It has come to light that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed sympathy for Japan’s World War II war criminals during a memorial service for them in April. His act is especially problematic because the subject of the service included the nation’s wartime government and military leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals at the postwar tribunal by the Allied forces. It will only deepen the perception that Abe is a revisionist on Japan’s wartime behavior, possibly jeopardizing the nation’s position in the international community.

Abe reportedly expressed sympathy in a letter sent to the memorial service held for some 1,180 people who were executed as war criminals or died during detention after being charged with war crimes in the wake of WWII, including wartime leaders who were given death sentences by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East such as Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo. The memorial service was held in the Oku-no-in area of Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture, the center of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.

The service was sponsored by an association of graduates of the Military Academy of the Imperial Japanese Army and of the current National Defense Academy, and by an association to maintain the memorial stone for the war criminals.

In his letter written in the capacity of president of the Liberal Democratic Party, Abe expressed his sympathy to “the spirit of the Showa Era martyrs who became the foundation of their fatherland by sacrificing their souls for the sake of peace and prosperity of today’s Japan.” With these words he whitewashed the responsibility of Class-A war criminals and ignored the fact that the path of war adopted by Japan’s leaders in the 1930s and ’40s caused millions of Japanese citizens and people across Asia to die cruel and miserable deaths.

It is extremely strange for Abe to say that Class-A war criminals sacrificed their souls for the sake of peace and prosperity of today’s Japan. The war in which these people played leading roles destroyed much of the country and deprived millions of Japanese of their lives, robbing them of the opportunity to help build a better society, and left their families in deep sorrow and hardship. Abe’s rhetoric, which seeks to hide the harsh reality of war, should not be condoned.

In his letter, Abe prayed for perpetual peace and pledged to work toward a future characterized by the coexistence of humankind. But his prayer and pledge sound hollow because he fails to touch on Japan’s responsibility for its past military aggression in the Asia-Pacific region.

In December, Abe paid homage at Yasukuni Shrine, which served as an ideological institution to mobilize the Japanese for the war. It enshrines Class-A war criminals among the nation’s war dead. For the second year in a row, in his national memorial service address for the war dead on Aug. 15 to mark the 69th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in WWII, Abe neither made a no-war pledge nor expressed remorse for the suffering and pain Japan’s military caused to other Asians. In expressing such sentiments, he is openly defying the custom established by recent Japanese prime ministers — including himself during his first stint as prime minister in 2007.

Abe’s words and actions give the impression that he does not want to accept Japan’s responsibility for the suffering its wars inflicted on millions of other Asians in the 1930s and ’40s. This could damage relations not only with Japan’s Asian neighbors but also with the United States, its key ally, and erode international trust in Japan. As such, Abe’s words and actions should be roundly condemned.

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