Leftist ideology causes South Korea’s regime to cultivate victimhood and resentment of a Japan imagined to have expansionism in its national DNA. The choice by China’s regime is more interesting. Marxism is bankrupt and causes cognitive dissonance as China pursues economic growth by markedly un-Marxist means. So China’s regime, needing a new source of legitimacy, seeks it in memories of resistance to Japanese imperialism.
Actually, most of China’s resistance was by Chiang Kai-shek’s forces, Mao’s enemies. And Mao, to whom there is a sort of secular shrine in Beijing, killed millions more Chinese than even Japan’s brutal occupiers did.
The museum adjacent to Yasukuni says “The Greater East Asian War” began because, when the New Deal failed to banish the Depression, “the only option open to Roosevelt . . . was to use embargoes to force resource-poor Japan into war. The U.S. economy made a complete recovery once the Americans entered the war.” That is disgracefully meretricious — and familiar. For years a small but vocal cadre of Americans — anti-FDR zealots — said approximately that. But neither Koizumi nor Abe includes the museum in his visits to the shrine.
Things are so bad that, speaking about the incessant incursions by Chinese submarines and military aircraft into Japanese sea and air spaces, a senior Japanese official casually made the startling suggestion that China’s regime, like Japan’s regime before the war, does not fully control its military.
The controversy about Yasukuni should not mystify Americans. With their comparatively minor but still acrimonious arguments about displays of Confederate flags, Americans know how contentious the politics of national memory can be, and they understand the problem of honoring war dead without necessarily honoring the cause for which they died.