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Just 67 years ago, Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor in Oahu and sank four battleships and other vessels of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, killing some 2,400 Americans. This attack and the landing — one hour earlier — of Imperial Japanese Army units on Malay Peninsula expanded Japan’s war front to Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The war brought suffering to millions of Asians and eventually reduced Japan to nearly total destruction. Despite the historical significance of those events nearly 70 years ago, Dec. 8 usually passes rather quietly as another business-as-usual day.

This year, however, most Japanese were reminded of the Pearl Harbor attack by the former Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff, Toshio Tamogami. In a controversial essay that led to his retirement from the ASDF, he wrote that “Japan was entangled in the mesh of a plot hatched by (U.S. President Franklin D.) Roosevelt and carried out the Pearl Harbor attack.” He also wrote that “Japan was a victim dragged into the Sino-Japanese War by Chiang Kai-shek,” who he said “was driven by Comintern.”

Conspiracy theories like these crop up time and again but are refuted by serious scholars. They blur the true nature of Japan’s war. It should be remembered that Japan’s military aggression in China, from the early 1930s on, formed the background for Japan’s war with the United States, Britain and other countries.

Focusing on the few months just before the Pearl Harbor attack, as often happens in Japan, also obscures the truth behind what led to the events that transpired on Dec. 8, 1941, and continued through the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, and Japan’s unconditional surrender.

A revealing book on the Pearl Harbor attack appeared in Japan recently. In “Kaisen Shinwa” (literally, “Myth on the Breakout of War”), to be translated into English next year under an International House of Japan project, Mr. Takeo Iguchi, former ambassador to New Zealand, writes that under military pressure, the Japanese Foreign Ministry not only withdrew a proper ultimatum and instead decided to notify the U.S. that negotiations were over, but also delayed sending the notice to its Washington embassy for 15 hours before the attack. Mr. Iguchi convincingly shows that the ministry left Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura out of the loop on the attack plan. Dec. 8 should serve as a day to sharpen one’s eyes on Japan’s modern history.

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