The Rotten Heart of London  

Thursday, 29 March 2007

The Kyodo News Agency reported that Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, has launched an amazing racist tirade against the Japanese nation, inferring that the Japanese Embassy’s refusal to pay the congestion charge is somehow linked to past war atrocities. Speaking at a news conference about congestion charging, he told the LBC radio station, "I think there are several problems with Japan that we could go on about here. Admitting their guilt for all the war crimes would be one thing. So if they've not got round to doing that, I doubt they're too worried about the congestion charge."

The Embassies of around 50 nations are refusing to pay the congestion charge because they argue the charge is in fact a tax, which under diplomatic law they are therefore exempt from paying. The United States is reported to be the worst offender, notching up an incredible £891,000 in unpaid fines. Several African nations are well over the £500,000 mark, while Japan is sitting on a relatively modest £312,000 of unpaid tickets. The revolt over congestion charging was lead by the US and Germany in 2005. So why doesn’t Ken Livingstone attribute Germany’s refusal to pay to its Nazi beliefs? Or condemn the Americans for their savage imperialism in the Middle East which has left countless thousands dead and whole nations in ruins? Why is it that amongst all the countries of the world, Japan is the only country where it is acceptable to tar an entire culture with one collective brush?

A look at the BBC news website will reveal a similar racist bias against the Japanese - giving free reign to Chinese commentators to rage against Japan for past atrocities, while conveniently forgetting about more contemporary Chinese misdemeanours such as Tibet and the brutal crushing of the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. Everyone seems to have forgotten too about past British atrocities such as the massacre of 120 innocent men women and children at Amritsar in the 1920’s. Why is it that everybody finds it so easy to condemn Japanese people?

Most people would answer that question by saying – like Livingstone – that it’s because the Japanese have never been held to account for wartime aggression. That may or may not be true, but nobody ever asks why that might be: Why is it that comparatively few Japanese wartime leaders were executed or imprisoned after the war? Why is it that Japanese people were never, and still aren’t being given the opportunity to understand and acknowledge their country’s role in the Pacific war? Why doesn’t anybody ever question why the Japanese went to war in the first place?

The injustice of Livingstone’s remarks are that they in effect accuse all Japanese people of being complicit in wartime atrocities, when in actual fact most Japanese people today have very little understanding or knowledge of the war. Why? Because the US conveniently ripped-out that page of the history books to serve its own interests in post-war Asia. It allowed Japanese political, industrial and military leaders to escape trial, so they could help rebuild Japan in America’s image, thus providing a bulwark against the spread of communism in Asia and a convenient trading post for America. Not too mention, of course, a captive supply of cheap manufactured goods, rather like the US theft of the Iraqi people’s oil wealth. Of course it could only achieve this by also changing the perspective of the Japanese people themselves, who were encouraged to believe that their own culture is tainted: Prior to their adopting Western “civilisation” Japanese culture is often either not mentioned, devalued or seen somehow as sub-standard. People also forget that, like Germany, Japan was effectively under a military dictatorship at the time of the war. It’s therefore difficult to see the justification of labelling an entire nation as war criminals, for a war they know nothing about and in which they were not complicit,. It would be just as preposterous and outageous to label all American’s “baby-killers” for their guilt in the Vietnam war or all modern-day Germans as Nazis.

And while we are on the subject of wars fought in Asia, it’s also worth reminding ourselves why Japan was forced down the road to war in the first place: America’s commercial and political interests in Asia led it to intervene militarily in Japan’s internal affairs. Commodore Perry’s fleet of US warships that arrived in Tokyo Bay in 1853 effectively forced the Japanese to respond by adopting Western-style militarism, setting in motion a chain of events that would inevitably lead it into conflict.

In some ways, I agree with Livingstone that war criminals should not be allowed to hide their crimes under a cover of silence. The only problem is, he needs to start a little higher up his list of unpaid parking tickets to find the real criminals in this story.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button