Whatever happened to the principle that everyone must forgive and forget if they are to merit mercy themselves and because hatred hurts the hater the most?
There's room for wondering in view of the often hardhearted response to the remarkable apology this week by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama for Japan's brutality in World War II.His statement was obviously as sincere as an apology can be and was far more forthright than the remarks of any previous Japanese prime minister on the subject of the country's obvious culpability.
Yet the common reaction has been to focus not on this welcome breakthrough but on its tardiness, on the lack of similar candor on the part of the Japanese parliament and on demands that the apology be accompanied by compensation.
This despite the fact that half a century has passed, Japan suffered a painful and ignominious defeat, and most of the Japanese living today were not even born at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March in the Philippines, the forced prostitution of conquered Asian women and the use of Asian men as slave laborers.
The Japan of today is not the Japan of 50 years ago and ought to be treated as the peaceful, generally responsible member of the international community that it now is.
Impoverished and demoralized at the end of World War II, Japan has become one of the most prosperous countries in the world through the dint of unremittingly hard work. And it has become one of the most generous countries. Besides being the world's largest creditor nation, Japan is also the biggest foreign aid donor. Within Japan, its wealth is distributed more evenly than is the case in the United States or most other nations. The resulting social harmony gives Japan the lowest crime rate of any developed country.
No one, of course, can change the past; the challenge is to learn from it. Japan seems to have done just that. Others need to learn a lesson, too - starting with the fact that there is no such thing as collective guilt, just as there is no such thing as collective innocence. At this point, Japan's former foes need to be just as warm and sincere in accepting Murayama's apology as the prime minister was in offering it.