Cosmopolitanism as a New Logic of Commemoration

By itself, the interaction of nationalist commemorations does not adequately explain the dynamic and trajectory of East Asia’s history problem, especially in recent decades. This is because nationalism is no longer the only logic of commemoration available today. As sociologist Ulrich Beck and his colleagues have argued, cosmopolitanism, an orientation of openness to foreign others, is increasingly institutionalized in a variety of human practices in the contemporary world, thanks to the globalization of human-rights discourse and the growing sociocultural interactions across national borders.20 Cosmopolitanism presents a new logic of feeling, thinking, and acting that takes humanity, rather than nationality, as a primary frame of reference. Drawing on the logic of cosmopolitanism, people can doubly include foreign others in commemoration: they remember what happened to foreign others as members of humanity, but they also invite those others to contribute to shaping the content of commemoration. As Beck put it, cosmopolitan commemoration involves “acknowledging the history (and the memories) of the ‘other’ and integrating them into one’s own history, . . . where the national monologues of victimization that are celebrated as national memory are systematically replaced by transnational forms and forums of memory and dialogue, which also enable the innermost aspects of the national realm—the founding of myths—to be opened up to and for one another.”21 Cosmopolitan commemoration thus allows people to extend identification beyond national borders and engage in transformative dialogues with foreign others that critically reflect on the nationalist biases in their version of history.22

Cosmopolitan commemoration has been promoted most systematically by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Currently, UNESCO runs the World Heritage site program. Launched in 1972, the program aims to preserve natural and cultural sites around the world as shared heritage for humanity as a whole. While cultural sites consist mostly of ancient castles, temples, and monuments, they also include sites related to slavery, the Holocaust, the atomic bombing, and other forms of extreme human suffering. UNESCO also established the Memory of the World Programme in 1992 to protect historic documents, relics, and works of art as focal points for remembering world history. This program also includes projects to preserve historical documents related to negative aspects of world history, such as the Holocaust. These two UNESCO programs encourage people around the world to commemorate events that happened to foreign others as fellow human beings. Along with UNESCO, other United Nations (UN) organizations have promoted cosmopolitanism for more than half a century, because political leaders espoused it as a new principle for creating a more peaceful world in the aftermath of World War II, which had brought so much suffering to millions of people. Since cosmopolitanism, embodied by human rights and other UN conventions, has been adopted by national governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) around the world, the horizon of commemoration appears to be extending beyond national borders.

Consistent with the worldwide trend, the Japanese government began to incorporate cosmopolitanism in its official commemoration in the early 1990s. When the LDP, a defender of nationalist commemoration, was temporarily ousted from power, non-LDP prime ministers such as Hosokawa Morihito of the Japan New Party and Murayama Tomiichi of the Japan Socialist Party (JSP) officially apologized for Japan’s past wrongdoings. Concurrently, Japan’s Ministry of Education approved history textbooks that expanded descriptions of Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, “comfort women,” and the Nanjing Massacre, among other negative aspects of Japan’s past. These gestures of contrition expressed the cosmopolitan logic of commemoration and, during the last few decades, Japan’s official commemoration has come to exhibit a complex mixture of nationalist defiance and cosmopolitan contrition. Even Koizumi Junichiro, whose visit to the Yasukuni Shrine sparked so much controversy in the early 2000s, followed Murayama’s precedent and officially offered “sincere apologies” for victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings.23

Cosmopolitan commemoration, however, is not replacing nationalist commemoration in a zero-sum manner. Instead, the relationship between the two is open-ended because nationalism continues to operate as a central organizing principle in the contemporary world. As Ulrich Beck and Natan Sznaider put it, “Cosmopolitanism does not only negate nationalism but also presupposes it.”24 While UN organizations promote human rights, national governments are still responsible for implementing them in education systems and other societal institutions. Similarly, even though membership in humanity is emphasized, national citizenship continues to structure access to socioeconomic resources and political rights.25 Since both nationalism and cosmopolitanism are legitimated, this creates what sociologists call an “institutional contradiction,” wherein contradictory but equally legitimate logics clash with each other.26 This institutional contradiction serves as a focal point of political struggles for the legitimate commemoration, and these struggles are likely to be intense and protracted because all sides, subscribing to nationalism and cosmopolitanism differently, have reasonable claims to legitimacy.27

Put another way, the dynamic and trajectory of the history problem cannot be attributed simply to particular groups, such as the LDP, that promote nationalist commemorations, for the probl em is built into the very “institutional environment” in which these groups operate.28 The crucial questions, therefore, are how different groups organize and justify their own commemorations by drawing on nationalism and cosmopolitanism, and why some commemorations achieve dominance over others. In short, how does the politics of commemoration play out?

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