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Yasukuni gripes still dog nation

Voices from group of war dead kin want Class-A 14 out

by Reiji Yoshida

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News photo
Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward is bustling with visitors Thursday. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO
Kishimoto, one of 12 executives, wants the Shinto shrine dedicated to the nation's 2.47 war dead to strike the 14 names from its roster, hoping the moves helps mend Japan's strained relations with China and South Korea and other parts of Asia over their enshrinement.He has repeated his position that he wants the war criminals memorialized at a different venue at several recent director-level meetings.The largest group of relatives of the war dead was formed right after the war. It is a key supporter of the shrine as well as an influential backer of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.It was to this group that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledged to visit the shrine on the Aug. 15 anniversary of the war's end when he was campaigning in April 2001 to become LDP president, and hence the prime minister.Top executives of the association met Aug. 2 in Tokyo and decided to let off the hook candidates in the LDP leadership race to replace Koizumi and not discuss Yasukuni issues until after the Sept. 20 election.The war criminals "has been a taboo – everyone (in the association) avoided,” Kishimoto said.

But this all changed several years ago, when the group’s chairman, LDP House of Representative lawmaker Makoto Koga, and other association members started to speak publicly about removing the war criminals from Yasukuni, Kishimoto said.

Debate over the enshrinement has heated since Koizumi began making his contentious visits to the shrine in 2001, despite backing away from his promise to visit on Aug. 15.

Comments by Koizumi over the past two weeks have everyone guessing that he will finally make an Aug. 15 visit Tuesday.

Koga indicated on June 11, 2005, he was not happy with Koizumi’s trips to Yasukuni and asked him to be more considerate of other parts of Asia, implying the spirits could not rest in peace due to the outcry over Koizumi’s trips.

The association and Yasukuni priests have long argued that the war Japan waged in the 1930s and 1940s was in defense and that the war criminals were victims of victors’ justice, doled out by the Allied powers.

Twenty-eight men were indicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East Military Tribunal — more commonly known as the Tokyo Trials — as Class-A war criminals. Twenty-four of the political and military leaders, including Prime Minister Gen. Tojo, were found guilty of “crimes against peace,” which included counts of waging a war of aggression, and specifically waging an aggressive war against China, the United States, the British Commonwealth and the Soviet Union, as well as France and the Netherlands, through their colonies that Japan invaded.

Ten were also convicted of conventional war crimes and “crimes against humanity,” including Gen. Iwane Matsui, who was hanged for his role in the 1937 Nanjing Massacre.

In the end, seven men were hanged, 16 were sentenced to life and two were given shorter sentences. Two men died during their trials and one was determined to be psychologically unfit to stand trial.

Yasukuni Shrine decided in 1978 to enshrine 14 of the Class-A war criminals, a move that was only revealed a year later.

The relatives and conservative leaders often cite the argument put forth by academics that because the term “crimes against peace” did not exist in international law before the end of World War II, the Tokyo Trials were unfair and their judgments invalid.

Association executive Kishimoto doesn’t think the tribunals were fair, but he and many kin of the war dead want the war criminals off the roster because they want Yasukuni depoliticized so the Emperor and senior government officials can visit before the last members of the generation that lived through the war pass away, he said.

Veterans and members of their generation are disappearing, and they include a large number who have been campaigning since the 1950s for the Emperor and politicians to pay official visits to the shrine.

According to Foreign Minister Taro Aso, the number of people receiving war pensions fell to 150,000 in 2005, a 10th of their 1982 peak of 1.54 million. The median age of women whose husbands died during the war is 86.8.

Aso proposed Tuesday that Yasukuni be stripped of its Shinto affiliation and put under state control, arguing it needed rescuing from its bad financial situation because its main funding, from the next-of-kin of the war dead, is dwindling as the supporters die off.

Yasukuni “needs to be turned around to survive because it’s crystal clear the situation will only worsen,” he said.

Aso avoided the issue of whether the Class-A war criminals should be separated from a secular facility.

The visits to the shrine have garnered support and opposition from the public. In a Yomiuri Shimbun poll released Wednesday, 50 percent of respondents said Koizumi’s successor should not visit Yasukuni, while 40 percent said the trips should continue.

However, the problem with the shrine is not limited to the war criminals.

The Yushukan museum, which lies inside the precincts, takes visitors through Yasukuni’s spin on wars Japan waged from the Meiji Era forward. The displays are carefully arranged to tell the story of a nation acting in self-defense.

The museum begins by portraying Japan as desperately trying to modernize and build up its military to ward off Western colonial powers in Asia that had already victimized China through the 1840-1842 Opium War.

The displays make no mention of the war crimes committed by the Japanese military, including the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, Unit 731′s atrocities or the sexual slavery of women across Asia.

A film about Japan’s push into Asia in the 1930s and 1940s, which runs throughout the day at the museum’s theater, is narrated by a woman who claims in an emotional voice: “None of the officers and soldiers went to the battlefields for the purpose of cruelly invading and looting” other parts of Asia.

“They fought purely for the sake of their families and the state they loved.”

While that may be true for family members who lost their loved ones and earnestly want to believe they died for a sacred cause rather than a war of conquest, many see this attitude as clear evidence the shrine is continuing to glorify Japan’s military aggression.

“Yasukuni is not simply a shrine to honor the young men who fought and died for their country,” Gerald Curtis, professor of political science at Columbia University and a Japan expert, said in testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific in September.

Yasukuni honors the ideology and the policies of the government that sent these young men to war, Curtis said.

“It endorses the view that the attack on Pearl Harbor was a pre-emptive attack, taken in self-defense, and Japanese aggression in Asia was in fact a noble endeavor to liberate Asia from Western imperialism and colonialism,” he told the panel.

Koizumi has tried to distance himself from Yasukuni’s view of history. He has claimed repeatedly that he is just an ordinary person going to Yasukuni to mourn the war dead, and he does not suggest support for Yasukuni’s position on the war.

“I think many people visit to mourn the war dead, regardless of what Yasukuni Shrine is thinking,” Koizumi told a Lower House Budget Committee on June 12, 2005.

“I don’t want you to think my visits to the shrine are an indication that I support the shrine’s opinions.”

Koizumi said Japan accepted the outcome of the Tokyo tribunals and he “does not intend to say anything about it or oppose it.”

“We have accepted the tribunal. We should never wage war again. I recognize those (Class-A war criminals) as war criminals,” he said.

Critics argue that as prime minister, Koizumi cannot argue the visits are private. They say he also cannot simply dismiss the view of history openly espoused by Yasukuni.

Koizumi’s “argument (defending his Yasukuni visits) is only for (his) self-satisfaction. Class-A war criminals have been enshrined there as ‘martyrs,’ ” then Democratic Party of Japan President Katsuya Okada said during the same June 12 Diet session. “I don’t think a prime minister should go to Yasukuni.”

Profiles of 14 Class-A criminals

Of the 28 men the International Military Tribunal for the Far East indicted as Class-A war criminals, Yasukuni Shrine enshrines the 14 who were either executed or died in prison, claiming they died while on public duty related to the war.

Here are descriptions of the 12 convicted men and two who died in prison during their trials:

Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo (1884-1948)

Tojo was prime minister at the time of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. Later, he served concurrently as army minister, internal affairs minister and chief of the Army General Staff Office. He was held responsible, among other things, for the war Japan waged, for the inhumane treatment of POWs and other atrocities. He was hanged.

Gen. Kenji Doihara (1883-1948)

Known as a China expert, Doihara served as the director of the Military Intelligence Bureau in Mukuden, Machuria. He brought out Puyi, the last emperor of China’s Qing dynasty, to install him as the puppet head of Manchukuo. Hanged.

Prime Minister Koki Hirota (1878-1948)

Hirota was the only civilian sentenced to death. He was found guilty of approving the army’s advancement into China and the navy’s expansion into the Pacific Ocean. He was foreign minister during the the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, which triggered the war in China. Bert Roling, a Dutch judge on the 11-member Tokyo tribunal, said Hirota and three other civilians — including Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, also enshrined — convicted as Class-A criminals were innocent.

Gen. Seishiro Itagaki (1885-1948)

Itagaki was a key military planner in the occupation of Manchuria and establishment of the puppet state Manchukuo. He later helped expanded the offensive into China. He was hanged.

Gen. Heitaro Kimura (1888-1948)

The least-known figure among the 14, he became vice army minister in 1941 and commander of the Burma Area Army in 1944. He was hanged.

Lt. Gen. Akira Muto (1892-1948)

Muto strongly advocated expanding the fighting with China after the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident. He was chief of the Military Affairs Bureau at the time of Pearl Harbor. He was hanged.

Gen. Iwane Matsui (1878-1948)

Matsui was commanding officer of the expeditionary force responsible for the Nanjing Massacre in 1937. He was found guilty and hanged for his role in the atrocity.

Prime Minister Gen. Kuniaki Koiso (1880-1950)

Koiso was chief of staff of the Kwantung Army and governor general of Korea before he replaced Tojo as prime minister in 1944. Sentenced to life in prison, he became sick and died.

Prime Minister Kiichiro Hiranuma (1867-1952)

Hiranuma was a prominent rightist. After serving in key judicial posts, he became prime minister in 1939. Sentenced to life, he was paroled in 1951 and died of natural causes.

Ambassador to Italy Toshio Shiratori (1887-1949)

Closely working with Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka, Shiratori helped conclude the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1940. Sentenced to life, he became sick and died in prison.

Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu (1882-1949)

Umezu was the last chief of the Army General Staff Office, and signed the formal surrender to the Allies on the battleship USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945. He was sentenced to life in prison, where he died of cancer.

Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo (1882-1950)

Togo served as foreign minister twice — during the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack and when Japan surrendered in 1945. He led efforts to accept the Potsdam Declaration and end the war, resisting pressure from the military to continue fighting. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, where he died of an illness.

Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka (1880-1946)

As chief delegate to the League of Nations, Matsuoka declared Japan’s secession from the international body in protest of the league’s resolution in 1933 denouncing Japan’s turning Manchuria into Manchukuo. As foreign minister, he negotiated the Tripartite Pact in 1940. He died of an illness during his trial.

Adm. Osami Nagano (1880-1947)

Nagano was chief of Naval General Staff Office at the time Pearl Harbor was attacked. He died of an illness during his trial.