Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed no remorse for Japan’s past military aggression in Asia and failed to pledge to never again wage war Thursday when the nation marked the 68th anniversary of its surrender in World War II, underscoring his revisionist views on history and push to amend the pacifist Constitution.
Every prime minister since the Socialist Tomiichi Murayama in 1994, including Abe himself during his first stint as leader in 2007, had expressed “profound remorse” and “sincere mourning” for the suffering inflicted by the Imperial Japanese military at the annual Aug. 15 ceremony to commemorate the war dead. In 2007, Abe had also renewed his predecessors’ pledge never to go to war again.
But this year Abe stopped short of including those words in his memorial speech for the 3.1 million war dead, including the 2.3 million fighting for Japan who died in the war and 800,000 civilians who were killed by air raids, including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“We will carve out the future of this country as one full of hope, as we face history with humility and engrave deeply into our hearts the lessons that we should learn,” Abe told some 5,000 relatives of the war dead gathered at the service at the Nippon Budokan Hall. “We will make contributions to lasting world peace to the greatest possible extent and spare no effort in working to bring about a world in which all people are able to live enriched lives.”
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, as well as about 100 Diet members and Cabinet ministers, also attended the ceremony, which was held near war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward.
Class-A war criminals, including Imperial army Gen. Hideki Tojo, who as prime minister authorized the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, are among those enshrined at Yasukuni.
Abe’s speech is sure to anger China and South Korea, and raise the alarm within a global community concerned about his revisionist views.
In late April, Abe told the Diet he did not uphold all of Murayama’s 1995 statement, which acknowledged that Japan had waged wars of aggression. Aggression, Abe claimed, could be judged differently depending on the side you are on. Later, he added that its interpretation should be left up to scholars.
Abe’s efforts to amend the Constitution and allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense have provoked China and South Korea, who see such moves as a sign of Japan’s remilitarization.
Not all who survived the war or lost loved ones in it are sympathetic to Abe’s views.
“Wars are gruesome and cruel. I do not want anybody to have to go through the sorrow and predicament that we experienced,” Michiko Toya, 92, said in a speech. Toya’s husband was killed off Amami Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture five months before Japan capitulated.
Emperor Akihito, whose father, Hirohito, was the head of state during the war, said Japan should never wage war again.
“I hope that the devastation brought by wars will never be repeated and I express my deepest condolences to those who died in the war,” he said.
Yet, as time passes and those who lived through the war die off, Japan faces the challenge of keeping alive their memories of the horrendous personal and national losses.
About 70 percent of the relatives at Thursday’s memorial were over 70 years old. Only 16 women whose husbands died in the war were on hand, the fewest since the government started keeping track in 1981. Two-thirds of the kin were children and grandchildren of the deceased.