The Long Defeat: Cultural Trauma, Memory, and Identity in Japan. By Akiko Hashimoto. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2015. xii, 192 pages. $99.00, cloth; $24.95, paper.
When Abe Shinzō became prime minister of Japan in December 2012, he announced that he planned to change the government’s official position regarding Japan’s wartime past and replace the 1995 Murayama Statement with a new “Abe Statement.” Since the early 1990s, he had been at the center of the domestic movement for historical revisionism, and now he saw his [End Page 466] chance to replace the self-critical assessment of the Asia-Pacific War as an act of aggression with a “brighter” view of that war. While speeches on anniversary days usually constitute an assessment of the historical event the anniversary commemorates, Abe decided that, in a speech to mark the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II, he would not talk about the war at all but rather emphasize Japan’s peaceful development after the war. When the Abe Statement was eventually released on August 14, 2015, the document proved to be a mix of “forward-looking” passages, material casting the origins of the war in a positive light, and phrases hinting at a continuing attitude of self-reflection—albeit expressed in rather cryptic language.
The consultations that led to the formulation of the Abe Statement took more than a year and had their roots far back in the 1990s, when internal discussions over Japan’s wartime past first came to a head. Akiko Hashimoto’s The Long Defeat is a masterly analysis of these developments from the 1990s until the present. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the issues of historical debate, public memory, and mourning for the war dead in Japan. Hashimoto sensitively engages in a careful cross-referencing of these discussions in Japan with those taking place in other countries including Germany—probably the state most comparable to Japan in terms of its wartime history as an aggressor nation and its postwar struggle with the legacies of the past.
Hashimoto divides the Japanese discussions over the nation’s war legacy into three categories: the pacifist approach, the nationalist approach, and the reconciliationist approach. The first presents the war dead as tragic victims and is an understandable reaction to a war that was not only lost but also highly destructive; the second position presents them as heroes and implies a rejection of critical self-reflection regarding the war. While both pacifism and nationalism are inward-looking approaches, the reconciliationist paradigm emphasizes the need to purge Japan of its reputation as a rogue state and is an expression of the desire to restore Japan’s image in the international arena. Adherents of this paradigm represent Japan as the perpetrator—rather than the victim or the hero—and prioritize reconciliation with former enemies through dialogue. This approach was a constant in Japan’s foreign policy in the 1980s and 1990s and was manifested in a number of official apologies for Japan’s war conduct and colonial rule.
Chapters 2 to 4 address domestic discussions of the legacies of war at different levels including “family memory,” the popular media, and history education. The book concludes with an attempt to place Japan in the global context of discussion and debate over historical memory, although governed by the underlying assumption that “Japan’s war memory is one of the most crucial issues of the global memory culture on wars and atrocities that has surged since the 1990s” (p. 3). [End Page 467]
On family memory, chapter 2 emphasizes that, at this level, memories are always divided and not necessarily in accord with the dominant national narrative or the position of the government. Similar to Germany, Hashimoto asserts, family narratives in Japan, “operating independently of the official narrative of war,” have “placed a high premium on biographical repair” (p. 38). Referring to a well-known publication by German historians and social scientists titled Opa war kein Nazi (Grandpa was no Nazi), Hashimoto sees important parallels between the discrepancies apparent in the “official” narrative of the two countries versus the more positive assessment of...