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Tokyo Should Learn from Berlin
By Peter Chung Chieh
September 1, 2013


Taro Aso, deputy minister of Japan, alarmed the world by saying that Tokyo could learn from Nazi Germany when it comes to constitutional reform [1]. Although he apologized afterward, saying that his remark was misunderstood and he retracted his statement [2], his speaking manner did not show his sincerity for his apology and his intention to learn the Nazi method remains.  In my humble opinion, he should learn the lessons of Nazi Germany, not their method. Furthermore, Tokyo should learn from Berlin to accept the truth of history.

 

Nazi Germany was consumed by Hitler’s ambition, and even Germany’s top generals and commanders wanted to get rid of Hitler to take control and save Germany.  The world renowned General Erwin Rommel once strongly advised Hitler telling him of his failure, in the hope of saving Germany. However, Hitler suspected Rommel to be one of the rebelling top generals. He forced Rommel to commit suicide in exchange for saving his family members and his subordinates. Hitler gave Rommel an honorable burial to cover the lies [3]. However, the truth was finally revealed.

 

Due to the tension after WWII, the emperor and the imperial system in Japan survived, despite the atomic-bomb destructions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The wars in Korea and Vietnam elevated Japan to a world economic power toward the end of the 20th century. Would Japan be lucky again the second time around if Japan quietly changed its constitution without telling her own people and heading toward that imperial ambition to follow the Nazi path? This is a question all Japanese should discuss, in my view. It’s time Japanese people view the globe as a village, rather than thinking the island empire is mighty.

 

Berlin and Germany openly admitted the errors and wrongs committed during the Third Reich, and most Germans, if not all, look forward toward Germany in the new global order. To this date, although some Japanese realized what happened in history, the Tokyo government has kept the Japanese under a fog of lies. Again, in my humble opinion, Tokyo should, and I emphasize should, learn from Berlin. What Taro Aso should learn is very clear in the minds of many. Why he said we misunderstood him is beyond comprehension to me.

 

In the laboratory across from my office was a postdoctoral fellow from Japan, whose name I have forgotten since he left decades ago. Although I grew up during the time Japan invaded China and I suffered, I did not let my past emotion prevent me from smiling to a Japanese young scholar and thus we greeted each other and exchanged scientific ideas. He opened up to me and one day, he said: “Dr. Chieh, despite the Japanese economic power, the Japanese are not equal in westerners’ eyes until the time China becomes a world power.” Respect is what we all seek: respect us as a person, respect the people of the nation or ethnic group to which we belong, and respect the race to which we belong. Since he opened up to me, we became friends.

 

On the other hand, I met an elderly Japanese tourist on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Counting his age, he should have been in the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII, and he admitted so. I wanted to find out where he was assigned and in what capacity he served his emperor. To these series of questions, his answer was flat: “I do not want to think and talk about it.”  I understood his reason for his feelings and kept my smile, but he bowed his head and walked away quietly.

 

I have met other Japanese scholars. One told me he was born in the North East of China. He refrained from using the word “Manchukuo.” I am sure that many Japanese knew the truth of WWII, but in the atmosphere imposed by the Tokyo regime, they had no courage to speak their mind.

 

I am proud of my adopted father, General Sun Li-jen, one of the top generals during WWII. He was even referred to as the Rommel of China, by his subordinates. In trying to trace his contributions during WWII, and the battles he had fought with the Japanese Imperial Army, I have devoted a lot of time to understand WWII. What a human tragedy it was. I think there are many lessons to be learned. Thus, I think Tokyo should learn from Berlin to avoid the disaster of the Third Reich. Just be careful what to learn.

 

The world order is shifting rapidly. Often, the world order is in the hands of a few powerful politicians. Their decision and viewpoints affect us all, and thus we scholars should speak our mind to keep the world in harmony. 

 

 

[1] Taro Aso says Tokyo could learn from Nazis’ Tactics See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/31/taro-aso-nazis-japan_n_3682801.html?utm_hp_ref=world

 

[2] Japan Deputy PM Taro Aso retracts Nazi comments, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23527300

 

[3] Erwin Rommel, see http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GERrommel.htm

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Peter Chung Chieh is Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo and founding president for Central Ontario Chinese Cultural Centre. He was born in Guangdong, China. He went to Taiwan as a child soldier, and was adopted by the late General Sun Li-jen, who gave him a chance to attend school. Following his chemistry degree from Taida (National Taiwan University), he studied nuclear science in the graduate school of National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. He then studied in the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and went to University of Waterloo as a post-doctoral fellow. A year later, he became assistant professor and went through all professorial ranks during his 34 years of teaching and research. He retired in 2004. (He contributed the article “Hidden Agenda Over Diaoyu Islands” in www.ChinaUSFriendship.com on February 1, 2013)
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