Ousted Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami’s war essay justifying Japan’s aggression in China and colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula has stirred controversy both at home and abroad. More is in store as he is set to give unsworn testimony Tuesday in the Upper House.
Historians have lambasted his essay, saying it is full of fundamental factual errors.
But what exactly does Tamogami argue in his essay, and what are the errors? And why do similar arguments never die? Following are some basic questions and answers:
What does Tamogami argue in his essay?
The main points:
• Japan was never an “aggressor nation.” The army advanced into China and what is now South Korea because Japan stationed its military in those areas based on accords and treaties, and Japan was “a victim” that was “drawn into the Sino-Japanese War” with repeated terrorist acts and provocations by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government.
• The Nationalists were being manipulated by the Comintern, an international communist organization led by the Soviet Union. The Comintern was trying to have Japan and the Nationalists fight each other and thereby give Mao Zedong’s Communist Party control of mainland China.
• Japan was also “ensnared in a trap that was very carefully laid by the United States” to force it to launch the Pacific War, and a Soviet spy played a key role in prompting President Franklin Roosevelt to take a tough stance against Japan to provoke war.
What are some of the factual errors in Tamogami’s argument?
Ikuhiko Hata, a professor emeritus at Nihon University in Tokyo and a noted expert of modern Japanese history, said the essay “is of extremely low quality” and “even a high school student” can easily point out its mistakes.
For example, Japan sent in troops and sparked the Manchurian Incident in 1931, leading to the establishment of the puppet state Manchukuo, and launched full-scale war in China in 1937, all without any accords or treaties with China, Hata pointed out.
Also, few historians take seriously Tamogami’s conspiracy theory of the Comintern’s key influence over the Nationalists and U.S. leaders.
Tamogami’s essay claims that declassified U.S. government documents prove that Harry White, a senior U.S. Treasury official, was a Soviet spy and he “is said to have been the perpetrator” who wrote the draft of the Nov. 26, 1941, note given to Japan by U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull.
Tamogami said Japan decided to go to war with America after seeing the tough U.S. demands in the Hull note. Tamogami thus claims it was White who manipulated the U.S. to “draw our country into a war with the U.S.”
But according to Hata, Roosevelt made the decision to take a tough stance against Japan, although he may have used as references policy proposals from the departments of State and Treasury.
The allegation that White prompted Roosevelt to get tough with Japan is groundless, Hata said.
Do many conservative leaders share Tamogami’s views?
Few would share Tamogami’s conspiracy theory of the Comintern’s involvement or would be willing to defend the obvious factual errors in his essay.
But some conservative intellectuals and politicians, as evidenced by various gaffes in the past, may sympathize with Tamogami’s position over Japan’s colonization of Manchuria, and its rule over the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan, as well as his claim that Japan should not be singled out as the only “aggressor nation.”
Tamogami wrote that unlike Western powers which had colonized other areas, Japan ruled Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan peacefully, developing their economies and improving their living standards.
Japan also provided education to people in those areas, even setting up major universities.
Tamogami argues that if Japan should be labeled as “an aggressor nation,” all of the Western countries that were colonial powers should be described in the same way.
“There is no reason to single out Japan as an aggressor nation,” Tamogami argues in his essay.
Is Tamogami’s argument on Japan’s colonial policy true?
It reflects only some aspects of Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, Manchukuo and Taiwan. It is true Japan invested a considerable amount in the infrastructure of the three colonies and tried to develop their economies.
That policy was particularly successful in Taiwan during the 1895-1945 colonial rule and even laid the foundation of Taiwan’s rapid economic growth in the postwar years.
For example, according to Kiyoshi Ito, a Taiwan-born historian, railways in Taiwan were extended from 100 to 600 km by 1917, rice production was doubled and exports increased 9.8 times.
A fact-finding mission sent by the Nationalists was greatly impressed with Taiwan’s economic development under Japan’s rule and gave it “unstinted praise” in a report published in 1937, Ito pointed out in his 1993 book “Taiwan.”
Japan’s colonial policy, however, was largely aimed to help the economy at home, and Japan later further exploited the colonies’ economies to help it continue the fight in China and against the Allies.
In Korea, Japan forced locals to adopt Japanese family names and worship Shinto, while limiting Korean-language education, which all gave rise to strong anti-Japanese sentiment.
Japan in addition inflicted devastating economic damage on China and other parts of Asia in the 1930s and ’40s.
Is Tamogami the first to make such comments?
The essay is merely another installment of skewed perceptions of the war held by some leading figures. Cabinet members make blunt comments every now and then, including in May 1994, when then Justice Minister Shigeto Nagano openly challenged Japan’s atrocities in China.
“The Nanjing Massacre was a fabrication,” he said in an interview before being driven to resign.
Nagano, who served as chief of the Ground Self-Defense Force before turning to politics, was known for his support for deleting references to wartime sex slaves, known euphemistically in Japan as “comfort women,” from school textbooks.
Where did Tamogami get the ideas for his essay?
At a news conference last week after his retirement, Tamogami told reporters his essay was not his own creation but “an opinion formed after reading books by other experts.”
Deliberations in the Diet since the incident have elucidated controversial practices within the SDF, including ultraconservative lectures for officer education.
A textbook used at the Command and Staff Course of the Maritime Self-Defense Force says the Japanese people “lost their confidence because of losing the war,” and that showing patriotism has not only been forbidden but is a taboo that “enslaves people to low consciousness.”
Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada acknowledged during Diet committee deliberations that use of that textbook is “extremely incompatible.”
Do scholars back Tamogami’s view?
Tadasu Kumagai, a military analyst and former ASDF officer, said Tamogami may have caused a frenzy because of his status, but the essay itself is not completely inaccurate. Tamogami should have taken a more academic approach to prove his points instead of quoting publications by others, he said.
In backing the content of the essay, Kumagai was critical of the International Tribunal for the Far East, which Tamogami claimed to be a source of “mind control” over the Japanese people.
“It would be misleading to say that the trials were one-sided,” Kumagai said, but added that in reality they were held under the complete management of the Allied forces and the rulings were spread among Japanese people as genuine, without any counteractions.