Kazuhiko Togo, a retired career official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former Ambassador to the Netherlands, is the grandson of Shigenori Togo, Japan’s foreign minister at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941.

His grandfather is one of the convicted Class-A war criminals who is enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

The enshrinement at this Shinto shrine that is a sacred site for Japan’s war dead was done without his family’s consent.

Kazuhiko Togo was raised under the shadow of the postwar International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), and he struggles over the verdicts, believing that his grandfather was wrongly found guilty of crimes against peace, while acknowledging that the nation must accept the verdicts as a price of its reintegration into the community of nations.

Due to a vigorous defense involving a U.S. attorney and his son-in-law, Shigenori Togo was given a 20-year prison sentence, the second-lightest among the 25 defendants sentenced at the conclusion of the trial 60 years ago.

Kazuhiko Togo’s grandmother, Togo’s German wife, and his mother, Shigenori’s only daughter, attended all sessions in which his grandfather took part. On the day of the verdict, his mother thought “we won,” given that 16 defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment and seven others were condemned to death by hanging, sentences that were carried out on Dec. 23, 1948.

Soon after finishing his memoirs, Togo died of a heart attack in prison in 1950 at the age of 67.

As foreign minister from Oct. 1941 to Sept. 1942, and again from April 1945 to Aug. 1945, he worked hard to avert war with the United States, and later worked hard to bring the war to a close — in both cases defying hardline military leaders who were eager for war and opposed to surrender.

However, given that he was foreign minister when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, and as he signed the declaration of war, he was targeted for prosecution.

Kazuhiko Togo said that, at the IMTFE, his grandfather sought to defend his own record and that of his nation.

His grandfather argued that Japan’s war against the U.S. was one of self-defense. On Nov. 26, 1941, the U.S. issued the Hull Note, a diplomatic proposal taken by many in Japan to be an ultimatum tantamount to a declaration of war. Togo’s mother told him, “Your grandfather, when he came home after receiving the Hull Note, was completely shattered and lost hope for peace.”

The Class-A war criminals were prosecuted for having committed “crimes against peace” by conspiring to engage in a war of aggression. Togo is critical of the IMTFE because of the deeply flawed legal procedures, the retroactive application of laws in contravention to international law and doubts that there was a conspiracy to wage a war of aggression.

Togo, however, accepts Article 11 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (signed Sept. 8, 1951; in force from April 28, 1952) in which Japan accepted the verdicts of the IMTFE. The reintegration of Japan into the community of nations is based on a network of treaties and agreements that stem from Article 11. Having worked as a diplomat, Togo is keenly aware of how important it is for Japan to adhere to this network of treaties, saying: “To derogate these treaties is madness. There are no responsible political leaders who even for a minute dare to derogate postwar treaty obligations.”

For Togo, as a private citizen and researcher, there is a need to harmonize the unacceptability of the verdict about crimes against peace and the obligation to accept the verdicts of the IMTFE.

The virtue of the IMTFE was the chance to argue against the charges and explain the outbreak of war from Japan’s perspective. Thus, Togo praises the decision to appoint legal representation for the defendants, including U.S. lawyers, saying that they represented the “best of U.S. democratic traditions” and “were deeply appreciated by almost all of the defendants.”

Togo agrees with the decision by the U.S. not to prosecute Emperor Hirohito (known posthumously as Emperor Showa), arguing that preserving the Imperial Household was the only condition the Japanese insisted on in agreeing to the terms of surrender. Having raised no objections to this condition in accepting Japan’s surrender, the U.S. was obliged to honor it to show Japan it was a trustworthy nation.

Togo stated that one way that might have helped clarify war responsibility in Japan after the U.S. honored its commitment would have been the voluntary abdication of Emperor Hirohito.

If that had happened, it would also have facilitated reconciliation between Japan and its former enemies, he believes.

In fact, this idea was raised publicly in 1952 by a young Yasuhiro Nakasone, who served as prime minister from 1982-87.

Togo says it is important to go beyond criticizing the IMTFE, saying, “If you do not accept the verdict, then you must make the judgment of war responsibility yourself.”

Togo considers the recognition of wrongdoings and apologies by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, in 1995, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in 2005, as manifesting Japan’s own judgment on wartime misdeeds. But then, Togo argues: “If you have acknowledged past wrongdoings, then who is responsible for them? No answer is given yet. The Japanese have yet to fill this black hole.”

This belated reckoning, he believes, is important for Japan regaining its dignity as a nation and reanchoring its national identity within Asia.

It is with this in mind that he proposed a moratorium on Yasukuni Shrine visits by Prime Minister Koizumi’s successors after he left office in 2006, in order to create a breathing space for the nation to examine its wartime past and its responsibility for the tragedies it unleashed in the region.

More recently, citing the Japanese Supreme Courts’ rejection of compensation claims by Asian forced laborers, he argues that Japanese companies now have a legal immunity that enables them to seize the moral imperative and make a grand gesture of accepting moral responsibility.

For Togo, the real problem is that the Japanese have hidden behind the IMTFE and have not given an answer themselves about their war responsibility, a responsibility he believes transcends generations.

Clearly, Japanese public support for the war was widespread, and so Togo argues, “Serious thought should be given to the fact that responsibility could have lain in no other entity than the whole nation itself.”

In his view, the Japanese must do much more soul-searching about their war responsibility, and not just merely accept or reject the verdicts of the IMTFE. Hence the tragedy of the IMTFE involves both the miscarriage of justice and its enabling the Japanese to evade taking action themselves to assess their responsibility.

Clearly, the past casts a long shadow over contemporary Japan.

Togo believes: ” . . . that after 63 years since the end of World War II, the time has come for Japan not to resolve the past once and for all, but to find a way to live with it in greater harmony. In order to achieve this objective, there is a need to consolidate a synthetic path on historical memory, such as expressed by Murayama and Koizumi, and strengthen it.”

In December, Kodansha will publish, in Japanese, a book Togo has written titled “Japan’s History and Diplomacy: Yasukuni, Asia and the Tokyo Tribunal.” Through his insightful and provocative writing, he is working diligently and bravely to help Japan emerge from the shadows of its wartime history.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.