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The legacy of ex-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was shot to death

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Japan's former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was assassinated today while speaking at a political rally. The gunman appeared to use a homemade weapon. He's in custody. But right now the motive is still unclear. The killing of Japan's longest-serving prime minister has shocked the nation. With the slogan, Japan is back, Shinzo Abe played a key role in bringing Japan out of an era of economic stagnation and the lingering stigma of its defeat in World War II. Joining me now to talk about the legacy of Shinzo Abe is Nancy Snow, an expert in international relations who's focused on the evolution of modern Japan. Good morning, Nancy.

NANCY SNOW: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, I mean, first of all, just how shocking is this assassination when you look at the history of political violence and gun violence in Japan?

SNOW: Well, I'm shaking. And I'm not presently in Tokyo, but Tokyo's my second home, and I can't imagine how my Japanese friends must be feeling. I'm hearing from them now. I think it's going to be a shock that will linger in the national psyche. You've got to understand, we don't have a gun debate discussion over there. If you bring up guns, it is just visceral how people will react. That's not Japan.

FADEL: Yeah.

SNOW: And so to have this makeshift gun used, shot from behind, with video footage - this will take days, months, even years to really grapple with. So to talk about Abe's legacy, we now have to put it in the context of a political assassination.

FADEL: Right.

SNOW: I just can't even fathom that. I'm working on a paper now on Japan's strategic communications and public diplomacy, and Abe was - is the centerpiece of that paper...

FADEL: Let's talk about his legacy.

SNOW: ...Because he defined Japan's image...

FADEL: Yeah.

SNOW: ...In this century.

FADEL: So let's talk about that legacy, defining Japan's image of the century. How important is he in Japan's postwar national identity?

SNOW: Well, he's a huge figure because, of course, he's part of a political legacy. His grandfather was prime minister at the time of the very contested passage of the U.S.-Japan security treaty. Of course, his father, Shintaro - who gave us the namesake Abe Fellows Program, of which I was part - he was for a time the longest-serving foreign minister until Kishida. But I think that Abe really understood the importance of being part of this family and giving back to society. He was a conservative, and politically, I had a lot of critique of Abe's policies but not of the man. I admired him greatly for raising the profile of Japan in the world. He had terrific people around him, too, who still are part of now the Kishida administration, who understand that Japan has to take on a larger leadership role.

The big issue for Abe was that - trying to look at the Japan's constitution and update it, and there was debate ongoing. But he was out there on the stump, advocating for his candidates. And you can see in the footage, of course, he was very vulnerable. There was some security. But I know from going to conferences that a lot of these leaders, they are accessible because we just don't think that this type of violent action will take place. Now we can never take that for granted again, which I believe will make Japan forever changed.

FADEL: Yeah. Nancy Snow, an expert in international relations who's focused on the evolution of modern Japan. Thank you so much for joining us.

SNOW: You're welcome, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.