Japanese Must Participate More Aggressively in the Battle Over History
I recently had a rare opportunity to hear a Japanese activist discuss the lawsuit he and his supporters have filed with the US District Court, asking that a statue erected in Glendale, California in memory of the so-called “comfort women” be removed. Mr. Koichi Mera of Los Angeles heads a non-profit organization—the Global Alliance for Historical Truth (GAHT-US)—whose mission is to see that a fair and balanced view of the Pacific War is presented to the world.
Appearing as a guest on my weekly hour-long Internet TV show on May 16th, the former Harvard University professor explained how the lead in the campaign in the US to defame Japan over its war-time history has now shifted from Korean-Americans to Chinese-Americans, with even Japanese-Americans also involved. He spoke in detail about how US public opinion has been negatively affected by the concerted efforts of these anti-Japanese forces.
The bronze statue was erected last July by the Korean-American forum of California (KAFC), a relatively new organization made up of Korean-American activists. On May 15th, a Chinese-American activist group headquartered in California—the Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II (hereafter, the Chinese Alliance)—offered to assist the KAFC, which lacks experience in dealing with US judiciary, congressional, and financial circles.
Established some 20 years ago, the Chinese Alliance is a bona-fide anti-Japanese body, having managed to pass the “comfort women resolution” in the US Congress in 2007 by supporting Mike Honda, a congressman from California, and others. The Chinese-South Korean anti-Japanese collaboration in the US follows the same pattern as the anti-Japanese campaigns pushed by the governments of China and South Korea. It is a reality today that, on the government level, China is taking the initiative in waging a fresh battle in the war over history against Japan, adroitly utilizing developments in Seoul’s fight over history against Japan. Explained Mera:
“The Chinese Alliance has submitted an opinion to the US District Court in support of Glendale. Citing official Japanese government statements, such as the 1993 ‘Kono statement’ and the 1995 statement by then Prime Minister Murayama on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Asia-Pacific War, they assert that the lawsuit is meaningless because the Japanese government has already publicly apologized for the “comfort women” issue repeatedly. They maintain that the entire world is in agreement that Japan is in the wrong. But they are completely missing the point. They are trying to rephrase the argument, but what they’re saying has absolutely nothing to do with our legitimate demand.”
Mera and his colleagues filed the lawsuit on February 20th, asking that a federal judge order the city of Glendale to remove the statue. They based their action on two primary reasons: 1) to denounce Japan historically by installing the statue is a matter that has a serious bearing on US-Japan relations, and 2) installing the statue exceeds the power of Glendale as it infringes upon the federal government’s power to exclusively conduct the foreign affairs of the United States and violates the supremacy clause of the US Constitution.”
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About a month and a half later, the city of Glendale submitted a counterargument to the court. Mera pointed out:
“Their counterargument comprises two points: 1) the plaintiff’s claim that foreign affairs is exclusively conducted by the Federal Government, leaving no room for intervention by a local autonomous body, is unsubstantiated, and 2) the defendant’s right to freedom of expression must be honored. Sidley Austin LLP in Los Angeles, a major US law firm, is acting as counsel for the defendant pro-bono.”
According to its website, Sidley Austin has a stable of some 1,800 lawyers around the world, with offices in 19 cities, including Tokyo, capable of meeting all legal needs. It lists Tomoo Nishikawa, a former Komei-to (Clean Government Party) member of the lower house, as head of its Tokyo operations.
The argument Sidley Austin is making about freedom of expression is irrelevant as the city of Glendale has violated the exclusive power of the Federal Government to conduct foreign affairs—as pointed out by Mera and his colleagues. The law firm attempted to adroitly switch the focus of the argument, the same ploy used by the Chinese Alliance when submitting its opinion to the US District Court. Quoting statements by such figures as former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono and former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, it is attempting to put the blame on Japan, failing to develop a convincing argument as to why the city’s decision to erect the statue does not infringe on the Federal Government’s prerogative to conduct foreign affairs.
The more pertinent the assertions by Mera and his colleagues are, the more relentless their adversaries become in their efforts to attack them. The role played by the economic journal Forbes in this campaign has been immense.
Two days after the city submitted the counterargument to the court, aided by its counsel at Sidley Austin, an article—written by the journalist Eamonn Fingleton—appeared in the Sunday (April 13th) edition of Forbes. Written in extremely poor taste, the article slanders the Los Angeles office of Chicago-based Mayer Brown, which Mera and his colleagues had designated as their counsel. Fingleton quotes a “prominent Los Angeles-based criminal attorney” as remarking: “I cannot remember a lawsuit that so immediately repulsed and enraged…This lawsuit is thoroughly contemptible. It should fail…” Forbes followed up with a series of similarly derogatory articles about the lawsuit.
Fingleton is a former editor for Forbes and the Financial Times who has been operating out of Tokyo the past 27 years. His wife is Japanese.
Why does such a reputable economic journal as Forbes carry such crass articles, which only denigrate its own dignity? But in this case it did more than that, as it obviously shook Mayer Brown badly. On April 17th, three days after the first of the Fingleton articles appeared, Mayer Brown backed out of representing Mera and his colleagues. Explained Mera: “They told me they were backing out immediately, following instructions from their Chicago head office. I suspected that, as a result of the Fingleton pieces, a number of their major US clients, especially those in the Silicon Valley, were showing signs of cancelling contracts with them.”
Mayer Brown formally canceled its contract to represent the GAHT-US on April 29th.
Who Really Is Fabricating History?
Where do Mera and his colleagues at the GAHT-US stand now, then? One thing is certain about their adversaries: Chinese-American organizations in the US are actively aiding their Korean-American counterparts, obviously with the governments of China and South Korea ready to help closely behind, providing them moral and material support. In addition, the Korean-American Bar Association of Southern California and the Japanese-American Bar Association issued a joint statement on May 6th, suggesting that the lawsuit be withdrawn. The position of the Korean-American Bar Association aside, why did the Japanese-American Bar Association follow suit? Explained Mera as follows, cautioning that he was speaking in broad generalities:
“You must understand that Japanese and Japanese-Americans do not necessarily think or act alike. Japanese-Americans are the descendants of pre-war Japanese immigrants, and may now be the fourth or fifth generation in the US. Many Japanese-Americans were interned in camps following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, losing virtually all their property. Because of such bitter war-time memories, there are many who do not view the Japan of that era sympathetically.”
Needless to say, there are many Japanese-Americans who are genuinely fond of Japan, but one should not ignore the fact that there are also Japanese-Americans like the aforementioned Congressman Mike Honda of California, who introduced the resolution about “comfort women” to the US House of Representatives (House Resolution 121).
One must also realize that US public opinion does not necessarily favor Japan. While about 90 percent of Americans are said to be disinterested in historical issues, Mera feels that most of the remaining 10 percent of Americans generally believe what the Korean side has to say about Japan. This, I suspect, is a direct result of Japan having virtually disseminated no information about its side of the historical debate.
About 500 people have joined the plaintiff team in support of Mera and his colleagues, nearly all of them Japanese living in Japan. Sadly, they include only a few Japanese based in the US. That Mera and his group are compelled to fight with such small numbers in support means that Japan itself is waging war from a very weak position.
We simply cannot afford to lose this battle. What we Japanese must do now is plain: let us give Mera and his colleagues moral and material support. Also, bearing in mind that this case may take as long as ten years before possibly going as far as the Supreme Court, we must immediately start a protracted effort to disseminate vital facts about the “comfort women” that will sustain the public relations side of a long legal struggle.
In order to do so, we must first verify the process of how the “Kono statement” came to see the light of day following a series of secret negotiations between Tokyo and Seoul, and make certain that every pertinent fact is released across the world. After all, it is China and South Korea—certainly not Japan—who are the ones who have been fabricating historical facts about the “comfort women.”
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 608 in the May 29nd, 2014 issue of The Weekly Shincho)
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