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On Aug. 15, 1945, Japan unconditionally surrendered to the U.S.-led Allied Powers, ending World War II. An estimated 3 million Japanese military personnel and civilians died in the war.

But according to some estimates, several times that number of people, mostly Chinese, died in Japan’s war of aggression against China, which triggered the Pacific War. In recent years, media reports on Aug. 15 have focused on the war dead and efforts to avoid war at all costs.

I was astounded by a report published by a major Japanese daily Tuesday, the 55th anniversary of the end of the war, on a 12-meter-high stone monument erected at a Shinto shrine in Kanazawa to commemorate Japan’s “sacred war in Greater East Asia.”

The “sacred war” was a phrase used by the Japanese military government to glorify the Pacific War that was triggered by the China Incident — Japan’s war of aggression against China. The aggression started with the invasion of Manchuria, part of China, that was masterminded by the Japanese Army.

While I was a soldier in the Pacific War, the phrase “sacred war” was familiar to everybody’s ears. But it has been seldom used even in recent rightist moves to distort history and glorify the Japanese war of aggression.

The Pacific War stemmed from Japan-U.S. rivalry in the Far East and the West Pacific. The Japanese military government’s ambitions for control of China and the use of force to achieve its aims led to U.S. involvement in the conflict.

It all started with the Liutiaogou incident, staged by the Japanese Army in 1931. In the incident, Japanese Guangdong Army troops in China detonated a bomb at Liutiaogou on the rails of the South Manchuria Railway. It became a pretext for Japan’s subsequent seizure of Manchuria and the establishment of the puppet state Manchukuo.

The monument in Kanazawa, erected at the cost of 100 million yen, is Japan’s only existing memorial to commemorate the “sacred war.”

The news report said the group that built the monument was led by a 96-year-old former staff officer of the Guangdong Army. He justified the “sacred war” on the grounds that it liberated Asia.

But as the Soviet forces were about to invade Manchuria toward the end of the war, most Guangdong Army troops retreated to the border area with Korea, leaving civilian Japanese to fend for themselves. Many Japanese were stranded in Manchuria, and this led to the tragedies of war orphans.

Some years ago, another staff officer of the Guangdong Army said the army’s job was to defeat the enemy forces, not to assist fellow Japanese. Some Guangdong Army officers had no sympathy toward Japanese women and children who survived.

The monument in question was erected at Gokokuji Shinto Shrine in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, which is dedicated to a “guardian god of the state.” Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who hails from Ishikawa Prefecture, caused a public uproar recently when he said Japan was “a nation of gods centering on the Emperor.” He also used the anachronistic phrase “national polity,” a wartime reference to an unbroken Imperial line and the concept of the state as a family. “Sacred war” would be the ultimate in the rightist language.

The late Gen. Masanobu Tsuji, a former staff officer at the Imperial General Headquarters and a lawmaker after the war, also hailed from Ishikawa Prefecture. He led the Japanese military operations in the 1939 Nomonhan Incident, a military conflict between Japanese and Soviet forces near the village of Nomonhan on the border between Manchuria and Outer Mongolia. He also oversaw Japanese military operations on Guadalcanal, a Pacific War battleground in the Southwest Pacific. He was reportedly unrealistic, forced his men to fight under inhuman conditions and refused to take responsibility for the operations.

For some reason, rightist and militaristic inclinations seem to pervade Ishikawa Prefecture.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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