Telling the truth at Yasukuni

by Hisahiko Okazaki

Since last summer, I have been engaged in the process of modifying exhibits at Yasukuni Shrine’s Yushukan history museum. The project is expected to be completed in July.

My primary objective in modifying the exhibits is to protect the intellectual integrity of Yasukuni Shrine.

The principal yardstick for alterations is to remove inappropriate expressions that may be viewed as intellectually dishonest or far-fetched. Given the ever-changing international situation, I did not think it would be proper to take into consideration the opinions of certain other countries.

Controversial exhibits were modified as follows:

The Hull Note: It was factually wrong to say that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt forced Japan to go to war to lift the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression. Because this description could be taken as being mean-spirited and could cast aspersions on Yasukuni, it was removed.

The Hull Note of 1941 was, however, meant to close negotiations, so I did not raise any objection to a new quotation from the Stimson Diary, which said that all that was left after the issuance of the note would be to wait for Japan to attack.

It is a historical fact that Roosevelt induced Japan to carry out a first strike. The indication of this fact does not cast aspersions on Yasukuni Shrine’s intellectual integrity.

In his book “Diplomacy,” former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote, “Roosevelt must have been aware that there was no possibility that Japan would accept (the Hull Note). America’s participation in the war was the great achievements made through the extraordinary efforts of a great and courageous leader.”

Should Japan have not attacked the United States, “his job would have become more complicated. But in view of his ethical and strategic convictions, it was almost certain that he decided to let America participate in the war, deeming it as indispensable for the future of freedom and the safety of America.”

I agree with this interpretation. It would be more accurate to think that Roosevelt decided to let America participate in the war from a strategic and ideological perspective than to think he did so to get America out of the Depression. I therefore deemed it necessary to insert the mention of the “Quarantine Speech,” which was delivered in 1937 to that effect.

Northern China operations: The threshold of the Japan-China war was the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937. At the same time the Japanese government was trying to resolve this incident peacefully, the Guanganmen Incident and the Second Shanghai Incident took place. These events ruled out a peaceful solution and caused the local incident around Beijing to develop into an all-out war. It is a historical fact that all three incidents were the result of Chinese provocation. I will not yield on this point.

After the war, it came to light that the Imperial Japanese Army was covertly involved in such incidents as the assassination of Chinese warlord Zhang Zuolin in 1928, the Manchurian Incident in 1931 and the First Shanghai Incident in 1932 to create a pretext for Japanese military attacks. Japan’s responsibility for the outbreak of the 1937 Japan-China War, however, was not questioned even at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials.

I do not mean to blame China, however. As was the case with the U.S., China’s provocation of Japan was a response to prior actions by the Japanese Army.

Japan-China relations entered a brief period of peace after the Tanggu Truce was signed in 1933, which limited Japanese operation to the north of the Great Wall. It was the unfolding of the local Japanese force’s Northern China military operations south of the Great Wall of China that caused the war. Some Japanese military groups deployed in China ran wild. There is no doubt that these actions caused Japan to make a major mistake.

According to his memoirs, Chinese Nationalist (Kuomintang) leader Chiang Kai-shek, who tried to place emphasis on confronting Mao Zedong’s Communist forces first, was enraged by the Japanese troops’ Northern China operations.

It was true that since the Xian Incident in the beginning of 1937, Kuomintang-Communist collaboration against Japan gained momentum and resulted in a number of incidents initiated by the Chinese around the time the war started.

In the Yushukan exhibit modification process, the four Chinese characters meaning “Northern China operations,” which did not exist in the original exhibits, were inserted into the explanation to give background to the China Incident.

Regarding the so-called Nanjing Massacre, I paid serious attention to original text that depicted only events that were supported by historical facts. It would impair the intellectual integrity of Yasukuni Shrine if we added more modifications out of consideration to other countries’ responses, because doing so might simply stem from secondhand evidence and propaganda-like assertions.

Yasukuni Shrine: The effectiveness of the partial modifications of Yushukan museum’s exhibits are limited. It would be better to completely rewrite everything, however, such a project would take a long time. At present, visitors should compare the modified explanations with the original ones. Regarding the contents of new exhibits, however, I am ready to assume all responsibility. Every modification and addition does not reflect what I proposed, but at the very least has my approval.

I greatly appreciated the fact that I was able to undertake such an endeavor at Yushukan in the capacity of a common citizen. If I had been in the post of a government assistant or adviser, I couldn’t have carried out the job in such a manner. Some reporters tried to trick me by asking, “Have you reported this to the prime minister?” But I did no such thing. The prime minister is probably unaware of what I have been doing.

Nothing in the world is perfect. History allows a myriad of interpretations. The government cannot possibly be responsible for the contents of Yushukan. If there is anything wrong with the modified exhibits, I will shoulder the blame.