Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
After reading Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga’s condemnation of the knife attack by a North Korean sympathizer on the U.S. envoy to South Korea, Mark Lippert, reported in “U.S. envoy to Seoul slashed in face” (Friday, March 6, 2015), I began to remember all the other serious crimes that draw the same comment: “Such an act can never be forgiven.” The terrible list of one horrible crime after another throughout history is endless. What kind of animals are we? The brutal murder of a teenage boy in Kawasaki by other teenagers, the Aum Shinrikyo murder of Yokohama lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family, the poisoned curry murders of Wakayama, the murderous Akihabara knife rampage, the disastrous Karuizawa mountain siege of domestic United Red Army terrorists. The list grows daily.
“Such an act can never be forgiven” might be a factually true observation and an honest account of people’s feeling towards heinous crimes. But if it is true that heinous crimes cannot be forgiven then I regret the widespread lack of forgiveness in Japanese society. There are so many contemporary and historic crimes that draw similar reactions from politicians, judiciary and victims’ relatives that one might suppose the absence of forgiveness is the dominant emotion. And that is unfortunate, because forgiveness is essential to human life which is tough enough even with forgiveness.
“Such an act can never be forgiven” is both vague, because it is applied generally to any terrible act without specifying any particular act, and it is comparable to the equally reflexive statement by American leaders to pursue and hold responsible unknown perpetrators of heinous acts like terrorism. So in that regard I consider statements like these to be meaningless. They are just what people say because they are expected to say something, especially when they are helpless to say or do anything more. They are stock responses from a bag of disposable responses to a certain category of events. They are cosmetic. They are theater.
Society needs to condemn, prosecute, punish and remember those transgressive behaviors that threaten the veneer of civilization. But if we want to progress as a species we have to forgive. What kind of animals are we? We have to be the forgiving kind. A paucity of forgiveness is a reflection of a paucity of moral character.
Also, I’m bored to death hearing Japanese leaders talk about how something “can’t be forgiven,” and American leaders talk about how some unknown perpetrators will be “brought to justice.” Give me a break! Maybe “forgive” is the wrong word. Maybe it’s a Japanese idea that just isn’t translating well into English.