Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hashima, Yawata Steel: enshrining slave labor in UNESCO World Heritage List?

This year again, Japanese revisionists are pushing the candidacies of highly controversial industrial sites to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list: the island of Hashima (Nagasaki-ken) and Yahata Steel Works (aka Yawata Steel Works, Fukuoka-ken) are both intimately associated to forced labor under Imperial Japan rule.


'Nagasaki shipyard among old industrial sites named for World Heritage list' (The Japan Times 20130827)

This year, the provocation looks even more outrageous: the Prime Minister (Shinzo Abe) is the grandson of the war criminal in charge of forced labor in Hideki Tojo's cabinet (Nobosuke Kishi), and the Deputy Prime Minister (Taro Aso) and his family still have links to his father's company, Aso Mining company, then a massive 'consumer' of slaves.

My position hasn't changed since last October, when I mentioned the Hashima case under similar circumstances (see "Dokdo, Senkaku, Ieodo, Kuril,... Hashima?"): sites like Hashima cannot be listed, except as symbols of forced labor, for the world to remember past war crimes.

Again, that's not what people like Shinzo Abe or Taro Aso have in mind: they want to discreetly enshrine war crimes in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, the way their predecessors discreetly enshrined war criminals in Yasukuni Shrine or Mount Sangane Cemetery**.

I can't help but feel nauseous when I read the submission in the tentative list ("The Modern Industrial Heritage Sites in Kyûshû and Yamaguchi" - whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5399): no, I don't consider forced labor to be the best model for "indigenous modernization" or "proactive importation of technology". And I don't think the UNESCO had in mind forced labor when it chose its first two criteria for selection: "1. to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; 2. to exhibit an important interchange of human values".

Yet I do believe in a "Justification of Outstanding Universal Value" for Hashima, and I could even accept to see it listed among UNESCO World Heritage Sites... but only to to denounce forced labor and honor the slaves who suffered and died there.

Yes, Hashima could join sites like Auschwitz-Birkenau or the Island of Goree on the list.

But no, Hashima shouldn't be remembered as a "Modern Industrial Heritage Site". We've already read these "Arbeit Macht Frei" signs.


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** the latter by none other than Abe's grandfather: "The Elusive Independence Day - When will Japan officially proclaim its Independence from Imperial Japan?"

--- UPDATE 20130828 ---
Tentative list

 

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