War criminals don’t deserve praise

It has come to light that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed sympathy for Japan’s World War II war criminals during a memorial service for them in April. His act is especially problematic because the subject of the service included the nation’s wartime government and military leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals at the postwar tribunal by the Allied forces. It will only deepen the perception that Abe is a revisionist on Japan’s wartime behavior, possibly jeopardizing the nation’s position in the international community.

Abe reportedly expressed sympathy in a letter sent to the memorial service held for some 1,180 people who were executed as war criminals or died during detention after being charged with war crimes in the wake of WWII, including wartime leaders who were given death sentences by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East such as Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo. The memorial service was held in the Oku-no-in area of Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture, the center of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.

The service was sponsored by an association of graduates of the Military Academy of the Imperial Japanese Army and of the current National Defense Academy, and by an association to maintain the memorial stone for the war criminals.

In his letter written in the capacity of president of the Liberal Democratic Party, Abe expressed his sympathy to “the spirit of the Showa Era martyrs who became the foundation of their fatherland by sacrificing their souls for the sake of peace and prosperity of today’s Japan.” With these words he whitewashed the responsibility of Class-A war criminals and ignored the fact that the path of war adopted by Japan’s leaders in the 1930s and ’40s caused millions of Japanese citizens and people across Asia to die cruel and miserable deaths.

It is extremely strange for Abe to say that Class-A war criminals sacrificed their souls for the sake of peace and prosperity of today’s Japan. The war in which these people played leading roles destroyed much of the country and deprived millions of Japanese of their lives, robbing them of the opportunity to help build a better society, and left their families in deep sorrow and hardship. Abe’s rhetoric, which seeks to hide the harsh reality of war, should not be condoned.

In his letter, Abe prayed for perpetual peace and pledged to work toward a future characterized by the coexistence of humankind. But his prayer and pledge sound hollow because he fails to touch on Japan’s responsibility for its past military aggression in the Asia-Pacific region.

In December, Abe paid homage at Yasukuni Shrine, which served as an ideological institution to mobilize the Japanese for the war. It enshrines Class-A war criminals among the nation’s war dead. For the second year in a row, in his national memorial service address for the war dead on Aug. 15 to mark the 69th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in WWII, Abe neither made a no-war pledge nor expressed remorse for the suffering and pain Japan’s military caused to other Asians. In expressing such sentiments, he is openly defying the custom established by recent Japanese prime ministers — including himself during his first stint as prime minister in 2007.

Abe’s words and actions give the impression that he does not want to accept Japan’s responsibility for the suffering its wars inflicted on millions of other Asians in the 1930s and ’40s. This could damage relations not only with Japan’s Asian neighbors but also with the United States, its key ally, and erode international trust in Japan. As such, Abe’s words and actions should be roundly condemned.

  • axia

    No one can help if Japan under Abes cannot reflect on this pathetic patriotism in the name of peace. The horror and utter atrocity committed by the Japanese in WWII is undeniable, it is tens of millions of destroyed lives families outside Japan that were forced to sacrifice for the prosperity of Japan. If Japan has any wholesome sense of morality in commemorating WWII, why we never see a single event where Japanese dignitaries bowing to the anguished spirits of all those painfully perished at the hands of the Japanese? Do these spirits count far more than the spirits of the killer soldiers and the atrocity masterminds? It is farcical to see the Indians and Japan sit together talking about the religious bonds of Bhudda. Sheer Sacrilege.

  • axia

    Abe and Modi visited Toji? Given their tacit concensus on how to assess Japan’s action in WWII, and their shared stance now vis-a-vis China, it is at least intellectually shameless to visit such a religious place. Toji was established when Japan received enormous cultural gift from China. Toji was associated with the highly intellectual monk of Kukai. Withou China’s generous selfless cultural support, Kukai would not become what he was to become later in his life. When Kukai received the cultural gifts from China, China had developed it in conjunction with a most delicate art including archetecture, gardening, calligraphy, painting, poems. None of this had any meaningful link with India. For a state where even their holy river is treated as natural toilet, it is indeed quite a sarcastic spectacle that its head of government visited the fundamentally Chinese artistic style temple with his counterpart, while both sharing a common view regarding the monstrocity of Japanese action in China 70 years ago. What would Kukai would have to say to Abe and Modi? What would Bhudda have to say? Or they are really treated as dead nothingness rather than a true source of inspiration and cause of fundamental remorse?

  • KenjiAd

    Abe is a sentimental nationalist. In his view, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (“Tokyo Trial”) in which the Japanese war criminals were prosecuted, is simply a victor’s justice where the victors punished those who had been defeated and captured.

    Was the Tokyo Trial (or Nuremberg Trail for that matter) a victor’s justice? I, non-historian, concede that this question is an area that many historians may have differing opinions.

    With that clearly stated, however, there is absolutely no justification to glorify those people who were responsible for starting and continuing the disastrous war. None. Those Class-A war criminals either actively pursued the wrong war efforts till end, or did nothing to stop it. They were not heroes.

    Abe doesn’t understand it. He never will.

  • VerityHeld

    “the spirit of the Showa Era martyrs who became the foundation of their fatherland by sacrificing their souls for the sake of peace and prosperity of today’s Japan.”

    The Rape of Nanjing, Unit 731, Bataan Death March, Death Railway. All done for the sake of peace and prosperity of today’s Japan. Time for a mental health evaluation, Abe.