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Dealing with Historical Issues in Japan and Germany: Ruling Coalitions, Transnational Activism, and Conservative Reaction Open Access

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When and why does a perpetrator state take a more penitent stance on its past injustices? This dissertation explores the variations in Japan's and Germany's choice of history policy, mainly through the comparative study of common historical issues--sexual slavery, forced labor, and biased history textbooks. I test and compare two competing approaches to explain the variance in the two states' behavior toward these historical problems. A realist approach argues that geopolitical incentives are the driving force behind a state's penitence regarding past transgressions. A transnational-coalitional approach--newly combined for this study--posits that a perpetrator state will adopt more penitent attitudes toward its past wrongs when transnational activism is powerful and the state is led by a progressive ruling coalition. The case studies show that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive but complementary despite the relative strength of transnational-coalitional approach. The effect of transnational activism is heightened when the target state is faced with other geopolitical incentives and/or when the target state is led by a progressive ruling coalition. The Japanese state, for example, responded to the transnational comfort women movement in a somewhat conciliatory manner between 1993 and 1995 when building better ties with Asia was in its security interest and a liberal, non-LDP coalition briefly took power. Similarly, the German state took a more conciliatory stance on the forced labor issue when the progressive SPD/Green Party led a coalition government and German business interests were at stake in the U.S. market during the late 1990s. The transnational German-Polish History Textbook Commission played a key role in improving the German historical narrative and its textbook policy regarding Poland, particularly as the progressive SPD-FDP coalition supported the Commission and such action was very much in keeping with German security interests during the 1970s. In the 2000s, on the other hand, transnational activism regarding history textbooks had a limited impact on the Japanese historical narrative and its textbook policy given, in large part, the strengthened U.S.-Japan security alliance and the conservative governing coalition led by the LDP.

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