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Prime Minister Taro Aso was forced to defend his family firm’s alleged wartime deeds Thursday, as the revisionist essay by ousted Air Self-Defense Force chief Gen. Toshio Tamogami continued to cause a political stir.

Aso Mining Co. allegedly used thousands of Koreans and Chinese, Australian, British and Dutch prisoners of war as forced laborers during World War II.

“No facts have been confirmed,” the prime minister told the Upper House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense when asked whether Aso Mining used Allied POWs as forced labor during the war.

“I was 4, maybe 5 at the time. I was too young to recognize anything at that age,” he added.

Although Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Yukihisa Fujita stressed that records at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration show that forced labor did take place, Aso repeatedly told the Diet that no factual details have been confirmed.

Former ASDF chief Tamogami was sacked Oct. 31 after claiming in an essay that Japan was not an aggressor during the war and that Tokyo was “trapped” by the United States into attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941.

During the three-hour committee session, Aso harshly criticized Tamogami’s decision to make his views public as “extremely inappropriate.”

He also acknowledged that the government failed to catch Tamogami’s previous essays, which hinted at the former general’s rightwing views of Japan’s wartime role.

But Aso assured that civilian control of the Self Defense-Forces was never in doubt and that the latest stir should not be taken out of proportion.

“It would be a leap in logic” to consider that a military coup could have taken place, Aso told the committee, emphasizing that Tamogami was immediately relieved of his duties following the disclosure of the essay.

Aso pledged that the Defense Ministry will take measures to educate its SDF officers and avoid a repeat of the incident.

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