As the nation marks the 60th anniversary of its surrender to Allied Powers in World War II, the Japanese face the unfinished task of squarely looking at Japan’s colonialism and modern war and seriously considering a nonmilitary path that Japan must take to contribute to world peace and stability.
Japan’s long war, which originated with the Imperial Japanese Army’s invasion of Manchuria (now northeast China) in 1931, ended with the nation’s total defeat on Aug. 15, 1945. Japan had begun a full-scale war against China in 1937. This war of aggression toward China eventually led to the outbreak of the Pacific War, which started with Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, local time.
The 15-year-long war inflicted enormous suffering on the peoples of the Asia-Pacific region. Fatalities in the region totaled an estimated 20 million — far greater than the 3 million deaths that Japan suffered. Unless the Japanese accept this fact and carry out deep soul-searching, it will be impossible to realize a sincere dialogue with the peoples of neighboring countries on war-related historical issues. The absence of such dialogue has hampered development of sound and lasting relations between Japan and its Asia-Pacific neighbors.
Ten years ago, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued a statement based on a Cabinet decision, in which he expressed his “feelings of deep remorse” and stated his “heartfelt apology” for Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression,” and the “tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations” caused by Japan’s action. His apology has been upheld by prime ministers after him. It is regrettable, though, that in today’s Japan, there appear to be moves to make light of Japan’s wartime behavior or to dodge or dilute Japan’s war-time responsibility.
Some politicians have made careless statements. For example, about two months after a controversial nationalist history textbook and other history textbooks for junior high school passed state screening, Education Minister Nariaki Nakayama said the term “military comfort women” (military sex slaves) did not exist during the war years and that it was good that it had disappeared from the screened textbooks.
The nationalist history textbook includes phrases that beautify Japan’s war efforts, such as “Japan’s men and officers fought a good fight, giving full play to the fighting spirit.” During the screening process, censors pointed out that the textbook’s original version had used misleading expressions concerning Japan’s colonial rule and had mentioned only the war damage suffered by the Japanese.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s four visits to Yasukuni Shrine since 2001 have caused peoples in neighboring countries to suspect that Japan has not come to terms with its militarist past. Whatever personal reasons Mr. Koizumi may have for continuing the shrine visits, it must not be forgotten that the shrine served as a spiritual vehicle for mobilizing Japan’s militarism. If he visits the shrine again, it will suggest that his apology for Japan’s wartime wrongdoings in an April meeting of Asian and African leaders in Jakarta, in line with Mr. Murayama’s statement 10 years ago, was just lip service.
Also worrisome are recent mass media reports that many young Japanese do not have accurate knowledge about Japan’s wartime activities and tend to justify Japan’s war, or think light of war in general.
Meanwhile, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has made public a draft of a revision to the Constitution, which deletes the following phrases in Article 9, the core of the present pacifist Constitution: “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” Instead, the Self-Defense Forces would be turned into a full-fledged military with more freedom to conduct activities outside Japan. This surely would invite suspicions of Japan among neighboring countries.
In the past 58 years under the postwar Constitution, a majority of the Japanese people have been proud of maintaining the pacifist principles stipulated in the preamble and Article 9. Their trust “in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world” and their “desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace” should epitomize the soul-searching over the war that this nation waged in the 1930s and ’40s.
These pacifist principles should continue guiding the Japanese, both as individuals and as a nation, in their pursuit of activities conducive to the establishment of a peaceful global community.
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