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(Yonhap Interview) Younger generations in Japan should learn about history: Dennis Blair

2015/10/11 06:00

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) -- Younger generations in Japan should learn about the country's wartime history even if they don't feel personally connected to it, the head of a Japanese-funded think tank in Washington said Saturday.

"The Japanese do have a point that it's been three and a half generations since those things happened. Young people don't feel personally connected to it," said Dennis Blair, chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, in an interview with Yonhap News Agency, in response to a question about the "comfort women" issue.

Comfort women is a euphemistic term for victims of Japan's sexual enslavement during World War II.

"But young people have to know where they came from, what happened, what their grandparents did, what their great-grandparents did," he said. "It is a cop out to say that we never, we will never, we only should apologize once."

   Such historical issues should be "relearned and revisited and passed on in a very dynamic way," Blair said. "History is alive and your understanding has to be refreshed from generation to generation."

   The sexual slavery issue is the biggest thorn in frayed relations between Japan and South Korea, with Seoul demanding Tokyo take steps to address the grievances of elderly Korean victims of the atrocity and Japan refusing to do so.

Tokyo has also been accused of attempting to whitewash its militaristic past, allegedly pressuring an American publisher to revise a description of the sexual slavery issue in a school textbook in an apparent attempt to water down the atrocity.

Blair said that both South Korea and Japan should "face their history."

   "To overcome the events of history requires a two-way process," he said. "There has to be understanding, apology, reconciliation, but then, there has to be acceptance by the other side so that things can move forward."

   Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's war anniversary statement in August "could have gone further from the Japanese side because, as I said, I think that it's very important for the leaders of both countries to move forward," Blair said.

Blair also said South Korea and Japan view history too emotionally as something of traitor-or-patriot issues, stressing that history should be discussed in a cool-headed manner and in historical terms, with a focus on arguments.

"Japan and Korea have so many important issues they need to work on together," he said. "With so much important work to do, to have a historical issue just block the ability to move forward I think is not good. Not good for Korea, not good for Japan. Certainly not good for the U.S."

  

Blair recently drew media attention when he criticized Japanese Prime Minister Abe for failing to offer a clear, straightforward apology for the country's wartime crimes in a statement issued in August to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

In an article posted on the Sasakawa USA's website, Blair said Abe's statement "falls far short" of Japan's 1995 statement of apology, known as "Murayama Statement," in helping Japan "face its own history squarely and assuring other countries it has done so."

   Blair also said in the article that the Abe statement "too often resorts to the anonymous passive voice with its avoidance of responsibility," such as "countless lives were lost" and "there were women ... whose honor and dignity were severely injured."

   "This statement is disappointing and misses a huge opportunity both to educate Prime Minister Abe's own supporters and to reassure other countries," Blair said in the article. "We wish Japan's leaders would help its citizens understand their country's past better and more fully."

   The criticism came as a surprise because Blair is the chairman of a think tank known for efforts to help promote Japan's image and interests in the U.S., and has been considered one of the pro-Japanese American security and foreign policy experts.

"We're an independent organization and sometimes I criticize the U.S. government, sometimes I criticize the Japanese government, sometimes I criticize the Korean government and I think that's the job in democracy," he said of the article.

"I hope my criticisms are founded on reason, not on emotion, that they are logical. I think the strength of democratic governments is to have reasoned dialogue. There's too little of it in the politics of any of our three countries," he said.

Speaking of renewed tensions over North Korea's threat to conduct nuclear or missile tests, the former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command said Pyongyang is "playing its old game" of asking for concessions in exchange for refraining from doing bad things.

"We have to be strong and resilient. If they take an action, we have to hit them harder than they hit us. I think the economic sanctions should continue to be strong. We have to, to the extent we can, help North Koreans realize what a terrible government they have," he said.

Blair said Japan's controversial security legislation should be no cause for concern for South Korea because it's clear that Japanese public opinion, which he said will ultimately control the use of Japanese force, is not aggressive, but defensive.

He also said he believes the legislation is a "step in the right direction" and would actually be in Korea's interest because Japan can provide logistical and other support for U.S. and Korean forces in the event of contingencies, even if Japanese forces are not involved in combat operations in Korea.

Blair said he wishes South Korean President Park Geun-hye's upcoming visit to Washington a success.

"I think it will be a good visit. Many of us, who have worked in Asia long time, have many Korean friends. We have many Japanese friends and we want both countries to succeed and we want both counties to improve their relationship with each other because it's in their interest and it's in the interest of the United States," he said.

jschang@yna.co.kr

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