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Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid his annual visit to the Yasukuni shrine that honors World War II war dead, including some who have been declared war criminals. These visits infuriate the Chinese and Japanese, who claim that the shrine ignores Japanese atrocities including mass murder and the use of Korean and Chinese women as "comfort women" for Japanese soldiers. Both China and South Korea responded by canceling scheduled high-level diplomatic visits with Japan.
Last April, things really began to boil over, as widespread anti-Japan riots spread through major Chinese cities. The riots have quieted down since then, but the underlying issues have continued to simmer.
However, what is most alarming is the burgeoning dispute over oil and gas rights in the East China Sea. The dispute was to have been settled by the United Nations by 2010, but China has evidently gone ahead and begun drilling.
With billions of dollars worth of oil and gas at stake, the possibilities of a miscalculation are enormous. For example, a small naval challenge in the East China sea could escalate, step by step, into full scale war.
Such an escalation would have been impossible ten years ago, when both countries were in "generational unraveling" periods. Such a period, only 50 years past the end of World War II, when leaders of nations around the world remembered the horrors or WW II and place compromise above all else, would have seen both Japan and China stand down from a confrontation.
But today, 60 years past the end of WW II, and 46 years past the end China's genocidal civil war between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek, the younger generations in both countries are increasingly willing to risk greater and greater levels of confrontation. This point was made in a Wall Street Journal analysis of Japan appearing in June:
From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, it's exactly this kind of generational change that produces the next genocidal crisis war.
What's really surprised me about all this was a story in CS Monitor that described enormous changes in the version of history presented by the shrine. For reasons that will be explained, this change is of great importance from the point of view of Generational Dynamics, since it signals the completion of a long-term cycle that leads to the next genocidal crisis war.
The differing Japanese and Chinese views illustrates a major point of Generational Dynamics that I've referred to often: No nation ever remembers the atrocities it commits, nor ever forgets the atrocities it suffers at the hands of other nations.
Reclaiming terroritory was indeed a major motivation of Hitler. World War I was something of an "accidental war" for Germany, which it was forced into by a political treaty with Austria. It fought the war half-heartedly, and capitulated long before it had to, thanks to anti-war pressures at home. But the rest of the world blamed Germany for the "Great War," and Germans were forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, which required Germany to pay reparations and to forfeit numerous territories. As a soldier fighting in WW I, Hitler and many other Germans were infuriated by this treaty, which they blamed primarily on the French and the Jews, and they were especially infuriated by the loss of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to France. Thus, recapture of these and other provinces was a major goal of Hitler's, as the Japanese shrine museum says, but along the way Hitler was determined to exterminate the Jews and obliterate all of France, which the museum doesn't mention.
This remarkable statement is not as far-fetched as it seems, and it's something I've commented on many times.
When the stock market crashed in 1929 and millions of Americans lost their jobs, the public blamed imported goods. In 1930, Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley tariff act, which placed high tariffs on all imported goods. This was an economic measure, but Japan took it as almost an act of war: Japan's biggest export was silk, and after Smoot-Hawley, exports dropped to almost zero, causing enormous financial disruption to Japan. A year later, Japan invaded Manchuria. America responded by cooperating with the League of Nations to place an oil embargo on Japan -- causing further enormous hardship. Japan responded by walking out of the League of Nations and attacking northern China. Japan was furious at America, and that fueled Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Many Japanese historians claim that the critics of the Yasukuni shrine are ignoring facts of history themselves:
The Opium Wars occurred in the 1840s, but you don't have to go back that far to see why some Japanese feel that they're being unfairly picked on. The Japanese atrocities on the Chinese were, after all, only a tiny fraction of the atrocities that Mao Zedong committed on the Chinese; in particular, the Great Leap Forward of 1958-59 resulted in the starvation and execution of tens of millions of Chinese, thanks to Mao's Communist ideologically-driven famine. And the Japanese can also point to the fact that they were the target of American nuclear weapons, which killed more Japanese than the Japanese atrocities did.
However, none of this really matters, does it? The Chinese and Japanese don't see any perspective in history. All they see is what we'd call "sound bites" of history, and those sound bites are all that are needed to propel them to a new war.
Most people believe that people become wiser as they become older. But they don't really; they just refine their selective sound bite memories, and provide further justifications for whatever prejudices they contain. That's the "secret" behind Generational Dynamics, and why nations keep pursuing extremely violent, genocidal wars every 70-90 years or so.
Generational Dynamics predicts that we're headed for a new "clash of civilizations" world war, and you can see it happening in China and Japan. We're at a unique time in history, 60 years after the end of WW II, when all the countries that fought in that war are in generational crisis periods, because all the leaders and senior managers in these countries are from the generations born after WW II, and none of them have any personal memory of the horrors of that war. That war is going to begin next week, next month, next year, or soon after that, but it's coming.