Don’t mourn militarist Shinzo Abe

Issue 
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

No doubt the news about the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 8 sent shockwaves throughout the world. The longest-serving Japanese PM, Abe is being remembered as a successful political figure. The shock of his assassination — and our condemnation of political killings — should not blind us to the fact that Abe was an ultranationalist and militarist politician, who sought to whitewash imperial Japan’s war crimes at the expense of historical accountability.

There are events, years apart, that serve as timely reminders of the passing of an age. Abe’s assassination, and the circumstances surrounding his career, are eerily reminiscent of an earlier event — the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister, the right-wing militarist Yitzhak Rabin, in November 1995. The parallels between the two horrific killings are striking.

Throughout his political career, Abe was a leading proponent of remilitarising Japan, working to repudiate Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. The popularly named pacifist clause of the post-World War II constitution stipulates that Japanese armed forces cannot be used for waging aggressive war and must not be deployed outside of Japanese territory. Abe and his fellow militarists worked to repudiate this clause — or at least to provide the armed forces with wider powers and increased capabilities.

Hand-in-hand with remilitarisation drive was his concerted efforts to revise the criminal history of Japanese imperialism in World War II. He denied or downplayed the sensitive issue of “comfort women” — the enforced recruitment of thousands of women as sex workers for the Japanese military in China, Korea and other nations occupied by Japan. He finally apologised for that crime, specifically to South Korea, to patch up differences and recruit Seoul for a war drive against China.

Minimising the terrible crimes of Japanese forces in China and Korea was part of his foreign policy to renew Japan as a re-assertive power. Domestically, he promoted neoliberal measures, given the grandiose title of “Abenomics”, a hat-tip to the discredited “Reaganomics” of the 1980s. Indeed, Steve Bannon, former United States President Donald Trump adviser, described Abe’s economic and social programme as “Trump before Trump”.

Earlier, mention was made of the 1995 assassination of former Israeli PM Rabin. Rabin, hailed as a visionary peacemaker for signing the 1993 Oslo accords, was assassinated by ultranationalist Judeo-supremacist Yigal Amir. Rabin’s murder was greeted with a chorus of shock and anger — another ostensibly moderate politician gunned down by an extremist. However, a closer look at the political and military career of Rabin reveals, not a courageous man of peace, but a hardened and vicious anti-Arab racist.

He participated in and led numerous military operations, in 1948 and 1967, that resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian towns and the occupation of Palestinian land. During the first intifada of 1987, he vowed to “break the bones” of Palestinians.

In 1993, the year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Rabin carried out Operation Accountability, a wholesale attack on Southern Lebanon, which displaced thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian people. The use of force, rationalised as a simple “response” to Hezbollah rockets, destroyed Lebanese infrastructure and inflicted collective punishment.

These kinds of attacks, rather than being an aberration for the allegedly “liberal” Rabin, were actually part and parcel of his character as a dedicated soldier of Zionism.

Rabin, as a commander in the Israeli army, participated in the 1948 conquest of Lydda and Ramle, which resulted in the exodus of the Palestinian population. Nothing in Rabin’s career suggests that he regarded the Palestinians as anything but unwanted people to be expelled.

Denounced as a traitor for signing the Oslo accords with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Rabin faced a growing ultranationalist insurgency inside Israel. Finally, he was felled by a Zionist extremist in 1995.

It was shocking and horrific to see such an assassination. For all the simpletons and clods out there; no, there is no justification for assassination, whether of Abe, Rabin, or John F Kennedy for that matter. The ideologies and practices of Abe and Rabin ensured that they would eventually fall on their own swords.

[Abridged. This article was first posted at Rupen Savoulian’s blog Antipodean Atheist here.]