In his memorial speech Thursday for Japan’s 3.1 million war dead on the occasion of the 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allied Powers in World War II, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed to express remorse over the suffering that Japan’s past military aggression inflicted on many peoples, especially those in Asian countries. He also failed to pledge to never again wage war.

This omission, which contravenes a tradition begun with Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s end-of-the-war speech in 1994 and continued by Mr. Abe himself during his first stint as prime minister in 2007, is deplorable. It is an affront to the Constitution’s no-war principle based on the resolve “that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government.” It also represents hubris on the part of Mr. Abe as a leader of a nation that suffered a crushing defeat after causing tremendous damage and pain not only to peoples of other countries but to its own citizens as well.

Mr. Abe’s revisionist views of Japan’s modern history will only deepen the international community’s suspicions about Japan’s future direction. If his aggressive defense policy goals are implemented, they could lead to Japan’s diplomatic isolation.

In his Aug. 15 speech, Mr. Abe said, “The peace and prosperity that we now enjoy have been built upon the sacrifices of you who gave up your precious lives while thinking of your beloved children and wives, praying for the happiness of the mothers and fathers you left behind, and wishing that the mountains and riversides of your hometowns would be lush with greenery. We will never forget this, even for a moment.” His speech, filled with patriotic platitudes, completely ignores the roles played by Japan’s militaristic leaders in the 1930s and ’40s, who pushed Japan along the road to war and nearly destroyed the nation in the end. Japan’s present prosperity was built by its peaceful postwar policies, not by its brutal wars.

Japan’s leaders, nearly all of whom have not experienced war, must carefully listen to the words of historian Mr. Tadatoshi Fujii, who studied how conscripts felt, what they thought and how they behaved during the 1937-45 conflict in China and the Pacific: “Enlisted men in most cases had jobs and wives and children, and were separated from their communities by legal force and had a different view or perspective on life from that of officers.”

Mr. Abe and other leaders must squarely look at the suffering that Japan’s wars brought to other peoples in Asia and the Pacific, the sufferings of Japanese soldiers who died miserable deaths through hunger or disease or who were sentenced to death by Japanese military tribunals for desertion, and the sufferings of ordinary citizens killed in U.S. air raids. People should carefully consider the realities of war that Mr. Abe’s discourse hides.

On Thursday, three members of the Abe Cabinet and 102 Diet members visited Yasukuni Shrine and Mr. Abe sent a proxy. The shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, served as an important ideological apparatus for Japan’s militarism that mobilized the nation’s citizens for war, and maintains its hawkish outlook even today. It is not the proper place for Japan’s leaders and ordinary citizens to pray for the victims of World War II every Aug. 15.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.