Mr. Abe’s mistaken war speech

In his memorial speech Thursday for Japan’s 3.1 million war dead on the occasion of the 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allied Powers in World War II, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed to express remorse over the suffering that Japan’s past military aggression inflicted on many peoples, especially those in Asian countries. He also failed to pledge to never again wage war.

This omission, which contravenes a tradition begun with Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s end-of-the-war speech in 1994 and continued by Mr. Abe himself during his first stint as prime minister in 2007, is deplorable. It is an affront to the Constitution’s no-war principle based on the resolve “that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government.” It also represents hubris on the part of Mr. Abe as a leader of a nation that suffered a crushing defeat after causing tremendous damage and pain not only to peoples of other countries but to its own citizens as well.

Mr. Abe’s revisionist views of Japan’s modern history will only deepen the international community’s suspicions about Japan’s future direction. If his aggressive defense policy goals are implemented, they could lead to Japan’s diplomatic isolation.

In his Aug. 15 speech, Mr. Abe said, “The peace and prosperity that we now enjoy have been built upon the sacrifices of you who gave up your precious lives while thinking of your beloved children and wives, praying for the happiness of the mothers and fathers you left behind, and wishing that the mountains and riversides of your hometowns would be lush with greenery. We will never forget this, even for a moment.” His speech, filled with patriotic platitudes, completely ignores the roles played by Japan’s militaristic leaders in the 1930s and ’40s, who pushed Japan along the road to war and nearly destroyed the nation in the end. Japan’s present prosperity was built by its peaceful postwar policies, not by its brutal wars.

Japan’s leaders, nearly all of whom have not experienced war, must carefully listen to the words of historian Mr. Tadatoshi Fujii, who studied how conscripts felt, what they thought and how they behaved during the 1937-45 conflict in China and the Pacific: “Enlisted men in most cases had jobs and wives and children, and were separated from their communities by legal force and had a different view or perspective on life from that of officers.”

Mr. Abe and other leaders must squarely look at the suffering that Japan’s wars brought to other peoples in Asia and the Pacific, the sufferings of Japanese soldiers who died miserable deaths through hunger or disease or who were sentenced to death by Japanese military tribunals for desertion, and the sufferings of ordinary citizens killed in U.S. air raids. People should carefully consider the realities of war that Mr. Abe’s discourse hides.

On Thursday, three members of the Abe Cabinet and 102 Diet members visited Yasukuni Shrine and Mr. Abe sent a proxy. The shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, served as an important ideological apparatus for Japan’s militarism that mobilized the nation’s citizens for war, and maintains its hawkish outlook even today. It is not the proper place for Japan’s leaders and ordinary citizens to pray for the victims of World War II every Aug. 15.

  • Jay Wilson

    Why should Japan keep apologising for the war 60 years after it ended? They;ve already apologised many times

    • Simon Foston

      For every politician that makes an apology there’s at least one other who says there’s actually nothing to apologise for and demands that the apology be retracted. It makes the apologies sound somewhat insincere.

  • Toolonggone

    He’s not the one to feel any remorse to +3.1 million souls of Japanese who lost their lives in wartime. The government, and the late emperor, did not make an official apology to them for brutal gag orders and reckless moral codes/discipline in wartime. Rather, national authorities at the time even accused citizens of their inability to defend the country through ‘ultimate’ sacrifice. Why does he bother to change his mind by expressing remorse to Japan citizens in this context?

  • Osaka_Doug

    My friend, who was born in Japan, always apologizes for the suffering his former countrymen imposed on their country, when he meets new people traveling who have relatives that were affected by the war. At first I thought bringing up the past was not necessary, but the people are truly touched by the comment. The recognition of the issue seems to be very important to and the friendships created are true. In Japan I feel people think of mistakes as an embarrassment, not to talk about, which is what Abe may feel?, but the modern world views a mistake as a learning experience. The world just wants Japan, its government, and citizens of today to recognize the mistake of war, just as Germany does today. Japan needs more international minded leaders……..and sadly Abe is missing this point.

  • paulelan

    Any modern German politician who would call the sacrifices of the German people in the nazi-era the basis of today’s prosperity and an example for the present would be called a neonazi and an extremist.

    Admitting mistakes seems to be impossible for some in Japan, up to the point where not only individuals, but complete populations must suffer in order to avoid loss of credibility for the powerful. The situation in Fukushima and the reaction of responsible authorities demonstrates this for example in the present.
    Pretending that self-sacrifice is a noble thing, when the people sacrificed are used by corrupt selfish leaders is a recipe for disaster.

  • Toshiro

    I strongly agree with the following comment. “Japan’s present prosperity was built by its peaceful postwar policies, not by its brutal wars.”

  • Wraith7216

    No one in the current generation in Japan had anything to do with the war. Most people there are likely tired of having to grovel and kiss ass for things they had nothing to do with. Same with Germany, it’s long over, with the exeption of a handful of extremely old men, noone had anything to do with what happened, and is sick of being expected to endlessly apologize. The rest of the world needs to move on…

    • paulelan

      There is a difference between ‘not
      apologizing for’ and ‘admiring’. In the case of Japan the question is about the
      last thing which in some quarters up to the highest level. Japan treated
      the occupied neighboring populations as
      slaves, and with a cruelty that can not be admired, but must be remembered for
      what it was, in order to prevent a repetition in future.

  • moonlight

    It’s a shame that the Japan’s Prime Minister didn’t remember and mention the innocent precious non-Japanese lives lost during the war solely for Japan.