Monday, August 16, 2010


It annoys me that journalists almost always describe Japan's Yasukuni shrine as "the resting place for the souls of some of Japan's worst war criminals."  That phrase or something close to it is always thrown around, and it generates an impression that the place is nothing more than a monument to war crimes.  People act like it is some kind of insult to the rest of the world when a Japanese political leader goes to that shrine to pay his respects.

This is wrong.  The Yasukuni shrine is the Japanese equivalent of Arlington cemetery.  It is dedicated to the memory of people who fought and died for their country.  It is one of the most sacred places in the country, and the main monument for military heroes.  It is dedicated to the memory of over two million military personnel, and Shinto religious doctrine states that the actual spirits of those soldiers live in that shrine.

I know for a fact that genocidal war criminals are buried at Arlington.  There are people honored in America's 'most sacred ground' that have done horrible things, things that would be considered war crimes by modern standards.  But we know that Arlington is not honoring war crimes, exploitation, and conquest.  It honors military service and sacrifice.

Imagine how you would feel if foreign journalists always insisted on calling Arlington "the resting place for American war criminals."  Imagine how you would feel if foreign governments or Native American tribes condemned an American president for visiting Arlington, and insisted that he had no right to do so.  You would be rightly appalled at their arrogance and ignorance.  It would be an insult to our country's history and sovereignty.

Now, I know that the Japanese have not done a good job of apologizing for or admitting the wrongness of their past actions.  They do not disown their past militarism in the way that Germany has disowned the Nazis.  But there is no evidence at all that the Japanese will ever again attempt military conquest of any kind.  They are not a threat, there is no reason at all to feel threatened by them.  We should respect their beliefs and sovereignty and allow them to honor their war dead as they see fit.

And we should also remember that we have never apologized for our wartime policy of annihilating Japanese civilian population centers with firebombing and nuclear weapons.

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