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Requesting a WWII apology for the long forgotten: the Japanese people

Dear Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,

Let me begin by apologizing for interrupting your work as you put the finishing touches on your long-anticipated surrender anniversary statement. It is not my intention to ask for, or propose, changes to the text of what is clearly an internal Japanese matter.

Nevertheless, I would like to share my experience as a citizen of a country that has also lost a major war. This is done with the hope that it may be of some assistance to your current efforts. The country and war I speak of is America and its defeat in the Vietnam War, a conflict that cost the lives of some 58,000 young Americans and more than 3 million Vietnamese.

Like myself, you may have seen documentaries about how once-young American participants in that war continue to struggle, even now, with nightmares, flashbacks and trauma as a result of what they experienced. Some have committed suicide, while others returned to Vietnam to seek forgiveness for their wartime deeds. Given their staggering losses, the Vietnamese people have been amazingly generous in granting that forgiveness.

American soldiers’ actions parallel those of their Japanese counterparts who have similarly repented for their wartime beliefs and actions. For example, Kiyosaku Kudo, a former soldier now aged 90, said: “We were not even afraid of death because we were brainwashed, I now realize. Mind control is the most horrible thing of all.” Who, Prime Minister Abe, is ultimately responsible for having “brainwashed” soldiers like Kudo if not the country’s political leaders?

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that not a single one of these American or Japanese soldiers decided of their own free will to invade a foreign country and kill its citizens. Instead, the great majority of them were conscripted and ordered to do so by their political leaders. Just as the American people didn’t vote to bomb Haiphong Harbor, so the Japanese never voted to bomb Pearl Harbor.

This means that the political leaders of both countries bear the ultimate responsibility for sending their own young citizens to their deaths, as well as for causing the deaths of far more citizens of the countries they invaded. Did Vietnam attempt, or intend, to invade the U.S.? Did China plan to invade Japan?

I wish I could say, Prime Minister Abe, that in the 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War, a U.S. president has been willing, on reflection, to apologize to the Vietnamese people and the young Americans who died or were wounded in that country, not to mention their families and loved ones. Regrettably, there is no prospect of that happening anytime soon.

On the other hand, your predecessors, and hopefully yourself, have recognized that Japan was a wartime aggressor and offered apologies to the victims of the countries Japan either invaded or colonized. Thus, albeit unprecedentedly, it would be possible for you to now offer an equally sincere apology to those Japanese who lost their lives or were injured during the war from whatever cause. They did not choose their fate; it was political leaders like yourself and your predecessors who chose it for them.

I admit as an American there is an element of self-interest in requesting an apology. If you do so, then maybe, just maybe, your apology will serve as the catalyst for the U.S., as Japan’s close ally and partner, to do the same with regard to its own failed wars — especially in Vietnam, but in Iraq and elsewhere as well.

The Japanese people have waited 70 years for their political leadership to apologize for having led them into a disastrous war. Will you be the first to say, on behalf of Japan’s past and present political leaders, “I apologize”? And, even more importantly, “Never again”?

BRIAN A. VICTORIA
Kyoto

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