Flat White

The Brownshirts have gone digital and they’ve cancelled Grandpa

6 March 2021

6:34 PM

6 March 2021

6:34 PM

The Brownshirts are back and this time they’re digital, best exemplified on 18 February when 22-year-old student activist Momoko Nojo took to Zoom to brag to the world about getting the 83-year-old Japanese politician Yoshiro Mori cancelled. Earlier that month, as the then President of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), Mori had expressed the opinion that women talk too much in meetings. Highly offended, Nojo promptly started an online campaign calling for Mori’s resignation as President of JOC, complete with the hashtag #DontBeSilent and a petition that gained over 150,000 signatures.

Despite being a recipient of the Grand Officier Légion d’Honneur in 2010 and a former Prime Minister of Japan, Mori was unable to fend off the digital mob, resigning as President of JOC on 12 February. Empowered by the phones that their parents probably paid for, Generation Z effectively ended a career in politics and sports advocacy that spanned more than 50 years. The treatment Mori was subjected to was cruel, intolerant and disproportionate to the perceived crime.

Cancel culture is about depersonalisation, therefore the best way to fight it is to do the opposite, to re-person. After being cancelled, there is virtually no right of reply for the hunted, perhaps even more so in Mori’s case, as he is coming late to this new type of warfare, which is asymmetrical from the start. Slogans are the weapon of choice, not full sentences.

Despite a lifetime of public service, a significant number of people throughout the world today only know Yoshiro Mori via the #DontBeSilent campaign. Digital history was re-written by the victors in real time, a plethora of articles and tweets went viral alleging Mori was sexist; not a single one bothered to mention the man was a recipient of the Légion d’Honneur. 

Let’s take a pregnant pause to re-person this man, as, unlike his opponents, he wasn’t born virtually yesterday and has had a long and remarkable career. As a politician, Mori is famous for being a key player in two seemingly unrelated fields, rugby and Russo-Japanese diplomacy. He famously compared politics to his beloved game, which he has advocated for his whole life, saying ‘In rugby, one person doesn’t become a star, one person plays for all, and all play for one.’  

Mori’s political career began in 1969, when he was elected to the Japanese House of Representatives as a member of the Liberal Democrat Party of Japan. Remarkably, Mori was re-elected for the next ten consecutive elections, during which time he was prime minister from 2000 to 2001. A father of two, he will be celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary this year with wife Chieko Maki and is the proud recipient of the Golden Pheasant Award, the highest distinction given by the Scout Association of Japan. Mori has also received the Padma Bhushan award from India, the Order of Diplomatic Service Merit from South Korea, the Order of Brilliant Star from the Republic of China and Russia’s Medal ‘In Commemoration of the 300th Anniversary of Saint Petersburg’. No wonder Mori was tapped to preside over the Olympics, he already knows everyone. Aren’t we all enriched and grateful that Ms Nojo, a fourth-year economics student, stepped in and cancelled him? 

L. P. Hartley wrote, ‘The past is a different country, they do things differently there.’ This witch-hunt had undertones of a generational war to it. Mori contributing his two cents on the war between the sexes during the JOC meeting wasn’t appropriate. However, we’ve all heard our grandfathers mutter the exact same thing; it is a common grievance expressed by husbands the world over. Every man alive could be subject to cancellation under the same hashtag.

Different generations will often have a different sense of what is appropriate, making neither Mori nor Ms Nojo wrong, as they are ‘living in different countries’. Mori might have assumed his comments would be taken with that old forgotten vestige of the 20th century; a sense of humour. This war of the generations is as old as Socrates, who famously lamented in ancient Athens that ‘Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households.’ 

Perhaps it shouldn’t be all that surprising that the spirit of the Brownshirts lay dormant until now. The digital age does provide the best means in human history to publicly flog and de-person individuals. The Tik Tok generation has the power to make its predecessors look like amateurs when it comes to the fine art of destroying reputations and careers. Mao’s cultural revolution was bad enough, imagine if #CultureRevolution had been trending back then.

Where has our kindness, diversity of thought and respect for our elders gone? Our grandparents are, well, grandparents and they will always be saying things that their grandchildren cringe at, just as their grandchildren will make similarly cringeworthy statements in future years. No generation has a monopoly on putting their foot in their mouths. Allowing youth to cancel their grandparents is a tragedy that shames us all. 

Mori is from a pre-digital generation that didn’t go in for mindless virtue-signalling because they were raised to believe that actions speak louder than words. Unlike Ms Nojo, Mori has lived a long and productive life and he has proven himself. We’ve all been in Ms Nojo’s youthful shoes where we think we know better than anyone else. Ms Nojo would be well advised to pause and consider that we are all imperfect humans and influenced by the country our particular generation resides in. In 2081, Ms Nojo’s grandchildren are just as likely to feel angry and roll their eyes when Grandma Nojo is in a cancelling mode. Is it too much to ask that this generation of purists give the same consideration to Mori that they will one day seek for themselves?

Emma McCaul is a Spectator Australia Thawley Essay Prize winner.

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