Warriors Past

Restoration Of What Exactly?

Before I get into today’s entry, I just want to say I can’t stand the right wing nationalists in Japan. They drive around town in their black vans blaring their slogans and World War II era tunes that sound *terrible* through the megaphone speakers mounted on the roof. They create a commotion on crowded streets and really at their core, they’re just nothing but nostalgists in denial.

So, when 80 year old Shintaro Ishihara goes into a national election in Japan forming a team with the Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto and his Japan Restoration party, one can’t help but get a little suspicious of this so-called third force in politics. Indeed, in most modern (and post-modern and post-post-modern) democracies, the experience has been that the third force is invariably fascist, and conservatives are always conned into thinking fascists are the better allies than the old adversary, the progressives.

That’s how Hitler and the Nazis snuck by the deteriorating Hindenburg, and brought about the end of the Weimar Republic. I dare say the rise of the Tea Party on the back of sloganeering idiocy of the likes of Sarah Palin tells you just enough that there really isn’t much of a difference between the methods of the Nazis and the Tea Party. History tells us the third force is a collection of crackpots trying to disrupt the orthodoxy of the polity for its radical agenda.

In Shintaro Ishihara, we can see a man who is nostalgic for the kind of Japan that was a military power in the first half of the Twentieth Century, and it’s an uncomfortable sort of nostalgia because it means he has to line up with those morons in the black vans and their megaphones. Any person with a modicum of sanity and good sense would stay away from that mob, but alas no, Ishihara wants to get  third party going with the express hope of confronting Communist China.

This bring me to this column by Peter Hartcher today.

Hashimoto and Ishihara are taking advantage of a growing disenchantment among Japan’s voters with either of the major parties. But China, through its nationalist assertiveness, might be providing them with a new purpose and platform.

It would be a profound historical blunder if Beijing’s decision to energise and enlarge its territorial claims turns out to have not only alarmed its neighbours and reinvigorated US commitment to the region – it has already managed to achieve these unintended consequences – but to have remilitarised its historical enemy Japan as well.

The Japanese people favour their current constitution and oppose nuclear armament. But China is giving the neonationalists an opening and they are taking it.

In the 1980s, the first prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, once counselled against then-prevalent 1980s complaints against Japan’s commercial success.

”The Japanese are good merchants but they are better warriors,” he said. And he didn’t think Japan’s underlying warrior prowess was dead, only dormant. China should be careful it does not push its neighbours too far.

Those ghosts of the warriors are never too far away; and if you are Japanese, there’s something deathly compelling about some of the symbols.

Why, even today in the Sankei Newspaper, they are celebrating the last ‘operational’  Zero Fighter.

It’s exactly the kind of symbolism that stirs the hearts of nostalgists. I should know – it stirs something in me! And I’m not a nationalist – but I am a historian.

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