Alexis Dudden - Troubled Apologies Among Japan, Korea, and the United States

Troubled Apologies is a very readable account of some of the ongoing frictions between Korea, Japan, and the USA. Not every missed "apology" is covered, but those that are usually include a balanced and fair treatment. Those include the Dokdo or Takeshima islands, the Japanese occupation of Korea (including "comfort women"), No Gun Ri, and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Dudden waxes a bit unbalanced in her wishes for an apology from the US for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Perhaps she should have also demanded an apology from Japan for Pearl Harbor while she was at it. In any event, while I found the history and sides of the stories interesting (and Dudden's analysis generally good), the whole issue of apologies for things that happened decades before seems rather silly to me. Do words of people not even involved in the original events really mean that much to some?

Perhaps more ludicrous than the hollowness of verbal governmental apologies decades after the fact, in my view, is the subject of reparations. Do people ever really stop and think who a reparation is punishing? If a government pays someone, or pays for monuments, for wrongs that happened decades or centuries before, the money isn't magically coming from the wrong doer's pocket. It is coming out of the current citizens' pockets in the form of taxes. So people who had nothing to do with the initial act, indeed people that weren't even born or who may have been opposed to the initial act, are forced to cough up the money. How is this justice?

Anyway, I've strayed from the real topic of Dudden's book. If you aren't already familiar with the tensions between these allied countries Troubled Apologies is a good place to be partially brought up to speed. One last compliment I have for this book is the length. I've read many authors who had 100 - 150 pages worth of material for a book and then stretched it into 200+ pages (probably at the request of their publisher). Dudden doesn't do that here. The book ends after less than 150 pages which is where it should.

from the publisher:
Whether it's the Vatican addressing its role in the Second World War or the United States atoning for its treatment of native Hawai'ian islanders, apologizing for history has become a standard feature of the international political scene. As Alexis Dudden makes clear, interrogating this process is crucial to understanding the value of the political apology to the state. When governments apologize for past crimes, they take away the substance of apology that victims originally wanted for themselves. They rob victims of the dignity they seek while affording the state a new means with which to legitimize itself.

Examining the interplay between political apology and apologetic history, Dudden focuses on the problematic relationship binding Japanese imperialism, South Korean state building, and American power in Asia. She examines this history through diplomatic, cultural, and social considerations in the postwar era and argues that the process of apology has created a knot from which none of these countries can escape without undoing decades of mythmaking.