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Steve Clemons Headshot

Japan's Shinzo Abe: History Denier or Visionary Leader?

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Last year, I wrote an article in the Washington Post, "The Rise of Japan's Thought Police," suggesting that Japan's right-wing was harassing important intellectuals, political leaders, business leaders, and other important voices that were engaged in a fair debate about Japan's relations with China and about the future character of Japan's imperial institution.

The fact that my piece ran in one of the more important national papers of opinion in the United States meant that the article was going to be read -- both here and abroad.

Right wing bloggers and supporters of Yoshihisa Komori, sort of the Rush Limbaugh of Japanese journalism, gave me quite a drubbing when they could. I had written in part about harassment of a Japanese public/private research institution in Japan and how Komori had successfully wrestled an "apology" out of the Institute's director for material that the Institute ran on the web and that was counter to Japan's official stance vis-a-vis China.

This story is more complex and not important to hash out in excruciating detail -- though Komori devoted huge columns in his paper, the Sankei Shimbun, to attacking me in highly strident ways. Everyone involved in the US-Japan game has known that Komori is extremely close to Japan's current prime minister Shinzo Abe, himself an ideologue for historical denial and revived right-wing nationalism in Japan.

Komori and Abe are separate people and one's views shouldn't be automatically ascribed to the other. But in part because of the wrestling match I was having with Komori at the Washington Post, the Washington-based right-of-conservative journalist saw his visibility rise and was given the opportunity by the New York Times to "interpret" the then new Japanese Prime Minister Abe for the American public in this article.

But something else has happened in the American press -- and that is that a media that had stayed far away from the kind of discussion I had raised -- about informal harrassment of legitimate and moderate voices in Japan by "thought control" agents -- had broken wide open. This used to be a taboo subject.

Very few newspapers would venture into the subject of Japan's war memory problems -- and it was very clear that America was complicit in Japan's historical amnesia.

That no longer seems to be the case. Every other day, Yoshihisa Komori's friend, Shinzo Abe, is being pilloried in the American and European press -- and even the Japanese press -- for his efforts to roll back Japanese acceptance of responsibility for "the abduction, rape and sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of women during World War II."

Prime Minister Abe's denial of Japanese responsibility for its "comfort women" ranks pretty closely with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust. Abe's behavior is simply outrageous.

But all of America's newspapers are calling Abe out on this -- as the Washington Post did today in an excellent editorial, "Shinzo Abe's Double Talk."

And let me hasten to add that the Prime Minister we are reading about on a daily basis now in our press bears much more of a likeness to the trends I described in my own Washington Post article and little to the version promulgated by Yoshihisa Komori in the New York Times.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note