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"The Perils of Apology: What Japan Shouldn’t Learn From Germany"

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 06/05/09 • Media Contact: Sarah Gomez (603) 646-3661

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Sorry States book cover

Article by Dartmouth professor Jennifer Lind featured in Foreign Affairs

Apologies for a country’s past wrongdoing can be counterproductive because they can incite nationalist backlashes at home, says Jennifer Lind, assistant professor of government, in the May/ June issue of the scholarly journal Foreign Affairs. Lind compares the post-World War II experiences of South Korean relations with Japan and French relations with Germany as examples of how countries remember past atrocities and the subsequent political outcomes in “The Perils of Apology: What Japan Shouldn’t Learn From Germany.” The article is adapted from her book Sorry States: Apologies in International Politics, a book that examines the effect of war memory on international reconciliation (Cornell University Press, 2008).

Lind argues that Japan’s denials of its past violence damage its foreign relations. “Distrust of Japan in South Korea and elsewhere,” she writes, “is fueled by Japan’s war memory.” Official visits to a controversial war shrine, textbooks that gloss over past violence, and statements of denial by high-ranking Japanese leaders infuriate Japan’s neighbors and contribute to distrust of Tokyo’s future strategic intentions.

At the same time, Lind argues against the common view that Japan can solve its foreign-policy problems by imitating the German model of atonement. Japan has already apologized many times, Lind says, but these apologies produced a nationalist backlash: they provoked counterproductive “outbursts of denial and glorification of wartime acts by prominent Japanese politicians.”

A better path, Lind suggests, would be for Tokyo to emulate the early postwar strategy of West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who in the 1950s encouraged Germans "to acknowledge the harms done while looking forward."

“Japan would greatly improve its relations with its neighbors by following the prudent and promising model set by Adenauer rather than by mimicking the contrition that West Germany offered later,” says Lind. She adds, “The sooner Japan does so, the sooner it will be able to assume the kind of leadership that would benefit not only Japan but also the rest of the world.”

Lind has also authored scholarly articles in International Security and Security Studies, and has written for wider audiences within the Atlantic and Foreign Policy. Lind has worked as a consultant for RAND and for the Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense, and has lived and worked in Japan. Her current research interests include the resilience of the North Korean regime, planning for U.S. military missions in the event of North Korean collapse, energy competition and its security implications for East Asia, and democratization and stability in East Asia.

She received a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Master’s in Pacific International Affairs from the University of California, San Diego, and a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley.

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Last Updated: 9/14/09