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A Nation that forgets its past has no futureGermany and Japan are apart on history awareness
  • Park Seon-gyeong, cub-reporter
  • 승인 2017.11.13 13:37
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▲ The difference between two countries’ perspective of history

After World War I, Germany was undergoing a difficult political and economic situation as a defeated nation. Thus, Adolf Hitler came to power by starting Totalitarianism (Nazism). This tendency affected Asia, especially Japan, which began its own militarism. After World War II broke out, they became anxious to colonize other countries. The war ended with the defeat of the Axis powers. During the course of the war, Germany had a negative ideology based on anti-Jewish sentiments which led to the Holocaust. Japan also committed genocide, including biological tests and the Nanjing Massacre.


The Nuremberg trials took place in Germany to punish the Nazis. Here, the 24 political leaders who played the most important roles was charged. Japan also launched the Tokyo Trial to punish Japan’s major war criminals. But, the prosecution wasn’t properly carried out, so many criminals were falsely accused of violating the law and the purge failed to find them. Since their postwar treatments, Germany and Japan have developed different perceptions of history.


Let’s compare them specifically. First, the attitude of reflection in Germany consistently recognizes its mistakes while Japan does not admit their faults. The former prime minister in Germany continues to keep their word about the Holocaust. Japan did not express a full apology, and the apology they made lacks consistency, thus avoiding further blame and claim that this problem is already solved.
Second, in history education, Germany is trying to deal with the facts in depth without exaggeration or reduction. Theirs history textbooks take the initiative in raising the public’s awareness of the past tragedy. Japanese textbooks glorify their invasions even after the ‘colonies’ they invaded were deleted and reduced.

Third is war memorials. Various memorials exist in Germany, and they are reflective of the victims. Germany shows the brutal scenes of crime by shedding its Auschwitz concentration camp. But, in Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi formally initiated worship in Yasukuni Shrine for their 14 war criminals. This behavior is unsympathetic of the invasion of neighboring countries and they have incurred criticism from abroad, causing diplomatic problems.

Last is about the scope of compensation. Germany paid reparations, not only for the damaged nation but also to each victim. Germany still plans to pay $1 billion in compensation to Jewish victims. Japan only has ruled out compensation for individual levels of war damage.

Where does the difference between Germany and Japan come from? First of all, Germany has thoroughly ousted Nazism entirely to deride the moral legitimacy of the regime after the war. They continued to arrest war criminals and prevent the entry of Nazi remnants into law. In Japan, however, the current Japanese political circle and its vested interests are descended from war criminals, as military leaders who fought in the Pacific War resurfaced. Therefore, that is why Japan has the tendency to avoid history awareness. In addition, during the Japanese atomic bombing on Hiroshima by the U.S. military, Japanese were the victims, so, they try to divert their own shame by seeking compensation for the damage they suffered.

The vestiges of unprocessed history are still affecting the present. Winston Churchill said "A nation that forgets its past has no future". Japan will have to work hard to establish a correct historical view like Germany. Basically, apologizing for the invasion, correcting distorted history textbooks and ensuring a sincere apology to the victims is still needed. Distorted historical perceptions can foster diplomatic conflicts and cause disputes. Therefore, Japan should let their descendants know what is wrong with their own history, learn what is right and cultivate a correct historical view so that it can never happen again.

By Park Seon-gyeong, cub-reporter

Park Seon-gyeong, cub-reporter  asdf9382@naver.com

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