I was disappointed by two recent moves by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration to whitewash Japan’s war responsibility, although I was not really surprised. After all, Abe comes from the most conservative faction in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, as did his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi.
First, in a March 1 news conference, Abe expressed doubts about a 1993 statement issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on the issue of wartime “comfort women” who provided sexual services for Japanese military personnel during World War II. Commenting on the statement, which acknowledged the involvement of the Japanese military in the establishment and management of “comfort stations” and the use of coercion in recruiting women, Abe said there was no proof of the coercion “as initially defined.”
Although he vowed to honor the Kono statement in a television appearance, Abe’s remarks prompted moves in the U.S. House of Representatives to expedite the adoption of a pending resolution, calling on the Japanese government to apologize for the wartime abuse of “comfort women.”
Kono’s statement led to the creation of a private fund in Japan to aid former “comfort women.” Since 1995, the fund has provided 2 million yen each in compensation, medical and welfare funds to a total of 285 former “comfort women” in the Philippines, South Korea and other countries including Taiwan. Japanese prime ministers also wrote letters of apology to the women. People may ask: What was the purpose of this aid if Abe is makes such comments?
Abe’s remarks also disturbed the consistency of the policies pursued by LDP administrations and stirred serious doubts among the public.
Second, when the education ministry published the results of its screening of new Japanese high-school history textbooks on March 30, it imposed its unilateral views regarding the mass suicides of Okinawans during the Battle of Okinawa, which took place from March to late June in 1945. Screeners ordered the textbook authors to revise passages that suggested the Japanese military forced Okinawan residents to commit mass suicides, on the grounds that it is unclear whether specific military orders for such suicides were issued. The revised version mentions that some residents were forced to commit mass suicides, but avoids references to the military’s involvement.
Until last year, the ministry had raised no objections to similar passages. The policy change this year has come in light of a lawsuit filed by a former Japanese Army commander on Okinawa, who insisted that he never issued an order for mass suicides.
Admittedly, opinion is divided on whether the Japanese military officially issued such orders. But many Okinawans testify that they were given hand grenades by Japanese military personnel and were told to kill themselves. Given the wartime military leaders’ fanatic ideology back then — that there was little value in human life — and given the desperate war situation, it can be presumed that residents were forced, directly or indirectly, to kill themselves.
I believe that the Abe administration is playing down the issues of “comfort women” and the Okinawa mass suicides in order to restore the Japanese Imperial forces their honor by covering up the historical facts that disgrace them. This appears to be part of Abe’s widely touted agenda of creating a “beautiful Japan.”
In three months after Abe’s taking office, his administration accomplished several national defense-related political goals that previous LDP administrations had failed to fulfill. This corresponds to the trend for historical revisionism.
It succeeded in revising the fundamental law of education to instill patriotism in children. It also elevated the Defense Agency to a ministry status and defined the Self-Defense Forces’ overseas activities, such as United Nations peacekeeping operations, as a major part of its missions, instead of a minor part as in the past. These steps are apparently intended to pave the way for the SDF’s upgrading to regular military forces.
Evidence presented at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (or the Tokyo Trial) showed that the Japanese forces forcibly recruited local and Dutch women in Asian countries under their occupation as “comfort women.” The military tribunal determined in its verdict that there was coercion in the recruitment of these women. Under the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan accepted the results of the war-crimes tribunal. The government should not forget that Japan cannot deny those findings.
Having suffered indescribable hardships in the Battle of Okinawa, many Okinawans are still haunted by nightmares of the forced mass suicides. Even though he is a conservative, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima is critical of the education ministry’s recent revisions of history textbooks. The Okinawa Times reported that the governor told reporters April 13 that the important question was not whether the Japanese military gave specific orders for mass suicides. He said the issue should be judged from a broad perspective and expressed doubts about the move to delete or change passages touching on military orders.
In the Battle of Okinawa, one out of every four Okinawans died. Yet Okinawa now accounts for 75 percent of the land used by U.S. military installations in Japan, and has received practically no dividends of peace. The education ministry’s revisions of history textbooks have caused outrage among Okinawans. The government should act more seriously to removing U.S. military installations, which are legacies of the war, from the prefecture.
While the government is trying to whitewash the transgression by the Japanese military forces during the war and to upgrade the SDF to regular military forces, many Japanese have taken legal action to demand redress for wartime damage they suffered. Since 2002, 2,200 former orphans who were left behind in China after the war have filed class-action suits to demand government compensation for the nation’s failure to let them return home early.
Moreover, 229 people, who were unable to win government recognition as victims of radiation exposure in the U.S. atomic bombings as provided for under the A-bomb victim assistance law, have also filed class-action suits since 2003 to demand the withdrawal of the government decision not to recognize them as victims of atomic bombing-caused diseases or injuries. Meanwhile, 112 survivors of the air raids on Tokyo and relatives of those killed filed another class-action suit in March with the Tokyo District Court to demand compensation.
It’s been more than 60 years after the war ended, and all the plaintiffs are aging. Those in the Tokyo air-raid suit are on average 74 years old, the oldest of them being 88. If the war-related trials become prolonged, even if they win the suit, only a limited number of the plaintiffs will be alive to benefit.
This is a far cry from the fate of former military personnel, former civilian employees of the military and the families of the war dead, who have been receiving pensions since the early 1950s. Without waiting for court rulings, the government should make a political decision to pay compensation to civilians who suffered the consequences of the war. That is the most advisable way to restore honor to the Japanese military.