Right on cue, the Japanese government seems intent on inflaming tensions rather than buttressing any reason for resolution. Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary has announced plans to form a body of scholars to review the historical evidence around claims that comfort women were forced to work in military brothels. Bowing to pressure from right wing nationalists, the Japanese government will effectively conduct a study to consider whether or not to rescind an apology.
This kind of effort can be couched in historical discipline. Members of the far right say:
“there is insufficient objective evidence to support the testimony of the women that the Japanese military forced them to provide sex.”
Well, if something objective is what is desired, than it should be an international study. There must be piles of evidence collected by the U.S. as it occupied formerly held, Japanese land. There are still countless women and men alive China, the Philippines, Korea and other territories who could testify, if they haven’t already. And rightists could deride all of this as somehow not “objective” it is true as it is the testimony of victims or conquerors. But then where are Japanese themselves, who are certainly still alive as well, who issued orders, managed facilities and utilized brothels? Is there no one left with the dignity to settle their guilty conscience on this? Will the nation as a whole allow itself to somehow, 回心转意?
Rhetorically China and South Korea feel as if they won’t give an inch on reconciliation matters with Japan. Japan, meanwhile feels like it gave an inch and now wants to take it back. I can understand that no nation wants to be pilloried ad infinitum. But this recidivism is oil to the flames. What possible benefits to Japan could there be from further isolating themselves, from what should be their enormous opportunity to participate in the transformation of their neighborhood. This not only pushes South Korea, North Korea and China away, but it countries that would otherwise be allies, like the Philippines away too. It even rattles affinities with their primary benefactor, the U.S.
The path to a glorified future for Japan cannot be through backing away from the brave gestures of reconciliation made by the previous generation. Abe wants a Japan that can stand up and be “normal.” He doesn’t want a nation that cannot assert itself. But part of being normal is embracing your past, warts and all. Rewriting Imperial history, not with the goal of richer, objective data and analysis, but rather under the guise of academics politically harnessed to arrive at a foregone conclusion so as to distance the nation from any culpability in infamy, does nothing for Japan’s dignity in the eyes of anyone. Where can Japan turn to for camaraderie with this disposition? Nowhere, but in on itself. There is no bucolic Edo period on the horizon to return to.
Once again, I turn to an avant garde player, this time Steve Lacy, not so much to calm me down, but rather to testify to the complexity of this spaghetti bowl of hatred and recrimination. Beneath the anger, pride and self-defense there is a steady beating of something dignified, urgent, reliable that will not be denied. I can believe in Lacy’s solo, just like I can Don Cherry’s on this 1961 set, "Evidence." Evidence is subjective. Neither one are harmonious, both are legitimate, compelling. Convention, even in realm of ‘free jazz’ suggests they both get a turn to speak, and they both acknowledge something beyond the needs of one’s own voice that tempers and guide’s them. Neither soloist wants it to descend into cacophony.
Born Steven Lackritz, in New York City in 1934, of Russian parents, Lacy made the trip through his life and his playing from Dixieland playing straight on out to the peripheries of the possible, as he grew during the sixties and seventies. Growing up on the Upper West side, fascinated early with the music of Sidney Bachet, I enjoyed his quote that “no one could get more avante garde than Louis Armstrong.” And throughout his career he seemed to return to the anchoring influence of Monk. Reading about him now he was forever pushing to incorporate a range of artistic medium into his craft, so that dancers, artists, poets were tapped and engaged and collaborated with. He died in Boston at the age of 69, in 2004. The respective obits from the Times and the Guardian offer complementary detail on this remarkable protagonist in the great jazz narrative.
Bring on the avant garde solution, the evidence" of some bravery in the region to lead a reconciliation before the positions ossify so stiffly they break.
 huíxīnzhuǎnyì: to change one's mind (idiom)