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The A-bomb victims’ plea for cosmopolitan commemoration



This paper critically revisits the A-bomb victims’ plea for cosmopolitan commemoration that takes humanity, rather than nationality, as a primary frame of reference. To this end, I first elaborate the nature of cosmopolitan commemoration espoused by A-bomb victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in comparison with another form of cosmopolitan commemoration pertaining to the Holocaust victims. I then analyze limitations in these cosmopolitan commemorations and explore how they can be transcended. In light of my critical analysis, I argue that genuinely cosmopolitan commemoration, a prerequisite for reconciliation and world peace, will appear on the horizon if the commemorations of the two events are synthesized with the help of ‘historians’ debate’ that continuously subjects the logic of nationalism to critical reflections. This synthesis has the potential to help people envision cosmopolitan politics – cosmopolitics – where they can engage in peaceful but agonistic struggles, not as enemies but as fellow humans, in collectively governing their lives in today’s war-torn world.
The A-bomb victims’
plea for cosmopolitan
Toward reconciliation
and world peace
Hiro Saito
Singapore Management University, Singapore
This paper critically revisits the A-bomb victims’ plea for cosmopolitan commemoration
that takes humanity, rather than nationality, as a primary frame of reference. To this end,
I first elaborate the nature of cosmopolitan commemoration espoused by A-bomb
victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in comparison with another form of cosmopolitan
commemoration pertaining to the Holocaust victims. I then analyze limitations in these
cosmopolitan commemorations and explore how they can be transcended. In light of my
critical analysis, I argue that genuinely cosmopolitan commemoration, a prerequisite for
reconciliation and world peace, will appear on the horizon if the commemorations of the
two events are synthesized with the help of ‘historians’ debate’ that continuously sub-
jects the logic of nationalism to critical reflections. This synthesis has the potential to
help people envision cosmopolitan politics – cosmopolitics – where they can engage in
peaceful but agonistic struggles, not as enemies but as fellow humans, in collectively
governing their lives in today’s war-torn world.
Collective memory, cosmopolitanism, nationalism, reconciliation
In May 1976, Kurihara Sadako, a poet who survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima,
published ‘When We Say ‘‘Hiroshima’’’ (1994: 226–7). The poem asked atomic-bomb
Corresponding author:
Hiro Saito, School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University, 90 Stamford Road, Level 4, Singapore
178903, Singapore.
Thesis Eleven
2015, Vol. 129(1) 72–88
ªThe Author(s) 2015
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victims, as well as the Japanese people as a whole, the following: ‘When we say
‘Hiroshima’’, do people answer, gently, ‘‘Ah, Hiroshima’’?’ Instead of such gentle
expression of sympathy for A-bomb victims, Kurihara heard ‘Pearl Harbor’, ‘Rape of
Nanking’ and many other ‘echoes of blood and fire’ canceling out the voice of Hir-
oshima: ‘In chorus, Asia’s dead and her voiceless masses spit out the anger of all those
we made victims.’
But why was the anger of those outside of Japan still so resonant 30 years after the
Asia-Pacific War ended? Kurihara’s answer was that it was because the Japanese failed
to adequately remember and atone for the atrocities that they had committed in Asia-
Pacific, while dwelling on their own victimhood. She pleaded, ‘We first must wash
the blood off our own hands’, so that foreign others might eventually reciprocate soli-
darity toward Japan’s A-bomb victims. Ultimately, then, Kurihara’s poem was a plea for
a different world, wherein people would transcend the logic of nationalism and col-
lectively practice cosmopolitan commemoration of all war victims in their common
pursuit of world peace.
Nevertheless, ‘echoes of blood and fire’ continue to haunt Japan’s relations with its
neighboring countries today. Especially in its relations with South Korea and China,
Japan has been embroiled in intense controversies over the commemoration of the Asia-
Pacific War – commonly known as the ‘history problem’ in East Asia – ranging from
prime ministers’ visits to the Yasukuni Shrine to apologies and compensation for foreign
victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings (Berger, 2012; He, 2009; Lind, 2008). In the
meantime, the whole world seems to have drifted away from peace due to the prolonged
armed conflicts and civil wars in the Middle East, Africa, and South America, the
growing territorial disputes in Eastern Europe and Asia and, above all, the emergence of
permanent war as a vehicle of global governance at the beginning of the 21st century
(Hardt and Negri, 2004; Negri, 2008).
In light of these bleak realities in East Asia and the world at large, this paper critically
revisits the A-bomb victims’ plea for cosmopolitan commemoration. To this end, I first
elaborate the nature of cosmopolitan commemoration espoused by A-bomb victims in
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in comparison with another form of cosmopolitan com-
memoration pertaining to the Holocaust victims. I then illustrate limitations in these
cosmopolitan commemorations and explore how they can be transcended. In a nutshell,
I argue that genuinely cosmopolitan commemoration and the possibility of reconciliation
and world peace will appear on the horizon if the dialectic of commemorations of the
atomic bombings and the Holocaust intersects with ‘historians’ debate’ (cf. Habermas,
1989) that continuously subjects the logic of nationalism to collective critical reflections.
The Holocaust, the atomic bombings, and cosmopolitan
Over the past two centuries, nationalism has been the dominant logic for organizing
economic, political, social, and cultural practices, including commemoration (Billig,
1995; Calhoun, 1997; Smith, 2001). When people commemorate the past according to
the logic of nationalism, they focus on their co-nationals without sufficient regard for
foreign others. In fact, nationalist commemoration tends to dehumanize foreign others to
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emphasize positive images of in-group members. The focus on co-nationals and dehu-
manization of foreign others manifests most clearly in commemoration of armed con-
flicts that elevates fallen soldiers to immortal heroes of the nation (Anderson, 1991)
by disregarding whatever sufferings these soldiers might have inflicted on foreign
Recently, however, a growing number of social theorists have begun to argue that
cosmopolitanism, openness to foreign others within the horizon of common humanity, is
emerging in a global world (see Delanty, 2009, for a review). Some of these theorists
(Beck et al., 2009; Levy and Sznaider, 2006) specifically question the existing linkage
between commemoration and nationalism, arguing that commemorative practices now
increasingly adopt the logic of cosmopolitanism. As Ulrich Beck put it, this new, cos-
mopolitan form of commemoration involves
acknowledging the history (and the memories) of the ‘other’ and integrating them into one’s
own history ... where the national monologues of victimization that are celebrated as
national memory are systematically replaced by transnational forms and forums of memory
and dialogue, which also enable the innermost aspects of the national realm – the founding
of myths – to be opened up to and for one another. (2005: 43)
In other words, the logic of cosmopolitanism allows people to include foreign others as
fellow humans in both the process and content of commemoration.
According to Beck and his colleagues, the Holocaust played a decisive role in
the emergence of cosmopolitan commemoration. First and foremost, the Holocaust
remembrance inspired the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which in turn
legitimized humanity, rather than nationality, as a primary frame of commemoration
(Levy and Sznaider, 2010). Moreover, this ‘cosmopolitanization’ of the Holocaust
remembrance was facilitated by the development of transnational media networks: the
Holocaust came to be commemorated by people around the world through the worldwide
distribution of musical and film adaptations of The Diary of a Young Girl in the 1950s,
the news coverage of the 1961 Eichmann trial, the 1978 American television miniseries
Holocaust, and the 1993 film Schindler’s List. In this process, the Holocaust remem-
brance produced a universal symbol of the ‘absolute victim’, which could be applied to
any human beings irrespective of their nationalities, as a vehicle of cosmopolitan
Nonetheless, this symbol of the absolute victim risks reinforcing the very logic of
nationalism that it tried to challenge, for it justifies a binary opposition between the
victim and the perpetrator, which ‘offers a sense of moral assurance and security –
perhaps the only remaining security in the new, uncertain world of Second Modernity’
(Levy and Sznaider, 2006: 202). Such clear-cut delineation of a certain group of people
as the absolute perpetrator allows a third party to intervene as the absolute liberator by
eliminating moral ambiguity of its actions toward the perpetrator. Put another way, the
Holocaust remembrance serves as the ethical basis for waging a ‘just war’ against the
‘enemy’ that is considered evil (Fujiwara, 2001: 22). Indeed, a call for preventing
another Holocaust was repeatedly used to justify military interventions for human-rights
violations in the post-Cold War era. This is why Beck and his colleagues recognized the
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central role of the United States – a world leader in humanitarian interventions – in the
cosmopolitanization of the Holocaust remembrance. Paradoxically, then, the cosmo-
politan commemoration of the Holocaust reproduces the ‘either/or logic’ of nationalism
(Beck and Sznaider, 2006: 14) because it dehumanizes foreign perpetrators as enemies,
even though they, too, are humans who may very well be victimized by those who claim
to be absolute liberators coming to the rescue of absolute victims.
In this respect, the commemoration of the atomic bombings presents a mirror image
of the Holocaust remembrance. On the one hand, the former similarly adopts the logic of
cosmopolitanism (Saito and Wang, 2014). A case in point was the so-called ‘Epitaph
Dispute’ that occurred in November 1952, when Radhabinod Pal, a former judge at the
International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), visited the newly founded
monument in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The epitaph of the monument read,
‘Let all the souls here rest in peace; for we shall not repeat the evil’.
After his visit, Pal
remarked that while ‘we’ apparently referred to the Japanese, the evil by those who had
dropped the atomic bomb Americans was yet to be atoned. In response, Hiroshima
Mayor Hamai Shinzo
¯and the epitaph author, Saiga Tadayoshi, argued that ‘we’ should
include anyone praying in front of the monument and therefore refer to the whole of
humanity (Chu
¯goku Shinbunsha, 1986: 81).
On the other hand, the cosmopolitan commemoration of the atomic bombings differs
from that of the Holocaust in one crucial respect, i.e. the former allows someone to be both
perpetrator and victim ‘in terms of inclusive oppositions ... rejecting the logic of
exclusive oppositions’ characteristic of nationalism (Beck, 2002: 19, emphasis in original).
Take, for example, Hiraoka Takashi, a Hiroshima-based Chu
¯goku Shinbun reporter who
was to later become mayor of the city. In August 1969, Hiraoka noted, ‘Korean A-bomb
victims embody the double tragedy, Japan’s colonial rule and the atomic bombings....
Confronting the fact that Japanese A-bomb victims were also perpetrators [from the
Korean perspective] shall produce a new philosophy of Hiroshima’ (reprinted in Hiraoka,
2011: 133). Here, while acknowledging Japan’s past wrongdoings against Koreans, Hir-
aoka also saw Japan as a victim, at least partially, in the Asia-Pacific War.
The cosmopolitan commemoration of the atomic bombings rejects the victim-per-
petrator dichotomy because it rejects war itself – especially a nuclear war – that will
cause sufferings on all sides. The very first peace declaration issued by Hiroshima City in
August 1947, for example, made the absolute rejection of war clear: ‘Let us eliminate
fear and crimes from the earth, so that we can establish genuine peace. Let us realize the
ideal of world peace by renouncing war forever.’
Similarly, the 1948 Peace Declaration
of Nagasaki City promised to ‘establish eternal peace on earth by pleading to the entire
world, ‘‘No more Nagasaki’’.’
As Fujiwara Kiichi observed, ‘Memory of the Holocaust
raises a question about responsibility for standing up against murderers and destroyers.
Memory of Hiroshima ethically questions war and demands absolute peace. The two
episodes of wartime violence thus left two different lessons: responsibility for fighting a
war and responsibility for eliminating a war’ (2001: 22).
The commemoration of the atomic bombings thus embraces the ethics of no war, as
opposed to just war, by recognizing that even perpetrators can suffer because they are
also humans. In this respect, the commemoration of the atomic bombings is more
radically cosmopolitan than that of the Holocaust and perhaps more urgently needed in
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the contemporary world. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argued, ‘When war has
become a foundational element of politics and when the state of exception has become
permanent, then peace is ... elevated for the multitude to the highest value ... the
common demand and the necessary condition for all projects to address global problems’
(2004: 67, 284). This call for world peace is crystalized in the cosmopolitan com-
memoration of the atomic bombings.
At the same time, the cosmopolitan commemoration of the atomic bombings risks
obscuring the perpetrator’s guilt and responsibility for the victim. In fact, the com-
memoration of the atomic bombings reinforced the ‘victim consciousness’ in Japan (Orr,
2001; Saito, 2006). This victim consciousness allowed many Japanese citizens to dwell
on nationalist commemoration of their own war dead by disregarding foreign victims of
Japan’s past aggression. In short, the cosmopolitan commemorations of the Holocaust
and the atomic bombings mirror each other’s promises and problems: the former
articulates the universal symbol of victimhood at the risk of reinforcing the nationalist
logic of either/or, whereas the latter foregrounds the cosmopolitan logic of both/and at
the risk of permitting the perpetrator to justify nationalist commemoration.
Here, the crucial question is whether the cosmopolitan commemorations of the two
events can be synthesized to advance a genuinely cosmopolitan vision, i.e. whether it
is possible to embrace the ethics of no war, articulated by the cosmopolitan com-
memoration of the atomic bombings, without giving up the ethical basis that the cos-
mopolitan commemoration of the Holocaust offers for justifying interventions to stop
perpetrators and save victims. To rephrase the question according to Chantal Mouffe’s
formulation (2000: 102–3): Can the two cosmopolitan commemorations be synthesized
to transform antagonism between enemies into agonism between adversaries? Can this
synthesis help people envision cosmopolitan politics – cosmopolitics – where they can
engage in peaceful but agonistic struggles, as fellow humans rather than as enemies, in
collectively governing their lives in a global world?
I believe that such a synthesis is possible and can serve as the basis of cosmopolitics,
but it will require one crucial condition: the dialectic of commemorations of the
Holocaust and the atomic bombings must be combined with ‘historians’ debate (His-
torikerstreit)’ that subjects the logic of nationalism to open-ended critical reflections. As
¨rgen Habermas argued, this historians’ debate is indispensable for the development of
post-conventional, cosmopolitan ‘historical consciousness that is equally incompatible
with closed images of history that have a secondary quasi-natural character and with all
forms of conventional, that is, uniformly and prereflexively shared identity’ (1989: 227,
emphasis in original). But exactly how can historians’ debate facilitate genuinely cos-
mopolitan commemoration that recognizes perpetrators’ humanity without allowing
them to evade their guilt and responsibility for victims? To answer the question, the next
section examines the IMTFE – commonly known as the ‘Tokyo Trial’ – as a focal point
of the history problem in East Asia.
The Tokyo Trial revisited
Simply put, a history problem is a conflict over how to commemorate the past. In this
sense, a history problem is not unique to East Asia but endemic around the world due to
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the nature of commemoration. As Tzvetan Todorov pointed out, ‘While history makes
the past more complicated, commemoration makes it simpler, since it seeks most often
to supply us with heroes to worship or with enemies to detest’ (2003: 133). Even
though commemoration oversimplifies and even distorts, it is indispensable to social
life because, only through it, can people appropriate something as vast and complex as
history in order to create their collective identity. Given the intrinsic connection
between commemoration and collective identity, different groups tend to com-
memorate the past differently, and these disjunctive commemorations can generate
intergroup conflicts.
In East Asia, disjunctive commemorations of the Asia-Pacific War have revolved
around the particular historical judgment enunciated at the Tokyo Trial, the so-called
‘Tokyo Trial historical view’, which judged Japan as solely and entirely guilty for the
On the one hand, the Tokyo Trial historical view fueled resentment among
Japanese nationalists, prompting them to reject it as ‘masochistic’ (Fujioka, 1997) and
instead to justify Japan’s action as heroic self-defense against the western imperial
powers. On the other hand, nationalists in South Korea and China accepted, implicitly or
explicitly, the Tokyo Trial historical view and, by the same token, blamed Japan alone
for the history problem. In essence, the history problem is a collision of nationalist
commemorations predicated either on the complete rejection or acceptance of the his-
torical view judging Japan as the sole, absolute perpetrator.
The Tokyo Trial, however, had at least three major problems. The first concerns the
one-sided attribution of war responsibility to Japan. From a long-term historical per-
spective, Japan’s actions were deeply embedded in the context of the western imperial
domination of Asia. At the 1983 international symposium on the Tokyo Trial, for
example, Yu Xinchun, a professor of Japanese history at Nankai University, argued,
‘From the Chinese perspective, the victor countries Britain, the Netherlands, France,
and the United States are all ‘‘thieves’’’, though he believed that Japan had been the
most horrible thief from the 1920s onward. Yu was therefore disappointed with the
limited scope of the trial, but he was also hopeful that ‘in the long run, humankind will
surely put colonialism on trial’ (reprinted in Hosoya et al., 1989: 364). From a short-term
historical perspective, too, Japan’s act of entering war with the Allied Powers was
contingent on a nonlinear sequence of decisions that the Japanese government took by
responding to Allied Powers’ economic sanctions and the changing political and military
situation in Europe (Iriye, 1987).
In a sense, responsibility for the war was distributed among multiple actors Japan,
the United States, Britain, and so on even though Japan no doubt had the largest share
in this collective responsibility. As Ashis Nandy put it, ‘Culpability ... could never be
divisible and responsibility, even when individual, could paradoxically be fully indi-
vidual only when seen as collective and, in fact, global’ (1995: 80). Nonetheless, col-
lective distribution of war responsibility was prevented by the structure of the Tokyo
Trial, whereby the victor countries prosecuted the vanquished. According to B.V.A.
Ro¨ling, the Dutch judge who had participated in the trial, this structure was over-
determined by the geopolitics and international law at the time that rendered impossible
‘a trial in which vanquished and victors should both be held in judgment’ (1993: 87). In
fact, the legal mechanisms to authorize such a trial still do not exist today.
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The one-sidedness of the Tokyo Trial created the second major problem – ‘victor’s
justice’. Participants in the trial themselves knew that the trial was unfair. On 14 May
1946, Ben Bruce Blakeney, a defense attorney for the Class A war crime suspects,
questioned why killing in war by the Allied Powers was considered legal, whereas the
same act by Japan was prosecuted as criminal. He then brought up the atomic bombing of
Hiroshima and argued that if the Japanese generals who had planned the attack on Pearl
Harbor were to be prosecuted for murder, the chief of staff who had planned the atomic
bombing of Japan and the pilot who had dropped the bomb should be prosecuted as well
(reprinted in Tanaka, 2011). Victor’s justice was most forcefully criticized by the Indian
judge Radhabinod Pal in his dissenting opinion: ‘If it is really law which is being applied
I would like to see even the members of the victor nations being brought before such
tribunals. I refuse to believe that had that been the law, none of the victors in any way
violated the same and that the world is so depraved that no one even thinks of bringing
such persons to book for their acts’ (1999: 71). Even Ro¨ ling, who firmly believed that the
trial was an important milestone in the development of international law, admitted that
the trial had elements of victor’s justice: ‘Of course, in Japan we were all aware of the
bombings and the burnings of Tokyo and Yokohama and other big cities. It was horrible
that we went there for the purpose of vindicating the laws of war, and yet saw every day
how the Allies had violated them dreadfully’ (1993: 87). Here, corollary to the problem
of victor’s justice was a failure to acknowledge Japan’s victimhood.
In this regard, the Tokyo Judgment was an act of commemoration par excellence that
eliminated ambiguities of the past and legitimized a particular version of history by
clearly delineating the absolute perpetrator vis-a`-vis the absolute liberator according to
the logic of nationalism. It is crucial, however, to distinguish between judicial and
historical judgments. As Paul Ricoeur observed, judges must decisively rule upon and
close cases, something historians can never do. Historians must always submit historical
facts and interpretations ‘to the critique of the corporation of historians ... to an
unending process of revision, which makes the writing of history a perpetual rewriting.
This openness to rewriting marks the difference between a provisional historical judg-
ment and a definitive judicial judgment’ (2004: 302).
To be sure, historians cannot change the trial’s judicial judgment because it was made
in the realm of international law, where they have no jurisdictional claim. After all, no
legal means is available to overturn the Tokyo Judgment. Nonetheless, historians can,
and should, critically reassess the trial’s historical judgment. I believe that such a critical
reassessment is a crucial first step in disentangling the history problem in East Asia,
wherein relevant political actors have defined their commemorative positions in refer-
ence to the trial. Alternative interpretations of the Asia-Pacific War – more empirically
rigorous than the trial’s historical judgment – can open up the possibility for those actors
to reconsider their commemorative positions and eventually move toward reconciliation.
This is why Todorov insisted that revisiting ‘historical episodes in which one’s own
group was neither 100 percent heroic nor the complete victim would be an act of higher
moral value for writers of historical narratives’ (2003: 145).
In fact, historians in Japan, South Korea, and China recently began to participate in
joint historical research and textbook projects, trying to counteract mutually reinforcing
nationalist commemorations in the region (Liu et al., 2006; Saito, 2015; Shin and
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Sneider, 2011). The Japanese government, for example, launched bilateral projects with
the South Korean and Chinese governments in 2002 and 2006, respectively. Through
these joint projects, historians discussed different interpretations of history of Japan’s
relations with South Korea and China and began to prepare the ground for further joint
research to pool archival materials and critically examine nationalist biases in each
other’s historical interpretations.
In addition, historians in the three countries organized
multiple joint projects through nongovernmental channels. The most prominent outcome
of these nongovernmental projects is History That Opens the Future, a history textbook
jointly produced by historians and history teachers in Japan, South Korea, and China.
This textbook examines Japan’s past aggression more extensively than do typical
Japanese history textbooks, while newly introducing details of Japan’s victimhood, such
as the atomic bombings, to Chinese and South Korean students (Nitchu
¯kan Sangoku
¯Rekishi Kyo
¯zai Iinkai, 2005). The inclusion of references to Japanese victims, in
particular, is a significant departure from mainstream history textbooks used in South
Korea and China none of the South Korean history textbooks prior to the 2000s
mentioned the atomic bombings, while some Chinese history textbooks began including
only very short references to the atomic bombings in the mid-1990s (Saito, 2008: 76–79).
This incipient recognition of Japan’s victimhood was echoed by Yao Bao, a history
professor at Shanghai International Studies University:
When the victim accuses the perpetrator, the former should be careful not to exaggerate the
latter’s guilt. ... Many perpetrators are simultaneously victims. Those perpetrators some-
times suffer from more serious damages than some members of the victim country. ...
From the victim country’s perspective, this may serve justice. But, from the humanitarian
perspective, members of the victim country should extend pity and empathy to the perpe-
trators to a certain extent. (Yao, 2008: 156–69)
Similarly, Lim Jie Hyun, a history professor at Hanyang University, questioned the
widespread tendency to draw the line between victims and perpetrators along national
borders. For him, the task of historians was to articulate ‘an approach that challenges
dichotomous thinking, ‘‘Our ethnic group is the victim, and the other ethnic group is the
perpetrator’’’ (Nikkan Bunka Ko
¯Kikin, 2007: 201). This challenge to dichotomous
thinking was perhaps most forcefully expressed by Park Yu Ha, a professor of Japanese
Studies at Sejong University. In her book For Reconciliation, she criticized the South
Korean nationalist commemoration that denied humanity to the Japanese other and
pointed out the importance of recognizing how Japan, too, had suffered during the Asia-
Pacific War:
The Soviet Army used more than 500,000 Japanese soldiers as forced laborers in Siberia
after they entered war with Japan at the final stage of World War II. The United States
carried out the large-scale aerial bombing of Tokyo and killed 100,000 people over a single
night. But these acts by the Allied Powers were never officially prosecuted. In this regard, it
is not surprising that many Japanese still believe that the Tokyo Trial was simply victor’s
justice, and that Japan was a victim unfairly punished. A true critique must be based on
universal values and therefore requires South Koreans to understand those feelings on
Japan’s part. (Park, 2011: 276–7)
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Needless to say, recognition of Japan’s victimhood should not be used to discount the
third major problem in the Tokyo Trial: its failure to adequately publicize Japan’s war
crimes. This failure allowed the majority of Japanese citizens to underestimate the extent
of the suffering that Japan had inflicted. As Totani Yuma pointed out, a large amount of
evidence for Japan’s wartime atrocities that prosecutors submitted still awaits thorough
examination. Moreover,
a vast corpus of historical documents remains largely untapped: the records of national war
crimes trials that individual Allied governments held in the Pacific region after the war.
There were more than 2,200 trials against some 5,600 war crimes suspects at 51 locations in
Australia, Burma, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singa-
pore, and on other Pacific islands. (Totani, 2008: 262)
Specifically, despite the prosecutors’ efforts, the trial did fall short on adequately
investigating Japan’s wartime atrocities against civilian populations in Asia. As Awaya
¯(1989) argued, since the Allied Powers maintained their colonial rule after the
Asia-Pacific War, war crimes that Japan had committed against Koreans and other
colonial subjects were not taken seriously. Only when historians finish examining
hitherto unanalyzed documents can the real magnitude of Japan’s past wrongdoings be
estimated to allow Japanese citizens to fully commemorate the suffering of foreign
Thus, the emerging historians’ debate in East Asia has the potential to help synthesize
the cosmopolitan commemorations of the atomic bombings and the Holocaust by
recognizing humanity in perpetrators – and transform them from enemies into adver-
saries – while articulating their responsibility for their past wrongdoings. I believe that
this synthesis of the two cosmopolitan commemorations, accompanied by historians’
debate, can move former enemies toward reconciliation that will enable their agonistic
but peaceful coexistence in the world. The next section examines this possible con-
nection between genuinely cosmopolitan commemoration and reconciliation.
From mutual cosmopolitan commemoration to reconciliation
For better or for worse, being simultaneously perpetrator and victim has become part and
parcel of Japanese identity. As Herbert Kelman observed, former enemies can move
toward reconciliation, so long as ‘a revision in the group’s identity and the associated
narrative is possible only if the core of the identity remains intact’ (2004: 120). Kelman
and other social psychologists (Bar-Siman-Tov, 2004; Nadler et al., 2008) argued that
one of the most effective ways to make perpetrators fully accept their guilt and
responsibility is for the other parties to affirm the perpetrators’ humanity, especially
when the perpetrators, too, suffered in the intergroup conflicts under consideration. In
the context of East Asia, this means that Japanese citizens will likely commemorate the
suffering of South Korean and Chinese victims more decisively if their own dual identity
as both perpetrator and victim can remain intact.
This will require South Korean and Chinese citizens to work through negative
emotions of anger, hatred, and vengefulness entangled in their commemorations of
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Japan’s past wrongdoings so as to recognize Japan’s victimhood. As Ricoeur observed,
‘there can be an institution of amnesty, which does not mean amnesia ... the duty to
forget is a duty to go beyond anger and hatred’ (1999: 11, emphasis in original).
Similarly, Park Yu Ha argued that forgiveness is necessary not only for perpetrators but
also for victims to be free from past traumas, and that ‘this kind of forgiveness does not
amount to the forgetting and concealment of the past but points to the new relationship
[between perpetrators and victims] that enables a deeper gaze into the history’ (2008:
65). In essence, reconciliation presupposes reciprocity: cosmopolitan commemoration
on the South Korean and Chinese sides can help move Japan to fully accept its share of
war guilt and responsibility because doing so will no longer threaten the core of Japanese
identity as both perpetrator and victim.
To be sure, ‘amnesty’ is usually granted in cases of domestic conflicts, such as civil
war and violence against ethnic minorities, rather than in cases of international conflicts.
Since Japan, South Korea, and China do not form a single polity, Ricoeur’s observation
on amnesty can be simply invoked metaphorically in the context of East Asia, or, more
consequentially, it can be imported performatively: Japan’s reconciliation with South
Korea and China is not so much about restoring impaired relations as about creating new
relations that will build a transnational polity to come (cf. Schaap, 2005). In fact, given
the rate of increase in economic, political, and social interactions among Japan, South
Korea, and China, the governments and civil societies of the three countries will need
more channels of communication and mechanisms of coordination if they want to
effectively cope with emerging transnational problems, such as environmental pollution,
and especially to prevent territorial disputes over Dokdo/Takeshima and the Senkaku/
Diayu Islands from escalating into armed conflicts. The extent to which South Korea and
China are willing to grant Japan amnesty – in the form of cosmopolitan commemoration
– is therefore one of the key factors for reconciliation in the region.
Importantly, amnesty on the South Korean and Chinese sides presupposes ‘apology’
on the Japanese side. Apology is a performative speech act, a form of sociation that aims
to reestablish a temporarily strained relationship between members who belong to the
same community and share the same moral codes (Lazare, 2004; Tavuchis, 1991). When
one party takes an action that the other regards as wrong, the relationship between the
two becomes strained. If the former offers an apology to the latter, and if the latter
accepts it, the two parties reestablish their relationship. The performative character of
apology, however, is necessarily magnified in the transnational context because it
requires efforts to go beyond the logic of nationalism that rejects the necessity of
apologizing to members of a foreign outgroup. In this respect, Japan is asked to set an
example for other former imperial powers that never apologized for their past aggression
and colonial rule.
Here, I agree with O
¯numa Yasuaki who urged Japanese citizens to
take on this extraordinary task: ‘People in Japan should not refuse to apologize to people
in Asia by saying, ‘‘We won’t apologize because the Western countries have not.’
Instead, they should accomplish the difficult task of apology and atonement and, then,
quietly question the Western countries whether they will do the same’ (2007a: 235).
What is at stake in East Asia therefore has global implications.
But is this perpetrator’s duty to remember and apologize extended to younger gen-
erations of Japanese citizens who were small children during the Asia-Pacific War or
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born after the war’s end? Do they also have responsibility for commemorating Japan’s
past wrongdoings and offering apologies to foreign victims? These questions are more
pressing than ever since older generations that lived through the war are passing away
and shifting the burden of the history problem to younger generations.
I argue that younger generations of Japanese citizens, including myself, do have
commemorative responsibility, to acknowledge Japan’s past wrongdoings and press the
government to offer more satisfactory apologies, even though we did not commit those
acts. I justify younger generations’ commemorative responsibility based on pragmatist
philosophy. As John Dewey stated, a pragmatist approach to the past means that ‘past
events cannot be separated from the living present and retain meaning. The true starting
point of history is always some present situation with its problems’ (1944: 214). Ulti-
mately, the past should not be commemorated for its own sake but for the sake of the
future, immanent in present problem-situations confronting citizens. Put another way,
younger generations of Japanese citizens do not have commemorative responsibility
because they have inherited war responsibility but because the ‘present situation’ –
the persistence of the history problem – demands commemoration of Japan’s past
I therefore reject an essentialist position on commemorative responsibility advanced
by Ienaga Saburo
¯, who insisted that younger generations of Japanese citizens ‘auto-
matically inherit responsibility for the war from their preceding generations by virtue of
the Japanese nation’s continuity’ (1985: 307). This essentialist position anchors com-
memorative responsibility in an extreme version of ethnic nationalism that presumes an
almost metaphysical form of inborn national guilt. Ienaga’s promotion of such a deeply
ethnic-nationalist argument is ironic, given his own history of criticizing Japanese
nationalist commemoration of the Asia-Pacific War. In this regard, the pragmatist
position is similar to a civic-nationalist position articulated by political scientists, such as
¯numa (2007b) and Kwak Jun-Hyeok and Melissa Nobles (2013). They argue that even
though younger generations do not inherit guilt, they nonetheless inherit commemorative
responsibility as part of their civic duties as citizens of the country that committed
wrongs. But the pragmatist position is much more future-oriented than the civic-
nationalist position because it conceives of commemorative responsibility among
younger generations as driven by what kind of future relations they want to establish with
their foreign neighbors as much as by what wrongs their predecessors committed in the
Here, the pragmatist position overlaps partially with an ethical position advocated by
Takahashi Tetsuya who argued that younger generations of Japanese citizens have
ethical responsibility to respond to the call from the Asian other. Since the Japanese self
is constituted in relation to the Asian other, ‘it is impossible to speak of ‘‘We the
Japanese’’ without facing the Asian victim’ (Takahashi, 2005: 261). Takahashi elevated
the Asian other’s demand on commemoration of Japan’s past wrongdoings to the level of
the absolute and justified the other’s prerogative to offer forgiveness by drawing on
Jacques Derrida: ‘One cannot, or should not, forgive; there is only forgiveness, if there is
any, where there is the unforgivable. That is to say that forgiveness must announce itself
as impossibility itself’ (2001: 32–3). Takahashi thus anchored commemorative
responsibility among younger generations in the ethics of self-other relations, wherein
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the Japanese self must unconditionally respond to the Asian other’s call, and the
other’s forgiveness constitutes the condition of both possibility and impossibility of
While I am sympathetic with Takahashi’s ethical position, I also think that it is deeply
problematic because it makes the other absolute and prioritizes the other over the self.
Such ethical ‘absolutism’ risks providing complete moral immunity for the other even
when he or she adopts the nationalist logic and refuses to reciprocate recognition of
humanity to the self. The ethical position also ignores the fact that the relationship
between the self and the other is fundamentally interactive and often mutually trans-
formative, which renders the contents of commemoration, the terms of apology, and the
conditions of reconciliation immanent within interactions among relevant actors. In
contrast, the pragmatist position fully incorporates the interactive and immanent char-
acteristics of self-other relations in concrete historical situations (Fraser, 1990). Put
another way, the pragmatist position does not prescribe specific conditions of reconci-
liation a priori – these conditions should be left to relevant actors themselves to work out
through their mutually transformative interactions. Perhaps the only condition demanded
by the pragmatist position is, as Axel Honneth (1995, 2012) noted, that these interactions
should be grounded in the taking of the attitude of the other, i.e. the reciprocation of
recognition of each other’s humanity.
Importantly, the prospect of this mutual cosmopolitan commemoration in East Asia
depends, in no small part, on the role of the United States. Kurihara Sadako already
recognized that Japan’s relations with the United States would be the key to reconci-
liation in the region. In her 1976 poem, the first thing Japanese A-bomb victims heard –
before the ‘anger’ spit out by Asia’s dead and her voiceless masses – was ‘Pearl Harbor’
by the American voice (1994: 20–21). Indeed, throughout the entire postwar period, the
governments of Japan and the United States treated the attack on Pearl Harbor and the
atomic bombings as if they cancelled each other out and, in doing so, they perpetuated
their respective nationalist commemorations: the attack on Pearl Harbor was justified as
a heroic act to defend Japan against the West, while the atomic bombings were justified
to avenge Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and to save American lives. In fact, the United
States poses a formidable obstacle to any attempt to critically reassess the historical
judgment of the Tokyo Trial, a prerequisite for genuinely cosmopolitan commemoration,
for such a reassessment will inevitably challenge the commemoration of the ‘good war’,
wherein the good United States triumphed over the evil Japanese empire. This good-war
commemoration – coterminous with the Tokyo Trial historical view – has been foun-
dational to American identity as a champion of justice, democracy, and freedom
throughout the entire postwar period.
In recent years, the United States has increased its involvement in the history problem
in East Asia since Korean and Chinese Americans began to take serious interest in
Japan’s official commemoration of its past wrongdoings (Yoneyama, 2003). So far, the
growing involvement of the United States has exhibited both promises and problems. On
the one hand, Korean and Chinese Americans are prone to falling into the trap of
nationalist commemoration by combining the ‘100 percent heroic’ American narrative
of the Asia-Pacific War with the Korean or Chinese narrative of ‘the complete victim’
(cf. Todorov, 2003). Their doubly nationalist commemorations therefore tend to
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galvanize Japanese nationalists and reinforce nationalist commemorations in South
Korea and China. On the other hand, the growing involvement of the United States helps
expose the true scope of the history problem that ultimately concerns the entire Asia-
Pacific region, not simply East Asia. If American citizens and historians engage in ‘an
act of higher moral value’ in confronting their own country’s wartime atrocities, as
suggested by Todorov, they can greatly help the governments and citizens in Japan,
South Korea, and China disentangle their commemorations from the problematic Tokyo
Trial historical view and move toward mutual cosmopolitan commemoration and,
eventually, reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.
In fact, a greater degree of cosmopolitanism on the part of the United States is crucial
to the possibility of world peace. The United States is still one of the most important
nodes in the network of international institutions governing the world today (Negri,
2008). The state of permanent war has been created by military interventions launched
by the United States and its allies in the name of ‘just war’ (Hardt and Negri, 2004),
according to the either/or logic that delineates the victim, the perpetrator, and the lib-
erator in absolute terms. I argue that this state can and should be challenged by the
synthesis of the cosmopolitan commemorations of the atomic bombings and the Holo-
caust. The A-bomb victim’s plea for cosmopolitan commemoration is therefore relevant
not only to East Asia but also to the war-torn world at large.
In a way, this paper is a response to a famous passage in the speech that West German
President Richard von Weizsa¨cker delivered on the 40th anniversary of the end of the
Second World War: ‘Anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present.
Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risks of infection.’
people criticize Japan for failing to adequately commemorate its past wrongdoings, they
often quote this passage in order to denounce the persistence of nationalism in Japan’s
official commemoration and urge Japanese citizens to fully commemorate the suffering
of foreign victims. Yet, critics rarely probe into three questions buried within
Weizsa¨cker’s speech: Which inhumanity should be remembered, how should it be
remembered, and precisely how will remembrance of the past inhumanity prevent
‘future infection’?
Simply put, I have argued that the inhumanities on all sides in the Asia-Pacific War –
the atomic bombings, the Nanjing Massacre, and ‘comfort women’, to name but a few –
need to be commemorated. To this end, Japan, South Korea, and China need to adopt the
cosmopolitan logic of commemoration, aided by the historians’ debate on the Tokyo
Trial historical view. Such mutual cosmopolitan commemoration has the potential to
prevent future infection by bringing citizens in the three countries together within the
horizon of common humanity that transcends the logic of nationalism. While this may
sound too idealistic at first, mutual cosmopolitan commemoration is already present in
the transnational networks that politicians, NGOs, citizens, and historians have built
since 1945. The question is whether the three countries – and other relevant actors, such
as the United States – are willing to further it. Ultimately, cosmopolitan commemoration
needs to be envisioned as a collective endeavor.
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Having put forward my argument, I fully acknowledge that social scientists, including
myself, are part and parcel of the history problem because our empirical analyses provide
policymakers and concerned citizens with languages and rationales for justifying their
positions and framing their preferred solutions. In this regard, too, I present my own
sociological analysis on pragmatist grounds: the goal of this paper is not to impose on the
public a certain version of the world in the name of social science, but to empower the
public, as Bruno Latour insists, by following John Dewey, i.e. to ‘modify the repre-
sentation the public has of itself fast enough so that we can be sure that the greatest
number of objections have been made to this representation’ (2000: 120, emphasis in
original). My purpose in doing so is to help those who are embroiled in the history
problem to become more reflexive and critical of their own commemorative practices
and, if they wish, put into use my sociological analysis. Alternatively, they can object to
my analysis and renew the search for a better understanding and solution of the history
problem. Either way, I share a goal with generations of concerned citizens in East Asia
and beyond who have struggled to create a more peaceful world, where people will
answer gently, ‘Ah, Hiroshima’.
This research was partly supported by the Social Science Research Council-Japan Society for the
Promotion of Science Fellowship and institutional affiliation with the Institute of Social Science
at the University of Tokyo during 2011–2012, as well as by the Postdoctoral Fellowship of the
Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at Harvard University during 2013–2014.
1. This English translation of the epitaph is available at:
VirtualMuseum_e/tour_e/ireihi/tour_20_e.html (accessed 10 January 2014).
2. The 1947 Peace Declaration; available at:
0000000000000/1111795443652/index.html (accessed 10 January 2014).
3. The 1948 Peace Declaration; available at:
appeal/history/1948.html (accessed 10 January 2014).
4. The Tokyo Trial was a military tribunal set up by the Allied Powers to prosecute 28‘Class A
war criminals’, Japanese leaders charged with crimes against peace (see Totani (2008) for
details). The tribunal had 11 judges from 11 Allied powers: Britain, British India, the United
States, the Republic of China (ROC), France, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand,
Canada, the Philippines, and the Soviet Union. The tribunal opened on 3 May 1946 and ended
on 4 November 1948.
5. Processes and outcomes of both Japan-South Korea and Japan-China Joint Historical Research
Projects are available at: and http://www.mofa.go.
jp/mofaj/area/china/rekishi_kk.html (accessed 10 January 2014).
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indigenous people who were victims of ‘internal colonialism’. However, these apologies and
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Author biography
Hiro Saito is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the School of Social Sciences at
Singapore Management University. As a culturally-oriented political sociologist, he
studies how interactions between state and civil society shape public policies. He
recently completed a book manuscript on East Asia’s history problem that examines how
interactions among political parties, NGOs, and historians shaped Japan’s official com-
memoration of the Asia-Pacific War. Currently, he is investigating the role of scientists
and other experts in Japan’s policy responses to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Acci-
dent. His articles have appeared in Sociological Theory,Cultural Sociology,Global
Networks, and other social-science journals.
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... Such conceptual formalization of 'cosmopolitan memory' is anything but a mere intellectual exercise, for it effectively facilitates empirical investigation. Take, for example, collective memory of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (Saito, 2015). On the one hand, as more and more people outside Japan came to learn the damages of the atomic bombing against the backdrop of the worldwide antinuclear movement in the 1950s, collective memory of the event became more cosmopolitan on the transnational dimension, similar to the aforementioned 'singular cosmopolitan memory' of the Holocaust. ...
... Collective memory of the atomic bombing, for example, did not become as cosmopolitan as that of the Holocaust despite the worldwide antinuclear movement in the 1950s, partly because the United States, one of the superpowers during the Cold War, suppressed it (Levy and Sznaider, 2006: 40). In turn, Japanese memory of the atomic bombing came to be considerably cosmopolitanized in the early 1990s because the transnational network of non-governmental organizations (ngo s) inside and outside Japan advocated for former 'comfort women' and other victims of Japan's past aggression (Saito, 2015).2 The politics of collective memory thus simultaneously divides and unites relevant actors: although political struggles may lead one group of actors to dominate others to prevent the emergence of cosmopolitan memory, it may also lead previously disparate groups to form a coalition that will expand the scope of collective memory and identity in a cosmopolitan direction. ...
Kurihara Sadako was born in Hiroshima in 1913, and she was there on August 6, 1945. Already a poet before she experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, she used her poetic talents to describe the blast and its aftermath. In 1946, despite the censorship of the American Occupation, she published Kuroi tamago (Black Eggs), poems from before, during, and immediately after the war. This volume includes a translation of Kuroi tamago from the complete edition of 1983. But August 6, 1945, was not the end point of Kurihara’s journey. In the years after Kuroi tamago she has broadened her focus—to Japan as a victimizer rather than victim, to the threat of nuclear war, to antiwar movements around the world, and to inhumanity in its many guises. She treats events in Japan such as politics in Hiroshima, Tokyo’s long-term complicity in American policies, and the decision in 1992 to send Japanese troops on U.N. peacekeeping operations. But she also deals with the Vietnam War, Three Mile Island, Kwangju, Greenham Common, and Tiananmen Square. This volume includes a large selection of these later poems. Kurihara sets us all at ground zero, strips us down to our basic humanity, and shows us the world both as it is and as it could be. Her poems are by turns sorrowful and sarcastic, tender and tough. Several of them are famous in Japan today, but even there, few people appreciate the full force and range of her poetry. And few poets in any country—indeed, few artists of any kind—have displayed comparable dedication, consistency, and insight.
Since the end of the Cold War, the concept of reconciliation has emerged as a central term of political discourse within societies divided by a history of political violence. Reconciliation has been promoted as a way of reckoning with the legacy of past wrongs while opening the way for community in the future. This book examines the issues of transitional justice in the context of contemporary debates in political theory concerning the nature of 'the political'. Bringing together research on transitional justice and political theory, the author argues that if we are to talk of reconciliation in politics we need to think about it in a fundamentally different way than is commonly presupposed; as agonistic rather than restorative.
When do states choose to adopt a penitent stance towards the past? When do they choose to offer apologies for historical misdeeds, offer compensation for their victims, and incorporate the darker sides of history into their textbooks, public monuments, and museums? When do they choose not to do so? And what are the political consequences of how states portray the past? This book pursues these questions by examining how governments in post-1945 Austria, Germany, and Japan have wrestled with the difficult legacy of the Second World War and the impact of their policies on regional politics in Europe and Asia. The book argues that states can reconcile over historical issues, but to do so requires greater political will and imposes greater costs than is commonly realized. At the same time, in an increasingly interdependent world, failure to do so can have a profoundly disruptive effect on regional relations and feed dangerous geopolitical tensions.
Memories of historical events like the Holocaust have played a key role in the internationalization of human rights. Their importance lies in their ability to bridge the universal and the particular-the universality of human values and the particularity of memories rooted in local human experiences. In Human Rights and Memory, Levy and Sznaider trace the growth of human rights discourse since World War II and interpret its deployment of memories as a new form of cosmopolitanism, exemplifying a dynamic through which global concerns become part of local experiences, and vice versa. Copyright
This chapter looks at reconciliation from the perspective of an emerging process of resolving conflict that involves particular cases such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, conflicts of identity, and other such conflicts that involve incomplete, fragile, or poorly established peace agreements. The nature of reconciliation depends on the stage in which the conflict has already developed to, and it is important that the differences in nature should be taken into account via a comprehensive reconciliation theory. This chapter asserts that reconciliation in a realist view of a nation's interest, is a consequence of a successful attempt of resolving conflict. Also, the chapter introduces a conceptual model that involves conflict settlement, conflict resolution, and reconciliation.