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Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008

Tamogami essay fits 'outrageous' conspiracy theory mold

Staff writer

As a board member of The Academy of Outrageous Books, Shunichi Karasawa sees parallels between the controversial essay written by sacked Air Self-Defense Force chief Toshio Tamogami, an apologist for Japan's wartime aggression, and classic "outrageous" conspiracy theories.

News photo
Anticonspiracy theorist: Pictured in his office in 2006, Shunichi Karasawa warns of the proliferation of "outrageous" theories like those espoused by former Air Self-Defense Force chief Toshio Tamogami. COURTESY OF SHUNICHI KARASAWA

A prominent commentator on "otaku" (geek) culture, Karasawa is also a columnist, radio and television celebrity, and book reviewer for the Asahi Shimbun.

Commenting on the Tamogami case, Karasawa notes that people who are tired of other nations criticizing Japan over its wartime past easily swallow the ideas of "outrageous" conspiracy theorists who give them simplified answers to a complicated issue.

"A majority of 'outrageous' theorists attempt to grab the attention of readers by oversimplifying matters," Karasawa said, explaining that science and politics have become increasingly complex over the years, alienating a public that might otherwise take part in the general debate.

"This sense of alienation nurtures resentment, and increases desire for a simple, understandable solution to issues," Karasawa continued, noting this is what "outrageous" theorists bank on.

Tamogami was ousted after winning an essay contest with an entry that argued Japan was not an aggressor in the war and that its past colonial rule was justified. His main arguments were:

• Japan was a victim, drawn into the Sino-Japanese War by the Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek.

• The Nationalists, in turn, were manipulated by the Soviet-controlled agency known as the Comintern.

• Japan was tricked by the United States into attacking Pearl Harbor.

Karasawa said that, for example, an organization like the Comintern — which no longer exists — provides a perfect villain for a conspiracy theory since facts can no longer be verified under the dust of history.

"They can patch together whatever data that might suit them and present them as a valid theory," Karasawa said, noting much of the literature cited in the Tamogami essay had been penned by people who write on similar subjects and cite each other's work regularly.

"Tamogami can cite these references without proper verification to easily support his point," Karasawa said. "He has intentionally neglected the fact that most of these authors' claims fall short of proper academic recognition. This is typical 'outrageous' behavior."

Regarding the vocal support for Tamogami's views that is rampant on the Internet, Karasawa pointed to a generation that he claims harbors resentment for years of dependence on the U.S. and outsiders' incessant criticism of Japan's wartime history, and those who are feeling increasingly anxious about the erosion of Japan's economic growth model.

Tamogami's simplistic theory justifying Japan's past conduct is appealing to such a segment of the population, Karasawa said.

To resist such "outrageous" theories, Karasawa stressed that "experts in various fields need to improve their efforts to present their knowledge to the public clearly and accurately."

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