“They were remarks made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. But since then we have welcomed in the 21st century. I want to make a declaration for the Abe Cabinet that is appropriate for the 21st century, one that is oriented toward the future.”
Thus did Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put forth his stance on 1995’s so-called Murayama Danwa (Murayama Remarks) — which he is evidently set on fundamentally altering — in an interview published in the conservative Sankei Shimbun daily newspaper on Dec. 31, 2012.
Before I go into the significance of Abe’s statement — and just how monumental a departure it signals from the accepted norms of Japanese policy — a little background.
On Aug. 15, 1995, the 50th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, Tomiichi Murayama, prime minister between June 1994 and Jan. 1996, and head of the then Japan Socialist Party, unequivocally apologized for Japan’s “aggression (that) caused immense damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to people in Asian countries.”
He did not stop there, going on to call these “the irrefutable facts of history” and offering his “heartfelt apology.”
For years following this declaration, made on the basis of a Cabinet decision, all subsequent prime ministers have endorsed it.
In Jan. 1996, speaking in the Diet, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto reaffirmed the significance of the declaration.
Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, again in the Diet, stated in Aug. 1998 his intention to base Japan’s Asian diplomacy on it.
His successor, Yoshiro Mori, said in Nov. 2000, “The declaration of Murayama’s Cabinet made by the prime minister in 1995 is the official view of the government on this issue of the country’s past.”
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, speaking on Aug. 15, 2005, issued his own remarks reaffirming this as being government policy.
When Abe was prime minister from Sept. 2006 until Aug. 2007, he was careful not to alter the status quo, though he has expressed “extreme bitterness” at having been restrained from visiting Yasukuni Shrine when in office. Official visits to the central Tokyo shrine are considered, especially in China and Korea, as condoning wartime aggression.
“Is there any place a Japanese prime minister cannot go to in Japan?” Abe has disingenuously asked.
All prime ministers since then, including Taro Aso and Yasuo Fukuda, have stood by the 1995 apology, which has been accepted by the people of Japan as the authentic and proper expression of the nation’s remorse and guilt.
By all rights, Japan should have been able to put those awful pages of its history behind it. But now, in a gesture of prime ministerial defiance, Abe has reopened the black book.
Last month, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi publicly praised Italy’s fascist leader Benito Mussolini (on Holocaust Memorial Day!). Russian President Vladimir Putin has had kind words for Joseph Stalin, a brutal dictator whose decisions led to the deaths of millions of innocent people.
Abe’s remarks on rethinking the role of Japan in World War II must be seen in this light. They comprise what might be called “The Traffic Agenda”: Yield to the right — the extreme right.
To add the insult of the brothel owner to the injury of the soldier running amok, the prime minister has also denied government involvement in the procurement and confinement of sex slaves during the war, a majority of whom were Chinese and Korean.
Speaking with other candidates in the runup to last December’s election, Abe expressed his disbelief in the existence of such practices. He has called for a review of the so-called Kono Danwa (Kono Remarks).
The Kono Remarks refer to a declaration made by Yohei Kono on Aug. 4, 1993, when he was Chief Cabinet Secretary. He stated then that women from the Korean Peninsula and other places were “forced into” sex slavery by the Japanese military, and he expressed his “deep regret.”
Those remarks were made on the basis of an official government probe into sex slavery that lasted nearly two years. The Diet had compiled a large number of files documenting the record of sex slavery as Japanese military policy.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs openly admits that “comfort stations” — to use the euphemism employed in Japan to soften the impact of the deed — “were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day … and (the women) lived in misery … under a coercive atmosphere.” Despite this, and despite the fact that these facts have enjoyed a broad nonpartisan consensus, Abe is in proud denial.
The prime minister acknowledges that this has become a diplomatic issue with Korea “whether it is true or not”; and he asked, during that televised candidate debate in December, that “journalists be more careful” about what they write on the subject.
This admonishment came as a result of the publication of two books by former Imperial Army soldier Seiji Yoshida.
In those books, published in 1977 and 1983, Yoshida revealed his role in kidnapping women to be used as sex slaves. He said that he had been director of mobilization of the women while stationed in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Both books gained wide currency in Japan, and were translated into Korean.
Actually, there was no truth to his “confessions,” which he had confabulated for the sake of sensation. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper, however, had given a good deal of publicity to the issue in condemning the Imperial Army’s wartime crimes.
This made it all the more difficult for historians who could demonstrate those crimes to convince the public — and all the easier for deniers such as Abe to oppose the revelation of truth.
In addition, Abe is aware that the Kono Remarks were not made as a result of a Cabinet decision, but rather only as a statement issued by a senior official; and this makes them a vulnerable target for refutation. A decision by the Abe Cabinet would be a simple and swift way to overturn them without bringing the issue before the people for debate.
Abe’s positions on Japan’s wartime aggression and the military procurement and confinement of sex slaves are a radical departure from political and diplomatic norms established in postwar Japan — and they should be recognized as such by the Japanese people, as well as by people around the world.
There is a Russian saying which goes like this: “Some countries have an unpredictable future. Russia has an unpredictable past.”
Japan is rapidly acquiring a newly fashioned past of its own. Thanks to the provocative statements of the present prime minister as he panders shamelessly to the revanchists of the right wing, Japan’s past is becoming highly unpredictable, taking with it the future security and integrity of the nation.