from “Takahashi Shigehito” firstname.lastname@example.org
Irritated by the situation here in East Timor, where Timorese political leaders are manipulated by Japanese government with money, I wrote the following article. If you have time, please read it. You are free to forward or copy it to anyone. ... CDHTL is a “human rights” NGO. It is not a national commission, though their name, Timor Lorosae Human Rights Commission, might give wrong impression. In her writing, Ms Ferreira was referring the Constitution of the Government of Japan, which should be the Constitution of Japan. Though I realize the wrong terminology, in my article it is translated exactly what she wrote. Constitution is laws and principles according which a state is governed (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary), not merely for “a government.” She is a law school graduate, and before being appointed as the advisor on human rights in the second transitional cabinet, she was a member for Constitution Assembly.
Wounds of Violence are Hard to Forget
By Takahashi Shigehito*
“And I say unto you, even if they should
be silent, the very stones will cry out.”
(Luke 19: 40)
“War and victims are something the community wants to forget; a veil of oblivion is drawn over everything painful and unpleasant. We find the two sides face to face; on one side the victims who perhaps wish to forget but cannot, and on the other all those with strong, often unconscious motives who very intensely both wish to forget and succeed in doing so. The weakest one … remains the losing party in this silent and unequal dialogue.” (Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 1992, p.8)
This is a quotation from a psychiatrist who studied survivors of a Nazi concentration camp after World War II. It continues: “In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. … it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on.”
We Japanese witnessed the very same things happened (in fact, is still happening) in our own country. I refer to the victims of the Rape of Nanking by the army of Emperor Hirohito, the “jugun ianfu” - so-called “comfort women”, or sex slaves - and many other victims of the violence perpetrated during the Asia-Pacific War. The Government of Japan has been reluctant to admit what happened, and politicians and opinion leaders say that, “those things never happened, they are lying, or they are exaggerating.” They use all their powers to make the people forget and even try to fabricate reality. They use every means: from censorship of history textbooks used in the Japanese schools, writing their own version of “history”, to giving money in the name of “financial aid,” such as ODA (official development assistance).
I am concerned that the same thing is now happening here in Timor Lorosae. The transitional foreign minister, Mr Jose Ramos-Horta has said that, “after Timor Lorosae becomes fully independent next year, we will not dig up the old policy of the Government of Japan in East Timor during WWII from 1942 to 1945 in the diplomatic field.” (Suara Timor Lorosae, August 24, 2001)
Haven’t the people of Timor Lorosae, including their leaders, been fighting for truth and justice? Did the struggle of the people of Timor Lorosae end when TNI (Indonesian National Army) left? Because Timorese elite have now obtained the chairs, the nice positions, that were formerly occupied by Indonesians?
If that is the case, who is going to defend the dignity of the victims - those who were down-trodden by the Portuguese colonialists, by the army of Emperor Hirohito, and by the Indonesian army? Are there any leaders or organizations who want to defend the victims’ dignity? The victims want to scream out, but the voices of those who have authority are so strong that they will silence these screams, as we read in the quotation cited above.
I am especially amazed that a human rights organization, whose task is supposed to defend the dignity of victims, has precisely trodden on those dignity, writing that, “although we (CDHTL, Timor Lorosae Human Rights Commission) realize that this decision (the plan to send Self-Defense Forces) may be in violation of the Constitution of the Government of Japan, in our view, we believe it would be a good way to begin to build a better bilateral relationship…” (STL, September 6, 2001, phrase in parenthesis was added by the author).
I would like to ask Ms Isabel Ferreira, the Director of this human rights organization and now serving as the advisor on human rights in the second transitional cabinet: Have you ever heard testimonies directly from the victims of the cruelties of the Japanese army, particularly women victims who were forced to serve as sex slaves?
If the Government of Japan really wanted to build a good bilateral relationship with Timor Lorosae, the first step it should take is to acknowledge the mistakes of its brutal policies and actions toward the people in the past, both during WWII, and during the Indonesian military occupation - which Japan’s government consistently supported it - and ask the pardon of the people of Timor Lorosae.
There may be those (officials from the Japan Mission and UNTAET?) that say that the Self-Defense Forces is different from the Imperial Japanese Army of the past, infamous for its fascist coercion, and its shameless, terrorist methods. Or, they may say that the Self-Defense Forces is only going to teach the science of “self-defense”. In fact, however, the SDF is a reincarnation of the army of the Japanese Emperor, the army that claimed the lives of some 20 million people in the Asia-Pacific region during WWII, including around 40,000 people in Timor Lorosae.
After Japan’s defeat in WWII, we, the people of Japan, failed to bring to trial the supreme leader of the military state, Emperor Hirohito, the man responsible for the deaths of 20 million people and countless acts of extraordinary brutality. This was a fatal mistake, and has had pernicious consequences to this day, both in Japan and in the Asian region.
One such pernicious consequence was Japan’s adoption of a postwar reconstruction and development economy that exploited business opportunities that derived from the spilling of the blood of other Asian peoples, namely the Korean War (1950-53) and the Vietnam War (1964-75), in which the US military slaughtered innocent people in Korea and Vietnam. Japan grabbed the opportunity to become a supplier to the US military, which had troops stationed at bases in Japan. And Japan never cared about these dirty behaviors. Japan’s development was achieved at the cost of the blood and suffering of other peoples. This is a fact of that rapid economic growth which I have heard so often praised by many East Timorese people whom I have met here.
Another pernicious consequence which confronts us is the emergence of signs of political expansion by Japan, using the terrorist methods carried out by providing economic aids, replacing the violent method by Hirohito’s army (note: a word “terrorism” means use of violence and/or threats of violence, especially for political purposes, and violence doesn’t necessarily mean physical acts. We need to look closely at what has been happening related to ODA in Asian countries). Now the leaders of the countries that receive this aid no longer care about the principles of the struggle that they formerly professed. But Japan’s expansionist methods don’t stop there. Starting with the first overseas Self-Defense Forces dispatch to the Persian Gulf in 1991, the Japan’s government has sought to send its army off to anyplace it can, including, now, East Timor.
The Constitution of Japan forbids us from possessing armed forces. But now, in violation of the Constitution, we have what are obviously armed forces, though they go under the name of the Self-Defense Forces. World-wide famous Article 9 of our Constitution says: “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” And in the Preamble of the Constitution, we find the words, “… We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship, and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.”
How beautiful are these words and these concepts! And I am sure that most (or almost all) people in the world would agree, and want to put these ideas into realization. We sincerely dedicate them to Timor Lorosae, which is now drawing up its own constitution. But once again we must remember that even though we have this good and beautiful constitution, the reality can be different, as we have seen. We people of Japan have failed to defend and give life to this beautiful constitution. This is also a lesson to the people of Timor Lorosae, that the struggle for democracy is an ongoing, every-day struggle, and not just something that happens at a general election or when drawing up a constitution.
Finally, our message to Timor Lorosae and
to ourselves is the importance of learning from history and listening to
the cries of victims, for a better future.
*The writer is Resident Representative of East Timor Desk, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan, and has lived in East Timor for five years, from the time of the Indonesian military occupation.
This article was appeared in local Timorese newspaper, Suara Timor Lorosae on November 19, 2001. The original text is written in Indonesian. The English translation is proofread by the writer.
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