Almost every summer the newspaper regales us again with commemorative stories about the humanitarian heroism of Chiune Sugihara, former Japanese Vice-Consul to Lithuania credited with saving the lives via escape of more than 6,000 Lithuanian Jews during the Second World War (“Chiune Sugihara: man of conscience,” The Japan Times, Sunday, July 12, “Book tells of Jews’ escape via Japan,” June 18, 2014, “Jewish woman saved by WWII envoy ID’d,” April 22, 2014, etc.). I suppose it usually happens during the summer months as a way of eulogizing him on the anniversary of his death in July 1986. Sugihara’s decisions and actions were truly heroic. But this annual adoration of him by the Japanese media seems a little disingenuous. Remember that Japan was the ally of Nazi Germany during WWII. That means that by rescuing Jews from the Nazis Sugihara was a traitor to his own government, a traitor to his divine emperor. Thank God for that! The lesson he teaches us is the moral necessity of disobeying authority, especially government authority. He is a hero because he was a traitor. But the Japanese media will never, ever write his story that way. I think it is because the government here - which is hell-bent on historical denial and revisionism - wants to use Sugihara to establish Japan’s humanitarian credentials. But as the former Nazi ally, and a country that waged the Pacific war in a criminal fashion I don’t accept that Sugihara’s humanitarianism extends to the country. Not at all. We need more Sugiharas in Japan and the world. Government deserves to be defied.
Published in The Japan Times newspaper on Sunday, July 19, 2015 as “The true lesson of Sugihara’s heroism missed.”