This study proposes a theoretical framework to understand how nations deal with collective memories of perpetration of severe human rights violations, which do not fit comfortably in any national master narrative but have become increasingly difficult to ignore. Building on studies of collective memory, the framework explicates how initial historical conditions of the nation, domestic social movements, and the degree of international pressures move the national discourse along two key dimensions – (a) acceptance of guilt and (b) international orientation of the discourse – which map out seven possible responses to collective trauma of perpetration. Through examination of the history of post-war Japan and content analyses of newspaper editorials and prime ministers’ speeches from 1945 to 2004, the empirical analysis applies the framework to the Japanese case and reveals
that arguments for apologies to Asian victims have gained ground due to the intensification of domestic social movements, international pressures from neighboring countries, and global human rights influence; and
that arguments that evade the ugly past have persisted because of the initial conditions immediately after 1945, overwhelming emphasis on Japanese victims in the first few decades, and recent appropriation of human rights language by proponents of the defensive arguments.
Kiyoteru Tsutsui is Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan. His research interests lie in political/comparative sociology, social movements, globalization, human rights, and Japanese society. He has conducted cross-national statistical analyses on how human rights ideas and instruments have expanded globally and impacted local politics and qualitative case studies of the impact of global human rights on Japanese politics. His current projects examine (a) the evolution of transnational social movement organizations, (b) global expansion of corporate social responsibility, (c) changing conceptions of nationhood and minority rights in national constitutions, (d) dynamics of political identities in contemporary Europe, (e) global human rights and three ethnic minority social movements in Japan, and (f) changing discourse around the Asia-Pacific War in Japan.