It is shocking to hear of the assassination of Shinzo Abe, former prime minister of Japan. But while we should condemn political violence, we should also not whitewash his legacy.
Abe was arguably the most far-right leader of Japan. Under his leadership, the country took a more reactionary turn toward aggressive, militaristic policies. Relations with South Korea and China suffered, since Abe made historical revisionism part of his policy. And corruption scandals plagued his government.
Abe denied the Japanese government’s role in forcing Korean women into sexual slavery, as “comfort women,” during WW2, only to mildly roll back that statement later by acknowledging a report made in 1993 by his party that admitted such involvement. He visited the controversial Yasakuni Shrine, a site where nationalistic, historical revisionists cast Japanese war criminals in WW2 as martyrs and liberators. Even the Emperor, himself, refused to visit this place.
It is telling that Abe gained praise from far-right, fascists like Steve Bannon, who called him “a great hero to the grassroots, the populist, and the nationalist movement throughout the world.” Some even said Abe was Japan’s Trump, an accolade that should make any sane person of conscience cringe.
So, as the Western press lavishes endless homages to Shinzo Abe, we should be careful not to gloss over his legacy. His assassination is tragic because political violence is loathsome and should be condemned, especially with the world in its current tenuous and fragile state. But not because he was a great man.
Kenn Orphan, July 2022
*Photo is of Shinzo Abe. Reuters.