was busily establishing to the north. United States rule was particularly different from the earlier Spanish rule that it replaced. “From the very beginning, United States presidents and their representatives in the islands defined their colonial mission as tutelage: preparing the Philippines for eventual independence.” (source) In many ways, US colonial administration of The Philippines, with its mission of “tutelage” in preparation for independence, was more similar to US led occupation missions in post-war Japan and Germany, or present day Iraq than to traditional concepts of colonial rule. Keep in mind that Douglas MacArthur, the leader of occupation era Japan, had been in the Philippines before the Japanese invasion of World War II.

Compared to Spanish rule, whose policy was to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of the Spanish and mixed-blood colonial elite, spread the Catholic faith, exploit the land for resources that could benefit the home country, and keep the populace illiterate and unorganized, US rule was an improvement. Governor General Taft’s administrative philosophy was “the Philippines for the Filipinos . . . that every measure, whether in the form of a law or an executive order, before its adoption, should be weighed in the light of this question: Does it make for the welfare of the Filipino people, or does it not?”

To this end, and with the eventual goal of independence, the colonial administration promoted economic development, building political structures and instituted compulsory education for all citizens, using English as the primary language of instruction-in contrast to Spanish times, when very few Filipinos ever became proficient in Spanish. The Catholic Church had been the official religion of the colony and actually conducted much of the local governance throughout the islands, with the Spanish colonial government primarily sticking to urban strongholds. The Church had thus accumulated massive holdings, and priests had been known to run isolated parishes in the manner of medieval fiefdoms. The act establishing the colonial administration also revoked the Church’s official status, and the United States bought the majority of Church land, reselling it to private citizens and businesses.

But even though American colonial rule of the Philippines was relatively benign when compared with most European administered colonies over the previous centuries, it was still colonial rule. Like any colony, the colonizers imposed their language and culture on the colonized. English was the official language throughout the American colonial period, a constant reminder of who was really in charge, and in the early years also an impediment against participation in the civil service by Filipinos. Today, English remains one of the two national languages of the Republic of the Philippines, along with Tagalog, the native language of the region of Luzon island surrounding Manila, the country’s capital and economic center. While citizens throughout the country are supposed to be educated in both national languages, many Filipinos with a native regional dialect besides Tagalog are actually more comfortable with English, which they consider a supplement to their native language, as opposed to Tagalog, which is sometimes seen as threatening regional dialect. The various dialects and languages are all strongly influenced by the language of their colonizers, with a large part of everyday vocabulary consisting of Spanish and English words. Interestingly, speakers of Philippine languages will sometimes use entire grammatically correct phrases or even clauses of English in ordinary conversation in their native language. I have heard that speakers of the Tagalog (Manila region) dialect use the most English words, but the more provincial Visayas dialects contains a higher proportion of Spanish words. However, Spanish derived words are used only as vocabulary in all dialects, and never as complete grammatical structures, which is reflective of the rarity of actual Spanish fluency in the Spanish ruled Philippines.

All governments have some level of corruption, and those which are not answerable to the people they administer, such as colonial governments, tend to be worse. The American colonial government in the Philippines was described in a 1921 letter from Dean C. Worcester as one in which graft was “generally, openly and insolently demanded as a prerequisite to the performance of their duties by government officers and employees.” (Worcester was an author of several books on the Philippines. One can currently be found at Project Gutenberg.) Aside from corruption, there was also contempt for the natives from many colonial administrators, even including at least one Governor General. In 1905, Taft’s secretary wrote “the trouble with Governor-General Wright and some others was that they came from the South and that they could not get rid of the race-prejudice which the man from the South of the United States has.”

Some prominent figures such as Mark Twain and William Jennings Bryan had opposed on anti-imperialist and anti-racist grounds the colonization of of the Philippines in the first place, but during the early years of the colonial period there was little support for granting them independence in the near term. There had been a promise by the US government from the beginning that the Philippines would be granted independence someday, when it was ready, but the primary debate was between those who wanted to establish a local Philippine civilian government subordinate to the US administration, and those who wanted to continue direct rule. Representing the first opinion, former Governor General Taft, now Secretary of War, wrote in 1907 that “the partial control of the government which is now in the hands of the Filipinos has itself developed both conservatism and an interest in the existing government which will have a healthful tendency to delay the pressure for immediate independence on the part of those who are actually exercising influence in the Assembly.” On the other side, an American teacher working in the Philippines wrote in 1908 that a “mistake was made in introducing civil government quite so soon, but on the other hand the military people exaggerate very much the danger of an insurrection and the need of an army–it is for their interest to do so.”

Next, part 3: Through Independence.

The history of Philippine-US relations and the Nicole rape case. Part 1: The case

Although it has been overshadowed by the devastating typhoon that has killed over 1000 people throughout the Philippines, under normal circumstances the conviction of US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith’s conviction by the Makati criminal court (Makati is a city in the greater Manila metropolitan region) for the rape of a young Filipina woman would be the biggest story in the country. The woman, known as “Nicole”(23) due to a media tradition of not reporting the names of rape victims, is only one of what many consider to be many Filipinas/Filipinos who have been abused by US soldiers over the century that the US has had a military presence in the country, but is the first to ever see her attacker convicted in a Philippine court. While it is specifically a victory for “Nicole,” in the Philippines this verdict is also generally being considered a milestone in the assertion of sovereignty and the rule of law in a country which lacked the first throughout its almost 400 years as a colony, and the second during the more recent Marcos dictatorship, which ended in only 1986.

Daniel Smith (21) was charged with the actual rape, along with three other marines and their Filipino driver who were all charged with assisting and egging on Smith, but not actually participating directly. Nicole, who was 22 at the time, was apparently attending a party on the base due to her being engaged to another soldier (the relationship has since dissolved), and after imbibing so much alcohol that she lost consciousness, was carried to a truck in which Smith raped her, while the other marines cheered him on, and the Filipino man simply drove around. Faced with physical evidence, namely semen stains on the woman’s underwear and a used condom, Smith could not deny that the sex had occurred, but naturally he claimed that it had been consensual, “Nicole” claimed otherwise, and the other men all denied culpability. In the end, only Smith was convicted-probably due to medical expert testimony that she had suffered injuries consistent with sexual assault, and while the others may not exactly have been hailed as innocent and offered an apology, they were acquitted on grounds of reasonable doubt. In accordance with the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement, although Smith is being tried in a Philippino court, but was held in the custody of the United States embassy pending conviction, after which he has now been ordered by the judge to begin serving his sentence of life (actually 40 years under local law)in a Philippine prison. It is, however, currently unclear whether he will be transferred immediately, as his attorney is filing an appeal, and a related motion requesting that he remain in US custody pending the final appeal. Current agreements between the USA and The Philippines grant no special protection to US soldiers acting outside their official duties, but memories of previous unequal arrangements linger, and public has not trusted either the US or Philippine governments to live up to the conditions of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

A timeline of events related to the crime and trial can be found here.

While rape cases are by nature always sensational and cases involving military personnel are all the more so, this particular case is particularly significant in the context of the history of The Philippines.

Part 2: A brief history of Philippine-US relations: Early colonial period, to be followed by the third and final section.