Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan

Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan - Ian Buruma Buruma, visits and talks to survivors, historians and general populace in both Germany and Japan to discuss how they feel about the Second World War. The book was written in 1994, so Germany had just been unified and the Showa era had recently came to an end in Japan. The reverberations of both these changes had not been fully felt, and World War 2 veterans, citizens and children were still very much driving the agenda in their respective countries. In what was Western Germany, this was based on guilt, in Eastern Germany, less guilt, and more blame of the capitalists, and in Japan a sense of resentment of ‘Victors Justice’.

Germans have, it seems, mostly come to terms with their past, the Japanese, while strongly pacifist given the choice, are less inclined to take the blame; after all it was not the Japanese who destroyed Hiroshima, so how come the Americans were never held to account for this war crime? The Showa God-Emperor was also never held accountable for his culpability so it could not have been the nations fault right? Some Japanese would argue, what have they got to come to guilty about? The Americans forced them to open their borders to the world, and they found it to be a world of empires, colonization, and ‘might is right’ what were they supposed to do? All fair points.

Twenty years after this book, we can see where we are now. Germany is the heart of Europe – still guilty and paying for the French, but probably more forgiving of itself. Japan is still arguing about Nanking and ‘Comfort Women’. However, the second world war generation in in its twilight, the new generations in Germany are less bothered, and in Japan, no one is really that fussed what the current emperor is thinking – he is just a figurehead. Time is the great healer.