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Assassination of Shinzo Abe: the turbulent past of assassinations and attacks in Japan

The Assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe What happened last Friday shocked the world and recalled a time when murder seemed to be a political strategy in the Asian nation.

although today Japan prides itself on its citizen security, a place where “one gets used to not thinking about violent crimes”, according to the BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield Hayesthere was a period when being involved with the affairs of state was risky.

Indeed, if it is confirmed that Abe’s death was politically motivated, this would be the sixth Japanese president to be assassinated, which includes those who died in office and those who died after leaving office. This is equivalent to 9% of the 64 leaders who have governed Japan since 1885. A higher proportion than exists in USA.

Abe would be the sixth Japanese president to be assassinated if it is confirmed that his death was driven by political motivations (Photo by Noel Celis / AFP)
Abe would be the sixth Japanese president to be assassinated if it is confirmed that his death was driven by political motivations (Photo by Noel Celis / AFP)NOEL CELIS – AFP

Thus, although 86 years have passed since a former Japanese president was assassinated (Takahashi Korekiyo in 1936) and 90 years since an acting ruler died as a victim of an attack (Tsuyoshi Inukai in 1932), the political violence is not as foreign to Japanese society as you might think.

At first glance, the international image of Japan since the end of World War II It can make believe that it is a country alien to the political violence that is seen in other latitudes. However, experts warn, this is not the case.

To say that this type of political violence is unprecedented in Japan is not true. It’s shocking, but it’s not unprecedented,” he said. Hugo DobsonProfessor of International Relations at the University of Sheffield (United Kingdom), to the web News. In fact, although during recent decades there have been no presidents or former presidents who have been assassinated, they have been victims of attacksalthough they have survived.

One of them was Nobusuke Kishi, Abe’s maternal grandfatherwho being prime minister in 1960 was the target of an attack by a far-right activist who stabbed him several times in the thigh. Subsequently, Prime Ministers Takeo Miki (1975), and Morihiro Hokosawa were also victims of attacks (1994), as well as the deputy prime minister Shin Kanemaru (1992), who managed to survive.

In any case, although political violence in Japan is relatively uncommon today, there have been particularly turbulent periods in the country’s contemporary history. From this perspective, the historian Manuel de Moya Martínez highlights two specific moments: the Meiji era (1868-1912) and the years around 1930.

“Today’s Japan is very different from the last third of the 19th century or the Japan of the 1930s,” explains the historian to BBC Mundo. “In the first case, it can be said that the transition from the feudal system to the modern State that the government implemented was not something simple. After the so-called Meiji restoration (1868), many sectors did not agree with the path that the country was taking and violently opposed it. But after a few turbulent years, the administration prevailed and managed to establish a new political system that was in force for decades.

The Spanish historian indicates that later, during the Taishō era (1912-1926), a liberal democracy was established in the countrybut that it could not or did not know how to provide solutions to the problems that arose, so the system went into crisis.

“Japan in the 1930s was dragging the effects of economic crisis of 1929, whose consequences were felt both politically and socially. This was a process analogous to what happened in many European countries during those years”, says the expert. He explains that in those years the civil power had to deal with a military power that began to be very unruly.

Police direct pedestrians and vehicles near the spot where former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot while delivering a speech in Nara, Japan, Friday, July 8, 2022. Abe's murder has caused shock in a country whose control laws of weapons are among the strictest in the world.  (Kyodo News via AP)
Police direct pedestrians and vehicles near the spot where former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot while delivering a speech in Nara, Japan, Friday, July 8, 2022. Abe’s murder has caused shock in a country whose control laws of weapons are among the strictest in the world. (Kyodo News via AP)

“The military enjoyed great autonomy since the Meiji era (1868-1912), but in that context many officers began to advocate taking the reins of the country themselves. Y within the Armed Forces some clandestine groups began to use terrorism as an instrument of subversion in order to aggravate the crisis of the political system and facilitate this path”, said De Moya Martínez.

He added that, paradoxically, these murders and violence gave justification to the extremists who promised to return social peace to the streets.

In those years, Prime Minister Osachi Hamaguchi was assassinatedwho initially survived injuries inflicted on him by a far-right militant in 1930, but died nine months later due to an infection in unhealed wounds.

A year later, in 1932, Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai was assassinated., who was killed by a group of Navy officers while in the government residence in Tokyo. This event is considered a watershed in the history of Japan.

“Traditionally his murder (and all the background that had what became known as ‘May 15 Incident’) has been considered the event that came to signify the end of liberal democracy in Japan and the beginning of the militaristic period that preceded the Second World War”, affirmed Manuel De Moya Martínez. He clarified, however, that this event cannot be reduced to a single fact, but rather it is a set of interconnected events.

“In the months leading up to Inukai’s assassination there were a number of senior officials who were assassinated. All this took place in the context that followed the economic crash of 1929 and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 ″, he points out.

Prior to this period, there were other leaders who died in attacks What Hirobumi Itōwho was assassinated by a Korean nationalist at a train station in 1909, or Hara Takashiwho fatally stabbed also at a train station in 1921, tipped by a railway employee far right.

A makeshift mausoleum honoring former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe near the Nara crime scene
A makeshift mausoleum honoring former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe near the Nara crime sceneêÖñÏózâÓ – Kyodo News

But, how has it been possible that with this record Japan has managed to decouple its image from political violence? De Moya Martínez indicates that after the Japanese defeat in World War II, the country experienced an economic boom and political stability that in part contributed to move away certain dynamics of the past.

“Those who in the 1930s had advocated violent actions against the political system came out very discredited with the defeat of 1945. Although in the last 70 years there have been assassinations and attacksuntil now these have constituted more of an exception within a dynamic of stability that has prevailed”, concluded the historian.

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