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Top>Opinion>Summer Thoughts 65 Years after WW2 Compassion, Sympathy, and Understanding


Mitsuo Tsukamoto

Mitsuo Tsukamoto [Profile]

Summer Thoughts 65 Years after WW2

Compassion, Sympathy, and Understanding

Mitsuo Tsukamoto
Professor of Communication Theory, Media Theory, and Politics and Information Science, Faculty of Law, Chuo University

Summer 65 Years after WW2

Now we find ourselves in yet another hot summer 65 years after WW2. After the end of my final Communication Theory class, one of the specialized lectures that I teach, I happened to learn that two of the female students who had questions for me were from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This made me think even more about the summer of war 65 years ago and the situation afterward. What led to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Are we really able to find further significance behind Hiroshima and Nagasaki than merely considering what occurred as tragic?

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Okinawa

This line of thinking also applies to Okinawa. Even when looking at the Air Station Futenma relocation issue, the atmosphere appears to be characteristically mellow in Okinawa. I cannot help but think about why bases need to be in Okinawa, whether it is correct to force this situation on Okinawa, and why Japan could not enter into serious debate with the US over base reductions in the first place. On May 16th, one day after the anniversary of the return of Okinawa to Japan, a brief article appeared in the Asahi Shimbun. The article was an interview with Genpei Ishikawa, a core member in the post-war Okinawa Sokoku Fukki (Return of Okinawa) Movement, who said, "Okinawa has still not been able to regain peace even in my grandchild's generation. Maybe it was a mistake returning Okinawa to Japan." It came as a great shock to me when I considered just how little we know and understand about the actual situation in Okinawa, which prompted Ishikawa to say what he did. On the fact that most of the US military bases remained after Okinawa was returned to Japan and that this situation has not changed even today, Ishikawa opined, "Since the U.S. occupation, I think Okinawa has simply been changed into a colony controlled by both Japan and the US." He went on to say, "I want the Yamato [mainland Japanese] people who are living comfortably on the mainland to know just how it feels to live with all these bases here."

Understanding, Compassion, and Sympathy

I wonder what we have come to understand about Okinawa. Of course, I imagine there are many people who are aware that over 70 percent of the US military bases in Japan are located on Okinawa. Although there are most likely many people who feel compassion for Okinawa, or more specifically, who feel sorry for Okinawans, there are probably few who are capable of sympathizing with them. In other words, there are few people who are able to feel the pain themselves, just as the Okinawans do. Upon reflection, I feel that this is true. This is because compassion and sympathy are not the same things at all-on the contrary, they are substantively different. Put simply, feeling compassion involves viewing a situation from a different standpoint or from a higher position than those who are suffering. By doing this, people act as if they understand something about the situation. Feeling sympathy, in contrast, means to deeply understand the issues firsthand and experience the problems and suffering for ourselves.

So what exactly do we know about Okinawa in the first place? For example, even if we feel sorry for the Okinawans, there are surprisingly many people who think it would be a problem if all the bases were taken out of Okinawa since the local economy is dependent upon them. There is more than likely a significant difference between the large estimate that the majority of people make regarding the income gained from the military bases in the Okinawan economy and the actual income gained from the bases. In fact, however, the current Okinawan economy is predominantly driven by tourism, with military bases accounting for only some five percent of total revenues. In pure economic or financial terms, this means that Okinawa could survive without revenue from military bases.

From Mere Knowledge to Genuine Sympathy

Although people feel sorry for Okinawa, from the perspective of maintaining the US-Japan alliance and the peace and safety of Japan, there is also the opinion that Okinawans must tolerate the situation because the issue of where to relocate the military bases causes confusion, such actions may cause the American public to take offense, and damaging good relations with the US may damage Japan's national interests. Since coverage of the Futenma issue by the US media is extremely sparse, only a small amount of the American general public is even aware of the issue. Therefore, sympathy for Okinawa cannot be generated through a compassion grounded in misconceptions of the actual situation and a lack of awareness of the issues.

Furthermore, if one holds that US military bases are necessary for Japan's national interests, we must again pose the question: why Okinawa? And if we truly feel that the situation there is lamentable, shouldn't other prefectures shoulder the burden of accepting military bases for the sake of national interest? And if the idea of burden sharing is also objectionable, doesn't it logically follow that the bases must be removed from Japan? Genuine understanding will never be achieved through compassion because we do not have accurate knowledge about the situation and remain in our comfort zone, preventing us from being sympathetic. Similarly when looking at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if we only feel compassion, or simply feel sorry for the victims, I think we will not be able to truly understand why the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred.

Mitsuo Tsukamoto
Professor of Communication Theory, Media Theory, and Politics and Information Science, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Mitsuo Tsukamoto was born in Toyama Prefecture. He completed the doctoral course in the Graduate School of Social Sciences at the University of Tokyo.
1968 to 1970 Research Assistant, Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies, the University of Tokyo
1970 to 1978 Assistant Professor, College of Social Sciences, Ritsumeikan University
1978 to 1993 Professor, Tokyo Woman's Christian University
1993 to present Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Professor Tsukamoto has been head of Chuo University's rugby club since 2002
Professor Tsukamoto's primary works include: Modern Communication [Gendai no Komyunikeshon], Wars of Aggression and the Press [Shinryaku Senso to Shimbun], Communication Sociology [Komyunikeshon Syakaigaku] (co-author), Newspaper Studies [Shimbun Gaku] (co-author), The Past and Future Responsibilities of Mass Media [Masukomi no Rekishi Sekinin to Mirai Sekinin] (co-author), and For People Studying Journalism [Jyaanarizumu wo Manabu Hito no Tame ni] (co-author).
After engaging in research and education in specialized fields for many years, Professor Tsukamoto will retire this year from a career spent entirely in the academic world.