Compare or Not to Compare? Or How to Compare? The Problems in Contemporary German-Japanese Memory Discourse

Ivo Plšek

Ivo Plšek was a Reconciliation Fellow in 2016. His research falls into the field of memory and reconciliation studies. He is interested in how nation-states deal with negative national histories and what factors influence this policy area most. Specifically, he compares Japanese and German political elites and their approach to World War II after 1945. He examines how pre-war experiences and political alliances influenced their behavior and what role post-war foreign pressure and domestic politics played in their decision-making process.

As a Harry & Helen Gray/AICGS Reconciliation Fellow, he will continue with this research, focusing on the divisions that existed over reconciliation policies within the German Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP). Mr. Plšek holds degrees from universities in Europe, Asia and the United States and speaks English, Japanese, German, and Czech.

Japan has struggled with the legacies of its imperial aggression for decades.[1] Neither domestically nor internationally has the nation been able to find a formula which would put the so-called “history problem” behind it. Germany, in contrast, seems to have been very successful at confronting the problem of the Nazi past. Its neighbors do not fear the country and the “German problem”—once Europe’s biggest worry—no longer defines the geopolitics of the region. Why is this the case? And why do we observe the differences in how the two nations approached their aggressive histories? The answer usually goes something like this: “Germans have honestly reflected on their past, apologized for it, and paid their dues. The Japanese have not.” From this a prescription typically follows: if reconciliation is to take place in East Asia, Japan needs to be more like Germany.

I do not object to German-Japanese analogies and the discussion of their memory cultures in principle. Neither do I disagree with the efforts to push Japan to better address its legacies of rampant militarism. Yet, I find that much of the current German-Japanese comparative discourse operates on assumptions that are unwarranted.[2] In my view, this leads to gross oversimplifications. The purpose of this essay is to point out some of these problems, and to offer a few thoughts on how Germany and Japan can be compared, and where such comparisons reach their useful limits.

 The Crime Equivalence Assumption

The first problem in the current discourse is the unspoken but ubiquitous assumption that Germany and Japan share the same historical burden. Remembered as former fascist allies, they are also treated as two—equally guilty—perpetrators. What remains to be explained is, apparently, only why one country was more willing to address this past than the other after 1945.  The majority of the present-day studies begin with this assumption and take 1945, or any later date, as the starting point for their exploration. I believe that there is much to be learned from the juxtaposition of the postwar memory cultures of the two nations. But this juxtaposition can never be complete, and in fact correct, unless we take into consideration their pre-1945 histories. That is to say, if we are to understand how Japan and Germany dealt with their aggressive pasts, we also need to study the nature, motivation, and scope of the conduct they are held responsible for.

This argument, on the surface, will appear commonsensical. Yet its thorough application will be resented. There are several reasons for this. For one, inspecting closely the background, motivation, and manner of Japan’s behavior requires not only to look at the crimes that resemble the conduct of Nazi Germany most, but also to ponder the larger issues of the conflict in East Asia. Such exploration, however, would make the Japanese case much more muddled and the lines of victimhood and culpability more diffused than that of Nazi Germany. Moreover, a more systematic inquiry into the nature and extent of crimes would also lead to a clearer differentiation between various degrees and types of victimhood. Such an approach would fly in the face of today’s discourse, which seeks to equalize rather than differentiate between the two countries, their crimes, and their victims. Doing so would invite objections. One would certainly question the motives of such an endeavor, pointing out that comparisons of perpetratorhood/victimhood can only result in the relativization of suffering of certain groups. One would also remind us that this is exactly the tactic the Japanese nationalists have been employing for decades to minimize their country’s moral burden. Last but not least, it would be argued that the most ethical and just approach to the history problem cannot be but listening to its victims.

While I acknowledge the validity of these objections, I still believe that they miss the larger point. The goal is not to discount the hardship of any injured party, but to adjudicate in a balanced manner the more complex issues of criminal behavior and national responsibility. A universalizing victim’s perspective—the preferred option of today—cannot achieve this. It is not even considered an optimal and just method for meting out social justice by the victim nations themselves. Consider, for example, the institute of homicide. Modern societies across the globe distinguish between various categories of this crime (involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, murder of first and second degree, capital murder, etc.). For each category different punishments are set. Thus killing out of negligence receives a lower sentence than killing in rage, which is still a lesser crime than premeditated murder. From the perspective of the deceased, such distinctions are arbitrary. But modern law accepts that not only the victim’s view, but the socially more objective criteria of intent, manner, and scale determine culpability. In my view this principle also holds for national crimes: the nature and scale of committed wrongdoings defines the burden that a nation has to carry. This means, if applied to German-Japanese comparisons, that we need not only to ask how the two countries dealt with their pasts, but also inquire into the crimes each nation had to repent for.

If we try to do so, it will quickly become evident that there are critical differences between the pre-1945 historical trajectories of the two nations and that these also have a direct effect on postwar culpability. Here I will only outline the major points.

First is the issue of intent/motive. The Nazi aggression was not just about territorial conquest; it was a genocidal war. Whole ethnic groups were to be eradicated and the state allocated outrageous resources to this task.  The Japanese belligerence also contained strong racist elements. Overall, however, the causes and motives of its behavior were more complex. Japan mixed different kinds of aggressiveness, some of which were reactionary if not defensive. Consider, for example, the colonization of Taiwan and Korea. When Japan occupied these territories, all of the Asia-Pacific (and Africa) had been already sliced up by domineering White powers. The only countries left independent were China, Siam, and Japan. And they too had to worry about their territorial sovereignty.[3] The attack on Pearl Harbor was likewise not carried out in an effort at territorial expansion or the subjugation of the White race. Nor was it a sneak attack in the way it is still portrayed in America today. The Japanese were responding to the curtailment of oil shipments that would have crippled its economy, and in the larger picture, to the U.S.’ own ambitions in Asia. Believing that war was inevitable, Japan took the first strategic gamble.

Not even the taking of Manchuria can be equated with the German invasion into Eastern Europe. No plans ever existed for the annihilation of the Manchus, Han Chinese, Russians, Koreans, Mongols, and others who lived there. Rather, they were to be incorporated into the Japanese empire. The aim was for Manchukuo to serve as model for what would later become the “New Order in East Asia” or “The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” Even the invasion into Southeast Asia cannot be described as an outright invasion akin to Nazi Germany. The Japanese entered the territories with the motto of Asian liberation, not a premeditated plan to kill millions of people.[4] Here, too, they exploited the temporary weakness of the White colonialists who ruled these lands for centuries.[5] For sure, what eventually happened was far removed from these lofty goals. But there is no doubt that the independence movements in Southeast Asia were given initial impetus by the Japanese presence.[6] Last but not least, not even the conquest of China was carried out with a direct intent to kill and enslave. When the imperial Army dispatched three divisions to China upon the Marco Polo incident, it aimed to teach the Chinese a “quick lesson.” No plans existed for a full-scale drawn-out war. Of course, the Japanese eventually committed some of the worst war atrocities of World War II here. But testimonies from this time also show that many within the nation and its army truly believed in the Pan-Asian vision and were taken by surprise when the Chinese did not welcome them. No such beliefs ever existed in the Wehrmacht. Let me not be misunderstood, none of this means that the Japanese were not racists and did not kill easier because of it.[7] But racism was only part of the motivational mosaic, and on the level of state propaganda, certainly not the most prominent one.

Second, let us consider the nature and scope of crimes. It is typically argued that the Japanese war conduct shared much with the Third Reich. The issue of comfort women, mistreatment of POWs, or biological and chemical warfare clearly resemble many of the Nazi transgressions. Resemble, however, does not mean they were the same. The state authorities never carried out a program of forced sterilization to keep the Yamato race pure. No Japanese was ever marched through the city streets with a sign around a neck saying that he/she was a pig because his/her lover was a Korean. There was no Julius Streicher, no Stürmer, no school curriculum, no pseudoscience that would measure skulls, bones, and noses in order to determine racial purity. The Japanese state propaganda did not call its neighbors a biological danger to its race either. And of course, there were no freight trains and no gas chambers. The Japanese did not operate facilities that were designed to industrially kill and process the remains of entire ethnicities. The closest in institutional set-up the Japanese ever got were the activities of Unit 731. While truly horrific, this was a limited operation with the number of victims reaching tens of thousands and not millions, as in the case of Holocaust.

Where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan are truly comparable are the crimes committed by their armies. In this category, looking for the differences between them would be like splitting hairs: ransacking and bombing of entire cities, mass shootings, massacres of women and children, mistreatment of POWs, looting, and other behavior were crimes both engaged on a massive scale. The bestiality of Japanese army conduct was matched by the Wehrmacht. Nanjing, Bataan, Manila, Singapore have their equals in countless places in Europe.[8] One noticeable difference, however, lies in the fact that the Japanese army turned even against its own people. The malicious behavior toward civilians during the battle of Okinawa documents that Japan’s conduct was not just a question of race, but of a much deeper structural problem within the institution of the armed forces themselves.

Last, we also need to consider the issue of civilian “accessory” to the criminal behavior of the two states. Japan never had a single party, a single leader, or a state program that would openly pursue ethnic and territorial violence. And even if it had possessed one, it would have not come about through electoral politics as in Germany. Women—that is, half of the population—were completely shunned from the political process. And Japanese male voters were equally ineffectual. All the major decisions in the 1930s were made outside of representative politics by non-civilian governments. Of course, the Japanese people bought into the nationalistic fever and eventually contributed greatly to Japan’s war efforts. But unlike in Germany, Japanese fascism was not a product from below. The masses did not put fascist leaders into positions of power as Germans did when they voted in four successive elections for NSDAP until it became the biggest political force in the country.[9]

This has strong implications for the discussion of war responsibility. A clear link between the choice Germans made and what followed (Gleichschaltung, Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, the invasion of Europe, etc.) existed. German citizens were also first-hand witnesses (and in many cases, participants) in the rounding up of hundreds of thousands of Communists, Socialists, Jews, and others. Any German adult was also likely to have come across some of the 11 million slave laborers who were brought to the Third Reich. They might have even been aware of the concentration camps that were scattered around the country. None of this was true for the Japanese who remained on the main islands: they were effectively cut off from what the Japanese military behemoth did to Asia. Their perception of victimhood was certainly more justified than that of Germans in the postwar era.

The approach of Allied powers toward the issue of public responsibility reflected these realities. In Japan, the Americans were willing to accede to the “damasareta” (having been deceived) thesis. In the case of Germany, the leniency toward the populace was much more circumscribed. Certainly, there were strong political (and racist) reasons for this, as the existing scholarship rightfully points out. What tends be forgotten, however, is that such distinctions between the collective guilt of the two societies had a real factual basis and were perceived as such at that time.

To sum up, whether from the perspective of intent, nature, scope, or public volition, ascribing the same level of culpability to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan cannot be justified. Without doubt, Imperial Japan committed horrible crimes, some of which exceeded even that of Hitler’s Third Reich. But overall, lumping together the two in the same “evil” category, and expecting similar levels of contrition, is problematic. If nothing else, the existence of the Holocaust sets these two apart. In my view, any sensible comparative work has to take this difference into account when discussing how the two nations dealt with their historical burdens after 1945.

Know Your Case, and Know Other Cases

The second major problem in the current debate is the authors’ lack of deeper knowledge about one or both of these cases. Certainly, the less one knows, the easier it is to juxtapose Germany and Japan and draw major conclusions from it. Especially common in this regard has been the tendency to glorify German Vergangenheitspolitik (politics of the past) while vilifying Japan’s approach. A quick look, for example, at today’s Tokyo and Berlin easily provides credence to such claims: Berlin is full of sites of contrition whereas Tokyo hosts memory places that greatly irk its neighbors. Such quick snap-shot comparisons, however, often hide more than they reveal. They are too static and too ahistorical to capture the real essence of the problem at hand: that is, how did the two nations end up in such different places given that in the early postwar period their situation seemed the same if not reversed? Understanding this process instead of fixating on the current outcome is what the debate needs to do.

Doing so requires first to realize how tortuous Germany’s path toward reconciliation has actually been. The contemporary discourse imparts the impression that Germans went into an apology mode right after 1945 and maintained this attitude throughout the Cold War and beyond. Facts do not bear this out. Until the late 1980s, the outcome of the memory battle was uncertain. Many people in Germany who remember this time still feel uneasy about these early postwar decades and the idea that the Bundesrepublik should serve as a model for nations to emulate. If anything, to them the process was too painful, too disingenuous, and too slow. They might be right.

Let us, for example, consider briefly the postwar history of the most iconic symbols of Nazi terror—the concentration camps. Dachau, the first camp that Himmler opened himself, was transformed into a refugee camp for German refugees after 1945. In the 1950s and 1960s, the site became a thorn in the eye of local authorities who tried to get rid of it altogether. Only strong pressure from former (French) inmates thwarted the plans. Eventually a small memorial site was established. This happened, however, twenty years after Dachau’s liberation. It took another twenty years before it developed into a commemorative place adequate to its historical importance. Bergen-Belsen began the equally piecemeal development in the mid-1960s. In the mid-1980s it was still not considered a place worth a visit on the county’s tourist bulletin. Neuengamme shares a similar story to Dachau. One could go on and debate the whole memorial landscape of post-1945 Germany only to find out that the great majority of important National Socialist sites fell into complete oblivion in the 1950s and 1960s and were only “rediscovered” in the following decades. Most of this was done by civil activism, of which the main thrust did not take off until mid-1980s to early 1990s. In short, for the first four decades the Germany that we know today did not really exist. [10]

A similar situation also applies to the public’s coping with the past. Large portions of the population remained strongly racist well into late 1950s (obviously the 8 million NSDAP members in 1945 did not disappear overnight). While virulent anti-Semitism did recede in the ensuing decades, public polls show that until the 1970s, 30 to 40 percent of Germans consistently supported statements such as: “without the lost war and the persecution of Jews, Hitler would have been one of the greatest German statesman” and “National Socialism was a good concept badly implemented.”[11] Just like many Japanese, Germans simply did not feel sorry; and if they did, it was not because of the war, but because they lost it. Of course, no one wanted to be held liable for what happened either. For instance, in a 1961 survey, 88 percent claimed to feel no responsibility for the extermination of Jews.[12] The Holocaust was something that apparently had very little to do with common Germans. This perception began to change only in 1979 with the surprising success of the American mini-series “Holocaust” (the TV show had in many respects the same effect on the national psyche as did Honda Katsuichi’s reports from China in early 1970s).[13]

Germany was similar to Japan in many other ways: for example, in the 1950s its political elites across the board fought for the release of imprisoned war criminals. And the state—especially under the leadership of the CDU—fancied an interpretation of the Cold War as a battle against Soviet Bolshevism that Germans were already fighting in the 1940s. In other words, they too created narratives that helped them diffuse (or whitewash) the issue of Nazi crimes. The “totalitarian thesis” was very popular and carried its appeal deeply into the late 1980s, as the Historikerstreit (historians’ dispute) demonstrates. All of this had damaging effects on German remembrance, as it enabled the country to long overlook—if not forget—some of its worst deeds, and especially those on the Eastern Front.[14] Of course the legend of a “clean” and “honorable” Wehrmacht went on for even longer. As late as the mid-1990s the public still felt very uncomfortable with the idea that the German army was an active Holocaust participant.[15]

The issues above are directly relevant to German-Japanese comparisons. As I already pointed out, the area in which Germany and Japan can be compared best are the war crimes committed by their armies. If we focus on how these legacies were treated (and leave the issue of the Holocaust aside for the moment), we will discover an uncanny similarity between the memory patterns of both nations for much of the postwar period. Even more, one could make the case that in the 1950s, Japan was showing greater contrition and self-reflection.[16] And in the 1970s, Japan seemed to have reconciled much better with its communist neighbor (China) than Germany did with East European nations.[17] It is only since the 1990s that we see great discrepancies in the attitude of both nations. Germany entered a hyper-contrite mode while Japan kept on limping behind.

In short, the memory and reconciliation politics of Germany and Japan have gone through various phases since 1945—sometimes they developed in parallel and sometimes one country preceded the other. It is the variation within these individual cases that needs to be incorporated into the present-day analyses better. For here—in my view—also lie the keys to understanding of the variation between them.

The last problem I would like to highlight is the lack of awareness of other—related—case studies in this contemporary debate. This is a serious flaw, as focusing merely on Japan and Germany can produce very skewed inferences. Let me point out two of the most obvious examples.

It has become commonplace to brand Japan as the negative outlier of international affairs. Its intransigence toward demands for greater repentance is seen as abnormal, a proof of the nation’s immorality. Germany’s behavior, on the contrary, is seen as what normal—moral—nations do. If we look at other nations that also struggle with problematic historical legacies (whether this is Turkey, Russia, the United States, or former colonial powers), we will, however, quickly realize that Japan’s effort at evasiveness and the beatification of its national past is the norm rather than the exception. It is Germany’s behavior that—at least from a conventional politics viewpoint—begs explanations. Put differently, a greater sample size completely redraws the causal direction in the two-country comparison. The same applies, for example, to the Berlin-Tokyo comparisons. Not Tokyo but Berlin is the puzzle, as there is no other capital city on the planet that would build memorials to national shame next to its state symbols.

The second problem with the narrow focus on Germany and Japan is the overemphasis of causal factors that in a larger comparative framework prove to be ineffectual. The most typical example is the use of culture. Whether defined in a sophisticated way (be it employing concepts of anthrophony, religious studies, or sociology) or in the more layman sense, culture is a very common popular (and abused) explanatory variable in this discourse. In a two-country comparative setting, this makes perfect sense. Germany and Japan differ so much in their cultural make-up that ascribing to this difference causal qualities also in the field of memory politics seems natural. As soon as other cases are added, however, the argument loses its persuasiveness. Consider Italy and Austria in this comparative mix. They were likewise allied with Nazi Germany and carried a heavy responsibility for what happened in Europe. Yet they tried to evade postwar responsibility as much as they could. [18] Austria reinvented its identity as “the first victim of Hitler’s aggression” and Italy built its case around the memory of post 1943-1945 resistance. Cultural similarity to Germany did not stop their national myth-making that was more reminiscent of Japan than of Germany.

In short, the examples above show that a better awareness of cases outside of the two-country study greatly improve our understanding of Germany and Japan. They also moderate some of the unrealistic political rhetoric of today and help sort out the idiosyncrasies that monotone German-Japanese comparisons produce.

Implementation and Concluding Remarks

We need to improve the current debate in at least two ways. First, there must be a greater appreciation for the different pre-1945 historical realities of the two countries and the effects these had on postwar responsibility and their remembrance. Second, the participants in this debate need to be more aware of the changes German and Japanese remembrance underwent in the past sixty years, as well as take interest in other comparative cases. Let me in the final few paragraphs offer a few examples of what this would mean in real research.

Let us consider a study that would aim to compare the behavior of German and Japanese political elites and their approach to war reparations in the 1950s. Here we would likely look at the treaties Japan negotiated with Southeast Asian countries and the Luxembourg Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the state of Israel. Drawing direct inferences about the behavior of these elites without adjusting for the weight of the problem they were confronted with would be, however, very problematic. Putting, for instance, the suffering of Vietnamese farmers due to failed food distribution policies (1959 agreement with South Vietnam) on par with the victims of Auschwitz would be hardly justified. That is to say, the comparison would have to account for the fact that Germany was dealing with probably the worst crime in human history while Japan was addressing problems of more “conventional” war crimes.

The same logic would apply, for example, to the study of South Korean-Japanese relations. Especially in South Korea it has been very popular to approach the issue by referring to German behavior. Brandt on bended knee at the Warsaw Ghetto, Weizsäcker’s speech in the Bundestag, or the billions of dollars paid in compensation are examples that Koreans want Japan to imitate. The trouble is that all these policies were predominantly aimed at dealing with the Holocaust crimes and not the legacies of colonialism. The historically more sensible juxtapositions of Germany’s own handing of the Herrero problem or the British, French, or Dutch approaches to their legacies of imperialisms are not discussed. Again, this does not mean that Korea should not press Japan for greater repentance. But positioning its claims along the line of Holocaust victims is an overstretch that will likely not elicit the desired response.

Comparing the domestic politics of Germany and Japan would also require much greater circumspection. For example, one of the most glaring differences between the two nations is the role their 1960s generations played in the process of national self-reflection. It is well known that the German 68ers critically contributed to the change in the German public’s attitude. The generational conflict in Japan never assumed the same memory-political dimension. Again, however, one needs to take into account a few important differences. The challenge the German youth issued to their fathers and grandfathers was linked to the unequivocally proven criminality of the Nazi system and its institutions. The vote for Hitler, the membership in NSDAP, Gestapo, SS, etc., were easier identifiers of responsibility that the youth could hold their elders accountable for. The transgressions of common soldiers in the Wehrmacht did not play a prominent role in this generational conflict. But it is precisely this kind of behavior that most of the Japanese youth could have held against their relatives.

A similar distinction then also applies, for example, to the comparison of postwar legal justice in Germany and Japan. Beyond the Tokyo Trials, the Japanese never pursued the crimes its soldiers committed in Asia. The Germans, on the other hand, created a whole separate institution through which NS crimes were investigated and tried: the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes. As important as this institution was for postwar justice, however, the Wehrmacht was excluded from its purview from the start. Thus, while thousands of NS crimes were eventually sentenced in German courts, no single crime of a Wehrmacht soldier was prosecuted thanks to the work of this institution.

In the final analysis, these cases as well as my overall argument in this paper point to a simple conclusion: fundamental differences between Germany and Japan existed, and the event of the Holocaust was the most critical one. The impact that this had on Germany’s public memory, especially if compared to Japan’s own remembrance, cannot be underestimated. It has been often argued that because of the primacy of this problem for postwar Germany, many other crimes have been put aside or forgotten for too long. I hold, however, the opposite view. The undeniability of the Holocaust, and the policies that were designed to deal with it, made it in the long term easier for Germans to also imagine and assume responsibility for other, less severe or less documented crimes. This, of course, was something that the Japanese society did not have to deal with and was not confronted with. In this light, an important question arises: how would the two memory cultures look had the Holocaust phenomenon not been inserted into the equation? I believe that any comparative study of these two nations needs to give this inquiry a serious thought.


Ivo Plšek was a Harry & Helen Gray/AGI Reconciliation Fellow in August and September 2016.  He is a visiting researcher at the Institute of Social Science, the University of Tokyo in 2016-2017.


[1] I would like to thank Dr. Lily-Gardner Feldman (AGI at Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC) and Dr. Jaemin Shim (GIGA Institute of Asian Studies, Hamburg) for their helpful comments.

[2] Journalistic and popular debates abound with simplistic arguments about Germany and Japan and will not be named here. For the more specialized literature, see for example:  Iris Chang, The rape of Nanking: the forgotten holocaust of World War II (New York, NY: BasicBooks, 1997); Xinbo Wu, “Memory and Perception: The Chinese Thinking of Japan” in Memory and history in East and Southeast Asia: issues of identity in international relations, ed. Gerrit W.Gong (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2001); Voker Fuhrt, Erzwungene Reue: Vergangenheitsbewältigung und Kriegsschulddiskussion in Japan, 1952-1998 (Hamburg: Kovač, 2002); Harry N. Scheiber, “Taking Responsibility: Moral and Historical Perspectives on the Japanese War-Reparations Issues,” Berkeley Journal of International Law 20 (1), 2002; Wonyuk Lim, “Economic integration and reconciliation in Northeast Asia: possibilities and limitations” in Rethinking historical injustice and reconciliation in Northeast Asia: the Korean experience, ed. Gi-Wook Shin, Soon-Won Park, and Daqing Yang (New York, NY: Routledge, 2007); Barry Schwartz and Mikyoung Kim, “Introduction: Northeast Asia’s Memory Problem” and Mikyoung Kim, “Japanese Pacifism: Problematic Memory” in Northeast Asia’s difficult past: essays in collective memoryI, ed. Mikyoung Kim and Barry Schwartz (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

[3] Chinese territorial integrity had been continually undermined ever since the first Opium War with Great Britain. And the Japanese had been also subject to unequal treaties.

[4] Several weeks before the beginning of the Barbarossa operation, the Wehrmacht’s central economic agency unequivocally stated in its plans: “tens of millions of men will undoubtedly starve if we take away all we need from the country.”  Laurence Rees, Horror in the East: Japan and the atrocities of World War II (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2002).

[5] The Europeans clearly did not want to vacate these territories, as post-1945 wars between the local populations the Dutch or the French demonstrate.

[6] Clive J. Christie, A modern history of Southeast Asia: decolonization, nationalism and separatism (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 1996).

[7] From countless interviews with former Imperial army soldiers we know that the belief in their superiority was one of the most critical reasons for the countless massacres in China and elsewhere during the war period.

[8] See Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

[9] That being said, I do recognize that the political systems were sensitive to public opinion in a different way: Germans were in a strong position to decide their political faith prior to 1933. Public opinion mattered little after that. The opposite is true for the Japanese. They never chose the ultra-nationalistic course their leaders took them on, but public opinion continued to matter throughout the war years.

[10] Peter Reichel, Politik mit der Erinnerung: Gedächtnisorte im Streit um die Nationalsozialistische Vergangenheit (Munich: Hanser, 1995). Thomas Lutz, Killing sites: research and remembrance (2015).  Thomas Lutz,  Miriamne Fields, and Irmela Roschmann-Steltenkamp, Memorial museums to the victims of the Nazi regime: a comprehensive guide (Berlin: Stiftung Topographie des Terrors, 1996).

[11] Martin Greiffenhagen and Sylvia Greiffenhagen, Ein schwieriges Vaterland: zur politischen Kultur im vereinigten Deutschland (Munich: List, 1993).

[12] Frederick D. Weil, The imperfectly mastered past: anti-Semitism in West Germany since the Holocaust (New York: Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, 1980).

[13] Siegfried Zielinski and Gloria Custance, “History as Entertainment and Provocation: The TV Series ‘Holocaust’ in West Germany,” New German Critique, no. 19 (1980): 81-96.

[14] For the incredible dimensions of these horrors, see for example: Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

[15] For more, read literature about the national controversy over the Exhibition “Crimes of the German Wehrmacht: Dimensions of a War of Annihilation, 1941-1944.”

[16] Sebastian Conrad argues this thesis most eloquently in his “Auf der Suche nach der verlorenen Nation: Geschichtsschreibung in Westdeutschland und Japan, 1945-1960″ (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999).

[17] For a good discussion of the very amiable period in Sino-Japanese relations in the 1970s, see Robert James Hoppens, 2015. The China Problem in Postwar Japan: Japanese National Identity and Sino-Japanese Relations (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

[18] For a great debate about Austrian responsibility, see: Thomas U. Berger, War, guilt, and world politics after World War II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012). For the Italian case, see, for example here: Susanne Brandt, Christoph Cornelissen, Lutz Klinkhammer, and Wolfgang Schwentker, Erinnerungskulturen: Deutschland, Italien und Japan seit 1945. (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 2003).

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.