Sep 11, 2017

Why Germany and Japan went in wildly different directions after World War II

After World War II, Germany was divided and occupied. Japan was largely left alone. Now Germany is a world leader in building unity, and Japan has turned to ultra-nationalism, writes former Australian ambassador to Japan John Menadue.

For all its atrocities in the 1930s and 1940s, Germany has become an exemplar country promoting prosperity and peace. Angela Merkel stands out as a world leader more than any other. By contrast, Japan has again become a divisive country in its region and its Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been acquiescing and promoting an ultra-nationalist cause. Germany quickly came to terms with its past. Japan has refused to.

 Both countries were reviled in 1945 for their crimes against humanity. Since then Germany has rebuilt its economy and political institutions. West and East Germany are now united. Germany has been the key country in building European unity after centuries of disastrous wars. Long may that continue, despite the folly of Brexit.

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8 thoughts on “Why Germany and Japan went in wildly different directions after World War II

  1. graybul

    In times of uncertainty, economic, institutional, governance, military, civil unrest et al, now pretty much world wide; Merkel’s strong hand on rudder indeed a reassurance John. Shinzo Abe’s failure to move Japan forward of itself, is of further world, regional concern. Australia’s domestic priorities also unsettle, as do expedient international alliances challenge regional objectives. Change is inevitable. But our one and only world appears blind to concurrence of impending challenges. Not least being impacts of climate change i.e. population dislocation. Future imperatives will demand highest quality leadership.

  2. Will

    John Menadue omits to mention perhaps the most important reason of all, and that is the very different key cultural drivers involved. Germany has a deeply religious, Christian cultural heritage, and genuinely-felt guilt has been a tremendously powerful force at both the individual and national level in shaping post-war Germany. Japan has a only a weakly religious, Buddhist cultural heritage, one in which shame rather than guilt is the central behavioural driver.
    The crucial difference is that guilt is a mode of self-sanctioning, whereas shame arises only from social sanction: it is loss of face suffered for insufficient commitment to the group, with the nation state being the highest order group culturally conceivable. (One brutal illustration of this fact is the comparative WWII battlefield casualty counts: German units would typically suffer around 25% casualties before surrendering; Japanese units, which virtually never surrendered, typically suffered around 97% casualties, before simply being overrun.)
    So, where for Germans the collective act of subjecting individual conscience to the ruling state’s will during the war is a continuing source of profound guilt that shapes their politics today quite fundamentally, for the Japanese such a sense of guilt simply makes no sense, and correspondingly plays no part in their contemporary national-political motivations. (Indeed, for Japan to genuinely apologise, as demanded, for its WWII record would from this cultural viewpoint be to retrospectively shame all those who fought under her flag, a suggestion quite frankly unthinkable to the average Japanese person.) This is the real reason why right wing ultra-nationalists find such fertile ground in contemporary Japan: to call oneself Japanese and not be a nationalist (at-heart-if-not-in-mind) is a contradiction in terms. Shinzo Abe’s not the problem: he’s just the symptom. The real problem is Japan’s extreme cultural chauvinism.

    1. AR

      That’s a good exegesis of nipponess but you omitted the point that Shinto is quite different,in origins, aims & practice to Buddhism (which Burma & Thailand demonstrate is not all zenny smiles) – the two combine for a heady brew indeed.

    2. Will

      Not so much a ‘heady brew’ as a dysfunctional coupling, I’d say. Buddhism mainly provides for spiritual sustenance at the family life (in-house ancestor memorials, graveyard rituals, local shrines, etc). Shintoism serves principally to manufacture spirituality at the public – in particular national – level, hence the annual pilgrimage to Yakasuni Shrine commemorating honoured war dead – no matter that some of them were deemed by foreigners to be war criminals. But the subordination of effeminate Buddhism to macho Shintoism is typical of Japanese patriarchal nationalism. Their women do mostly hate their men.

  3. Woopwoop

    I’m not sure Greece and Italy would agree that Merkel has “taken the pressure off Greece and Italy as countries of first asylum”.
    That aside, perhaps we should look further back in history, to what sort of government each country had before the rise of Fascism in the thirties.

  4. AR

    Interesting that Menadue fails to mention, shssssh, racial purity and thus superiority as as dominant feature.
    They view the Asian landmass as the Brits do the Continent – full of wogs who need to be civilised when they get out of hand.

  5. Thomas Wood

    Koreans severely torture lovely dogs and eat them.
    More than two million dogs are murdered in South Korea every year.

    Korea had been just a slave country of China for more than 1000 years until Japan defeated China in 1895.
    Thanks to Japan, Korea got independent for the first time in their history.
    China had agreed on the Shimonoseki Trearty so that Korea became independent from China.

    Korean government tries very hard to hide the real fact.

    After 1895, the entire peninsula was about to get dominated by Russia.
    Russia really wanted to get down to southern areas.

    Korea didn’t have any options but ask Japan for the annexation.
    If Japan didn’t win Russia in 1904, the peninsula must definitely be occupied by Russia even today.

    Korean government tries very hard to hide the fact.

    Before the annexation, there was a Slavery system under Korean kingdom.
    A certain part of citizens were treated as real slaves.

    Japan banned the slavery system because all Koreans became Japanese citizens.

    All children became able to go to school for the first time in their history.
    Children were taught both Hungle and Japanese.
    Look at the following site as evidence.
    “Korean 10 lies”

    Koreans must face the facts, or Koreans will never receive Nobel prizes in science.
    Only those who face facts can receive Nobel Prizes in science.

    Just imagine why Koreans cannot receive Nobel prizes in science, while Japan and Taiwan can receive them.

    Taiwan and Korea were the same nation as Japan.
    Japan really modernized both areas as part of Japan.
    Japan built national universities in Korea and Taiwan before Nagoya and Osaka.

    Japan really treated both areas as real Japan, not colonies.
    Unlike western countries, because of the annexation, all people were equally treated as the same Japanese citizens.
    Although some prejudices existed, Japan government equally treated all people based on the Japan’s law.

    Korean government tries very hard to hide and fabricate the real facts.

    I say again, Japan should not have acquired the peninsula even though leaders of Korea actually asked Japan to do so.

    However we can’t change the past.
    The WWII was over long time ago. Almost 70 years passed since 1945.

    We are equally responsible for future, not the past.

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