This paper examines how and when apology by a defeated state is made. In order to analyze the incentive of apology, this article sheds light on the difference between Japan and Germany after the World War II.
2015 marked the 70th anniversary since the end of World War II. Many articles were written in Japan and abroad about how Japanese and German governments succeeded or failed in their efforts to reconcile with neighboring countries. Jennifer Lind (2008) analyzed that apologetic remembrance determines reconciliation, while Thomas U. Berger (2012) made it clear that “narrative” is the essence of apology. Both studies pointed to how a government and society narrate history of their own country as the determinant of reconciliation. However, these studies fell short of illuminating the incentive of apology.
This article seeks to answer how apologetic narrative emerges from the point of view of international politics and leadership. First, international politics determines how reconciliation is needed for a country or not. For example, as the occupied countries, Japan and Germany had to be in a good relationship with occupying powers. Furthermore, during the cold war, it was very important to have close ties within capitalistic countries. In Europe, there was also a movement for European integration, so the incentive for reconciliation with France was enormous for Germany. The reconciliation with Israel was also needed, because the Nazi-crime for Jewish people was seen as “crimes against humanity” and was criticized internationally.
Japan did not need reconciliation so much with China and Korea, which were divided into two countries after World War II. Both Chinese governments, Beijing and Taipei, wanted to be recognized as the “official” government of China, so it was not a good strategy for them to argue with Japan over the history problem. In addition, as South Korea was far behind North Korea economically, it also wanted Japanese investment first. So it is clear that international politics set the incentive to apologize.
Second, even if the incentive for reconciliation exists, political leadership is also necessary, especially when the narratives of government and society are not the same. Willy Brandt was hardly criticized when he got down on his knees in front of the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1970. Yet he did not change his and government’s narrative, and criticism disappeared over time. On the other hand, Japan-South Korea relationship serves as the model for the lack of leadership on the narrative of apology.