The Imperative for Japan’s Apology, featuring Lazare and Medina (Ethical Life Reflection Philosophy)
Relatively speaking, the majority of textbooks omit the daunting history of Japan. After battling China for so long, Japanese soldiers decided to make Nanjing, China their hunting ground for rape, torture and murder. Frustrated, hostile and aggravated, Japanese soldiers were fueled with violence, killing “between 150,000–300,000” (Devi) Chinese civilians. Cuiying Yang, a Nanjing survivor describes how a Japanese soldier “grabbed my little brother from my father’s arms, flung him to the ground, trampled him with big leather boots and trampled him to death alive” (Mundi, 3:34–3:40). One would think that after so much horror and long-lasting trauma, a nation would apologize. Truth be told, this has yet to be the case.
Although “the Japanese government has acknowledged the incident did occur, some Japanese nationalists have argued (…) that the death toll was military in nature and that no civilian atrocities ever occurred” (Devi). An apology, at the bare minimum, requires that the offender acknowledges and engages their regret. Up to this point, Japan seems to disregard the latter and barely recognizes the former. Moving forward, I intend to describe Lazare’s framework on apology, unpack on how his framework demands that Japan officially apologizes to Nanjing and how even Medina’s epistemology can help us understand the imperative motivating the apology.
According to Lazare there’s a practical outline one can follow to give a quality apology. A true apology ticks the marks of “1) acknowledging the offense 2) expressing remorse and 3) making reparation when appropriate” (Lazare, 256). In his detailed explanation of a true apology, Lazare elaborates the intricacies within each step and their interconnectedness. For example, in order to express care for the offended party, one must demonstrate their remorse. Typically, “remorse is communicated by sincere and intense expressions of regret, including shame, humility and forbearance — promises to refrain from committing the offense in the future. (Lazare, 259). Contrary to feeling shame, during the Nanjing Massacre, Japanese soldiers viewed killing Chinese people as an act of pride. Even after World War 2, in Japanese history textbooks, “the Japanese government, regarded by any descriptive language of Japan of invading China as inappropriate” (Gordon, 14 ). Actively restraining students and thus future citizens to learn the facts of their past increases the likelihood of a massacre reoccurring. The chances of a massive massacre taking place in such a large scale is unlikely. However, it’s the practice to filter out selective facts that shapes a narrative. As a result, the domino falls and a series of mishaps occur, rooting back to Japan’s ignorance. Enter Medina’s take on epistemology and perspective on epistemic arrogance and epistemic resistance.
Epistemic arrogance, a term coined by Medina, focuses on utilizing one’s breadth of knowledge to belittle any other external opinions or ideas. It’s interesting to argue that Japan shows signs of epistemic arrogance. After all, they’re disengaging with real events and are essentially “lacking” the information of the Nanjing killings. And according to Medina, arrogance lies on “the privilege of knowing” (Medina, 30). However, in Japan’s case they are choosing to ignore the trauma Japanese soldiers caused — leading to downplay the seriousness of the massacre. For instance, instead of referring to the events as the Nanjing Massacre, Japan refers to it as the Nanjing incident. To put it into perspective, the liberty to voice opinions in the US would function vastly different if the US referred to slavery as “an unfortunate accident”.
Incident, accident, unfortunate are all are coded terms to reinforce a subjective story as opposed to offering something close to an objective history. Japan goes as far as to “remove(d) a scene depicting the Nanking Massacre because it was too gruesome and would not serve the morale of the country” (Mundi, 4:25–4:32). Knowledge holds great power, and as of right now Japan aims to limit it from Japanese citizens, and therefore restricting their citizens potential for epistemic prosperity. An apology would expose their capabilities to do harm. As a result, Japanese citizens learn a one-sided monolithic story. So much so that currently, the World War 2 museum in Chiyoda, Japan, present monumental events from the war, but unsurprisingly “the Nanking Massacre is not mentioned” (Mundi, 2:48–2:51). Similarly, epistemic resistance plays a vital role for Japan to formally apologize.
Previously I mentioned how Japan fell short in their overdue attempt to apologize. As in, Japan recognizes their fault, and that’s that. Japan has yet to set forth the effort to show remorse and provide reparations of some sort. Epistemic resistance involves two principles — “the principle of acknowledgment and engagement, and the principle of epistemic equilibrium” (Medina, 50). Since evidence reveals how Japan actively shuts down any glimpse of truth to their citizens, from movie scenes to textbooks and museums, they are resisting. From Medina’s perspective, “external epistemic resistances one encounters can be … negative insofar as they produce detrimental epistemic friction, censoring, silencing, or inhibiting the formation of beliefs, the articulation of doubts, the formulation of questions, and lines of inquiry” (Medina, 50). Considering Japan’s rising right wing party and emphasis on glorifying their imperial period, the Japanese government has its personal motive to limit its dark past. In other words, for the Japanese government, beliefs, doubts and inquiries are matters in which the Japanese government finds comfort in overseeing.
Interestingly, if the Japanese government intends to refute possible accusations of manipulating their own citizen, they must consider Lazare’s handy outline on apologizing. If not, as Medina notes, “those who are epistemically arrogant, lazy and close minded are actively ignorant” (Medina, 39).