Sunday, December 07, 2008

Tamogami speaks

The Asahi Shimbun last week, apparently under the impression that it had uncovered a terrific scoop, reported that the essay contest won by the cashiered former commander of the Japanese air force, Gen. Toshio Tamogami, was fixed.

The newspaper apparently had interviewed a number of judges in the contest sponsored by the APA Group, a construction and real estate firm, of “abnormalities” and complained of undue influence by APA Group chairman Toshio Motoya, well-known in right wing circles.
To this one can only say, I’m, shocked, shocked that gambling is going on!

Of course the contest was fixed. If you were Motoyo, who would you rather see win the prize, some unknown university student or anonymous researcher in modern history, or the heroic ex-general about to become the public face of right-wing nationalism in Japan?

Tamogami continues to speak out at various forums. His address to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan last week was not only packed with members but drew a huge contingent of Japanese journalists, an indication that he continues to be a newsmaker for his revisionist views on Japan’s participation in world War II.

Tamogami did not say anything really new at the club, and I must say that the questioning from my colleagues from the Western press was pretty flabby. Nobody questioned him about the 94-odd other air force officers who reportedly entered the same contest, presumably with the same general ideas.

As a self-professed student of history, Tamogami might have reflected that cabals of ideologically driven young officers had caused considerable turmoil in Japan in the years immediately leading to the the war, including the bloody, unsuccessful attempted coup d’etat in 1936.

Still it was interesting to see and hear the general in the flesh. He came across as a somewhat stiff but utterly sincere, if possibly a little naïve officer. He opened with a few fairly flat jokes about his appearance then went on to defend his essay and view that Japan was not the aggressor in the war.

One actually has some sympathy with the uniformed officers of the Self Defense Forces and what they sometimes have to put up with. When they go of meetings with counterparts in the Chinese armed forces, they sometimes have to endure harangues over history that unfolded long before they were born.

When Japanese troops are sent abroad, as they have been to Iraq, they endure niggling public debates over whether they can carry a weapon or only a side arm. If, while stationed abroad, they cannot come to the aid of friendly forces because of the constitutional restriction on “collective defense”.

It goes without saying that Tamogami favors revision of Article 9, the war-renouncing clause in Japan’s American-written constitution, in order to make Japan a more “normal” ie war-making nation.

“I came to understand that this situation relates to how we view our history,” the general said. “”When I tried to stress that Japan is a good country, I got fired.” He claimed his views are widely shared among officers. “Superficially, they don’t support me, but actually they do.”

As I said, I think the general is a little naïve in his historical research. He dwelt for a while on his proposition that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt tricked Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor in order to get in the war, citing several obscure sources.

Perhaps he doesn’t realize that this has been, or used to be closer to the events, a common trope among extreme conservatives and Roosevelt-haters in the U.S.. Under their theory he placed the battleships at Pearl as bait while cunningly making sure that the more valuable aircraft carriers were at sea when the Japanese attacked.

The rest of what he has to say in his articles and speeches is fairly standard right-wing boilerplate. It is the same view of history that is promoted by the war museum attached to the Yasukuni Shrine in downtown Tokyo. But it is dressed up and presented in a new and more sympathetic package.

One of the Italian journalists noted that an Italian general with apparently pronounced fascist views, whose name I couldn’t quite catch, had entered politics by forming his own right-wing party and winning a seat in parliament. Is that on the horizon for Tamogami?

He sidestepped the question, saying that “for the time being” he had no intention of entering politics. In the month since he retired from the air force, he has been too busy juggling speaking engagements and writing requests. “I’ve no time to think about it.” Presumably he’ll find the time in the near future.


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