By now, we should all be familiar with the antitraditionalist left’s attempt to erase all traces of opposition to the liberal world order.  Over the past decade or so, for example, the antitraditionalists have succeeded brilliantly in demolishing the understanding of marriage that has persisted in every civilized society since the dawn of recorded history.  Those who refuse to accede to this application of John Stuart Mill’s liberalism to the human person have now been so vilified and demonized that defending the obvious complementarity of the sexes in public is enough to get you fired from even a Catholic university, as Prof. John McAdams found out recently at Marquette.  Having found oneself on the wrong side of history (according to the antitraditionalists’ map), one is not suffered to remain in limbo, making irritable mental gestures at the liberal hegemons.  One must, instead, disappear, cloaked in accusations of bigotry and eternally disqualified from having any further commerce with those on history’s progressive wavefront.

Being on the wrong side of history extends, oddly enough, into history itself.  Those who are now on the right side of history look back in self-righteous anger at the unprogressive sins of the past and demand that every indication that anyone once disagreed with totalizing liberalism, whether yesterday or centuries beforehand, be ripped up, torn down, thrown out, and buried deep.  In my native New Orleans, for example, statues of men who fought nobly for an imperfect cause are the latest pawns in the antitraditionalists’ never-ending war on memory.  Now, as during the War Between the States, the issue isn’t slavery, but the radicals have every interest in making it appear to be.  When reality has no bearing on one’s present, it quickly loses sway over the past, too.  The Confederate Battle Flag that still graces some scraps of a once-proud heritage and homeland is not offensive to the antitraditionalists because of race, but because of remonstrance: Liberalism Über Alles can and has been resisted, and that is why any hint of liberalism’s fatal vulnerability—i.e., a vibrant diversity of opinion—needs immediate excising.  For the antitraditionalists, race covers a multitude of hypocrisies.

Just as this drive to purify the world of the stain of nonliberalism extends equally throughout time, it also has no respect for boundaries of place.  (Liberals have no tolerance for their own country’s borders, so why should they show regard for anyone else’s?)  Those who are used to hearing liberals criticize others for their imperialism will not be surprised to learn, for example, that the antitraditionalists are hard at work throughout the continent of Africa.  Under the Jacobin banner of “human rights,” the White House, in a December 2011 memorandum, turned LGBT cultural imperialism into a driving priority.  According to Joshua Craddock of Personhood USA (and as detailed at Lifesite News), Nigerian Catholic bishop Emmanuel Badejo is convinced that the United States refused to help Nigeria fight Boko Haram until the Nigerians caved in to the embrace-sodomy-or-else dictates set forth in Obama’s pen-made law.

As shocking as this is, let us bear in mind that the antitraditionalist crusaders in the federal government have done much worse, and for far longer, than the latest headlines may make it seem.  In fact, one could argue that the New Dealers—the heirs of Herbert Croly and the Progressives, whose abiding goal was to wring the last vestiges of Christianity from an already deist American founding—cut their cultural imperialist teeth in earnest, not in Africa or even Europe or Latin America, but in Japan.

One of the most frequently forgotten aspects of World War II was that there was only one combatant that had not enthusiastically succumbed to the Enlightenment divorce between religion and statecraft.  Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” would have appalled St. Thomas Aquinas, but it was as dogmatically applied in Rome, Berlin, and Moscow as it was in Washington, D.C.  Japan, alone, maintained a sacralized polity, with an honest-to-goodness divine-right emperor reigning over his subjects, not as atomistic rights-bearers holding him a Lockean hostage by their begrudging “consent,” but as the human recipients of his paternalistic benevolence.  There was an actual relationship between sovereign and people in Japan, and not a tense standoff between ruler and provisionally ruled.  It was, of course, not perfect.  But to see the war from Japan’s unique perspective is to understand why atheistic modernity—whether Leninist, National Socialist, or Rooseveltian—was so threatening, and why the stakes for overcoming it were so high.

Japan’s fears of metaphysical conquest to go along with the political and military one were confirmed in the aftermath of their August 1945 defeat.  At Nuremberg, the victorious Allies clumsily tried to filter the Nazis’ unspeakable, thoroughly modern “crimes” (Is mass murder on the order of millions really just a “crime”?  Was the poverty of the Enlightenment’s moral imagination ever so ghastly on display?) through a staged processional of ad hoc and post hoc positivistic law.  After testing out this prototype in Germany, the Americans brought it to Tokyo, where, in a city still largely reduced to rubble after Curtis LeMay indiscriminately firebombed it while the Japanese sued for peace, the New Dealers sought to teach Japan, and her dead, a lesson they would never forget.

There is no objective measure by which the Japanese were the same as the National Socialists.  The cruelty of war was universal, to be sure, but the planned extermination of an entire race of people was never remotely part of the Japanese wartime project, stated or unstated.  But for the Rooseveltian cultural imperialists, merely to have stood against the juggernaut of progress was enough to condemn the antiquated Shintoists.  In many ways, Japan’s transgression was even worse than Germany’s, because the Nazis had been largely agnostics, pantheists, or just plain atheists, while the Japanese had stubbornly persisted in an actual belief in active gods and goddesses wedded immutably to their politics.  If the New Dealers were to succeed in democratizing Japan (a project with which the “conservative” Gen. Douglas MacArthur agreed, and which he enthusiastically enabled), then the thing that had to go first was religion.  Shrewdly, MacArthur chose the more politically expedient route of slicing out the Shintoist taproot and leaving the imperial stalk in place, slowly to wither away.

What the New Dealers in Japan did not foresee was that the Japanese, like every other civilized people, would continue to prefer to remember and honor their dead.  The Japanese war dead included those whom the Occupation authorities, speaking with all the gravitas that a kangaroo court would allow, had declared anathema, permanently separated from the Right Side of History, and therefore unworthy of commemoration.  The “war criminals” who had helped lead the Japanese resistance to totalizing enlightenment (and who had even dared to help form an Asian brotherhood to evict predatory mercantilists from the Philippines, Burma, Singapore, and Hong Kong) were pursued by the New Dealers, not only across the chronological border back into the past, and across geopolitical borders within a once-sovereign nation, but through the veil separating the living from the dead.  The New Dealers seriously considered tearing down Yasukuni Jinja in Chiyoda, Tokyo—the place where, like Arlington, many of those who died in their country’s wars are remembered—and putting in a dog-racing park.  No one who has defied modernity will ever be allowed to rest in peace.

Today, Japanese prime ministers and other public figures who dare to pay their respects at Yasukuni are treated to stern opprobrium from their moral betters in Washington.  (The Chinese and Korean rage that follows these Yasukuni visits is transparently ginned-up by their respective governments for domestic political purposes and can be disregarded.)  After the U.S. Civil War, Union authorities, not content with merely defeating and humiliating the South, saw fit to excise part of Robert E. Lee’s private property in order to build Arlington.  The same militant Enlightenment evangelists who burned Atlanta also burned Tokyo, and then sought to meddle with the way in which the supine enemy remembered those who died in the inferno.  What we are led to believe about those who still honor the Confederate dead as well as about those who do the same for the fallen of Japan is that anyone who would do such a thing must be any or all of the antitraditionalists’ favorite epithets: hateful, a fascist, a bigot, a racist, a hindrance to the forward roll of the endless wave of progress.

But those who have actually visited Yasukuni will know, as will those who have visited Arlington, that the opposite is true.  What I saw at Yasukuni, on all of my many visits but especially on August 15—the anniversary of the day in 1945 when Enlightenment and democracy were finally accepted by those who had survived their fiery landfall—were ordinary people, of all ages, who knew that the men (and even the military dogs, war horses, and carrier pigeons) commemorated there had died violent deaths, most of them far from home, and deserved prayer and respect.  The temporal things for which they had fought might not have been won in the instance, but they endure forever, and are always worth trying to save.  At Yasukuni, I saw people sobered by the horrors of war, grateful that others had given their lives to protect their homeland, and instinctively—just as one sees at Arlington, and indeed at cemeteries everywhere—folding their hands, and bowing their heads.