Battleland

Sorry, But Japan Still Can’t Get the War Right

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REUTERS/Kyodo

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe poses in a jet trainer emblazoned with “731” -- the same number as an infamous Imperial Army unit from World War II.

TOKYO – After weeks of muddled statements, verbal gaffes and bungled photo ops, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made one thing unintentionally clear: He thinks Japan did little wrong in its years of war and colonial expansion, and he sees no reason to apologize now.

The controversy, perfectly avoidable, has alienated both friends and foes and renewed fears of rising nationalism in Japan. It may be too much to expect Abe and other conservatives to abandon comforting historical narratives.  But if Abe cannot manage to at least reign in the rhetoric, it could worsen an already dangerous security environment, and wreck Japan’s best shot in decades at reviving its slumbering economy.

“I believe that Shinzo Abe honestly thinks that the Second World War and the aggression and events leading up to it were relative – that Japan basically was forced into fighting because of Western colonial policies,” says Robert Campbell, a professor of Japanese literature at the University of Tokyo and a long-time social commentator for Japanese television and radio.  “It’s very difficult to move on and to gain the political capital necessary to solve difficult economic and political problems when you are constantly carrying this enormous bagful of historical rocks.”

The latest drama began last month, during a question-and-answer session in the Diet. Abe, who had focused largely and so far successfully on boosting the economy, repeated a standard line recognizing that Japan had caused great suffering and damage during World War II. But he added that he did not fully agree with a landmark apology issued by Japan’s prime minister in 1995, and he questioned, in lawyer-like fashion, whether Japan had actually committed “aggression” against anyone during the war.

“The definition of aggression has yet to be established in academia or in the international community,” Abe said. The policy chief for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party later said that Abe also disagreed with the allied tribunal that found 14 wartime leaders guilty of war crimes.

Predictably, there were howls of protest from China, where an estimated 20 million Chinese died fighting the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s, and in Korea, which Japan ruled as a colony from 1910 to 1945.  South Korea quickly cancelled a visit by its foreign minister to Tokyo and withheld an invitation to Japan to attend a diplomatic conference with China and the United States; in a clear snub, President Park Geun Hye scheduled her first visit to an Asian country with China, rather than with Japan.

More ominously, articles appeared in China’s government-controlled press hinting that Japan’s entire southwest island chain, not just the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, might actually belong to China.

It didn’t help that nearly 170 LDP members visited the Yasukuni Shrine during its annual spring festival.  Some 2.3 million Japanese soldiers who died on behalf of the country are memorialized at Yasukuni. But the ones who really matter – at least to Japan’s neighbors and former victims — are the 14 wartime leaders who were tried, convicted and hanged for war crimes by allied authorities.

Nor did it help that Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a rising conservative star, claimed that the “comfort women” system — which is believed to have forced some 200,000 Asian women into sexual servitude — had been “necessary” to maintain good order and discipline in the Japanese military. He later clarified that he did not approve of the system, and blamed translators and foreign media for implying otherwise.

The extent of Abe’s tone-deafness, however, was demonstrated during a goodwill visit to the tsunami-ravaged region of Japan last week.  With the controversy still swirling, Abe posed for a photo in the cockpit of a military training jet emblazoned with the number “731” – that’s the unit number of an infamous Imperial Army group that conducted lethal chemical and biological warfare experiments on Chinese citizens.

Entire chapters are devoted to Unit 731 in the harshly anti-Japanese educational systems in China and South Korea. That neither Abe nor his handlers grasped the significance of the photo – or didn’t care – demonstrates the distance between Japan and its neighbors when it comes to wartime issues.

It wasn’t until the U.S. Congressional Research Service issued a report in early May branding Abe a “nationalist” and warning that the controversy over historical issues could damage U.S. interests that Abe and the LDP went into serious damage control. Abe now says he fully accepts the apologies issued by previous administrations.

In some respects, none of this should be surprising. Abe has long exhibited strongly conservative, if not nationalist, tendencies. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was a wartime industry minister who was arrested on suspicion of war crimes; Kishi was never charged and later became prime minister. At a recent ceremony marking the anniversary of the return of Japanese sovereignty after the war, Abe was among the first to raise his arms in an unscripted – and somewhat startling — “Banzai” salute to the Emperor and Empress.

Although the war crimes tribunal adjudicated thousands of individual cases, there has never been a public examination of Japan’s wartime conduct and the issue has remain largely unresolved.

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995 issued an official apology for Japan’s “mistaken national policy” and “colonial rule and aggression.”  Two years earlier, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued an apology for the “comfort women” system.

Abe has tried to re-focus attention on his economic policies, which have boosted consumer spending, pushed down the value of the Yen and boosted the stock market by 55 percent. Although public approval ratings for Abe and his Cabinet have slipped in recent weeks, it remains at  70.9 percent, astonishingly high by the standards of recent prime ministers.

Still, don’t expect the issue to go away, or to hear any apologies from Abe or other conservative leaders.

“They’ll say things like, ‘I really regret for all of the things that happened.’ Or ‘I regret the suffering that took place.’ Or they’ll leave out the subject, so it sounds like ‘things just sort of happened,” says Campbell. “But they won’t say, ‘The Imperial Japanese Army committed atrocities, and as a representative of the Japanese people, I deeply apologize.’ They’ll never come out and say that.”

106 comments
lazarus00000
lazarus00000

Smack them down before China eraces the race.

They are truly fools if they even begin to think in the terms of Bushido again. That being said just give them a lot of knives and tell them the truth. They will commit Hari Kari... problem solved.

DavidHall
DavidHall

>> But if Abe cannot manage to at least reign in the rhetoric

REIN in, not "reign" in.

Jaguar6cy
Jaguar6cy

Mr. Abe was probably educated here in the US, where history departments tend to teach this type propaganda pretending that it is history.   It is a way to keep public attention away from their abuse of students with overpriced tuition and obscene student debt levels.

Rio
Rio

Why push a dead issue?   The only reason in 2013 is to humiliate.  That just continues the problems.

IanBortner
IanBortner

History is written by the victor.  How is them conquering regions to expand their territories any different than what the US did in the Pacific?  We conquered Hawaii, the Phillipines, and dozens of islands all across the Pacific with bloody conquests in the decades leading up to WW2, and when Japan started doing the same thing we accuse them of being the evil plundering conquerers.

TadashigeTochifu
TadashigeTochifu

"...an estimated 20 million Chinese died fighting the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s," "...forced some 200,000 Asian women into sexual servitude" Where are these numbers from? Mr. Spitzer, could you substantiate?

--A curious reader

jzc01
jzc01

Japan has never admitted the crimes it committed during WWII. This is a fact that Americans should not forget when the US government is considering it an ally. We are raising a monster. 


JohnSheehan
JohnSheehan

@BobWilliamKnight @jzc01 Really, Bob? Have you ever discussed the feelings of American, British and Australian prisons of war and their families>

You show a remarkable lack of knowledge and empathy.  The article is inaccurate. Americans and British were tortured, given serious diseases (like typhoid and cholera) and dissected, without anesthesia, while still alive.

JohnMayor
JohnMayor

@boots @JohnSheehan @BobWilliamKnight @jzc01 The Japs deserved to be nuked. They brought all this destruction and all these deaths upon themselves. Yes, it was the fault of Hirohito and his disgusting subordinates, but remember that Japanese still consider these criminals as heroes. How stupid can one be ?

thmak
thmak

Kirk Spitzer"  Japan's insulting intransigence is the result of the America-Japan Defense Treaty and the approval of Japan's manipulation of its currency by the USA and the European countries. With these strong backings by its Western allies, Japan fear not any attack by any of those whom Japan choose to attack. Amereica created the brutal maniac Japan before WWII and now creates the thug and goon Japan now.  What goes around will comes around.  

Timer_1948
Timer_1948

The above post is for the benefit of the CLONE of BobWilliamknight.

JohnSheehan
JohnSheehan

@BobWilliamKnight @duduong @thmak Yes, Bob, it does. Germany has apologized for its actions, in a serious way. Japan's school system is still perpetuating the lies of the World War II Japanese government. Germany doesn't do that. Japanese "scholars" twist statistics and information in an attempt to distort the truth about Japan's war crimes.

You are like a Holocaust denier; only you are supporting Japan. If you were Jewish and your family was murdered by the Nazis, would you forget? The Chinese were treated as inferior by the Japanese. Millions of them were murdered in ways that even the Nazis considered out of bounds.

My family hasn't forgotten. My wife lost a grandfather and great-grandfather, who were tied up and bayoneted to death for doing absolutely nothing. My Godfather survived the Bataan Death March, the Hell Ships and imprisonment in Osaka.

For Abe to sit in a warplane with the numbers 731, is a way of boasting about Japan's war crimes, which weren't punished severely enough. Many Japanese war criminals led public and political lives through the 1960s. One example is Colonel Masanobu Tsugi, who became a public hero in Japan. He should have been executed as a war criminal.

Are you really that ignorant, or are you one of those sick trolls?

MikeWilliams
MikeWilliams

@BobWilliamKnight China is "stealing" the South China Sea (it actually says China in the name ironically enough). It's disputed waters where no country has clear territories. China is simply trying to hog as much of it for itself, which is understandable. 

As for Tibet, I feel the issue is much more complicated than western media is portraying it, but certainly, the Chinese Government should learn to respect human rights there. However, it's hard to hold the moral high ground when our own government doesn't even respect our own citizen's privacy. 

Timer_1948
Timer_1948

@BobWilliamKnight 

To not agree is one thing, but to use your kind of posting in your "disagreement" denotes a  severe case of Moron. Get it together or get off the thread. 

Mad__Eagle
Mad__Eagle

@duduong @BobWilliamKnight @thmak In china ugly Mao persecuted (including murdered) millions of his own people, and those poor china guys still worship Mao's dead body today. very funny and very ridiculous. 

BobWilliamKnight
BobWilliamKnight

@JohnSheehan @BobWilliamKnight @duduong @thmak Japans apologized dozens of times .keep it real .now how many times did china apologize about Tibet Tiananmen square, organ harvesting etc china should mind its own business .every tie abe farts its a plot against china are you reallly that brainwashed and clueless ?kettle calling the pot black

BobWilliamKnight
BobWilliamKnight

@jzc01 my conjugation of verbs, syntax. sentence structure  spelling, use of colloquallisms and punctuation are not the issue here .your igorant laughable viewpoints are a reflection of an unstable and shallow mind 

duduong
duduong

@BobWilliamKnight @thmak Do you hold the same opinion about the Nazi war criminals? If yes, you are one sad excuse for a human being. If no, the difference between Japan and Germany was only in the victims' race, not numbers. You are then a certifiable racist, still a sad excuse for a human being.

duduong
duduong

@BobWilliamKnight @duduong @thmak No, Germany has everything to do with this conversation. It is the perfect mirror to show the hypocrisy of hillbillies like you.

The thing that has nothing to do with YOUR discussion is logic and basic knowledge of history.

Timer_1948
Timer_1948

@BobWilliamKnight

Nahhhh..... I cannot believe you for a second, saying you're a historian. Even if it IS the truth, you are way out of line in your belief that it all should just be set aside, forgotten. If it is, we'll continue to commit such wholesale barbarities, and wink at others who do, only going after them for some political, or other sort of gain. NEVER FORGET is the slogan, and it needs to remain in place. There is Never an excuse for crimes against civilians in time of war. Yes, sadly enough there are going to be civilian casualties, and probably have been in every one since the Hebrews and Philistines were knocking heads. But in this case, we're talking about the concerted efforts made to murder, rape, or otherwise destroy a people. Japan, with their code of Bushido, found it pretty easy to kill Chinese in whatever way they could imagine, to herd American POW's into trenches they were forced to dig then set fire with flamethrowers. Made it kinda "funny" to them when they stuck various objects in the vaginas of Chinese women ion Nanking and surrounding cities and villages. They about made the Nazi's look like rough novices in the art of cruelty, but the Nazi's had their Own methods that they and their satellite buddies inflicted on just plain folks. It should be a Duty of any historian to keep these actions alive and not bury them. NEVER FORGET !

jzc01
jzc01

@BobWilliamKnight  You are pathetic being who knows nothing about history, present or the future. You are either  an uneducated ignorant fool or one who is trying to to disguise yourself. 

ROK
ROK

 @BobWilliamKnight @jzc01Firstly the article is focusing on Japan, not China. Secondly Japan is claiming rights to Dokdo/Takeshima, Kuril Islands even though they both historically been proven to belong to Korea and Russia respectively. Nazi Germany can and has apologized time and time again for there past indescrepencies, while Japan has remained more or less unmoved on the subject. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" George Santayana.

jzc01
jzc01

BobWilliamKnight: Go back to school. Get some education. Learn to read and write and pass at least 4th grade before reading a Time article. 


duduong
duduong

@BobWilliamKnight Chinese in Tibet are similar to white people in the US, but with three differences:

1. Tibet actually invaded China first before being annexed. White immigrants simply came for the land without any justifiable cause.

2. Chinese never massacred the locals. Tibetans are still the majority of the population there. American Indians, way less than 1%.

3. CIA paid Dalai $180k per year from 1953 (Korean War) to 1972 (Nixon visit to Mao) to rebel against China. Chinese intelligence service did not fund rebel Americans.

China in South China Sea is similar to the US in the Pacific, but with three differences:

1. The Pacific is not called the West American Ocean.

2. The South China Sea Islands were uninhabited originally, so China did not have to slaughter the locals (Hawaiians, filipinos. etc.).

3. China owned those islands three hundred years ago already, before any contestant nations even existed; the US had take its islands with gunboats.

Martial
Martial

@BobWilliamKnight You are Oxford grad? Let's say its true, then it is another example of corrupting British education that creates unqualified grads.

DerekChen
DerekChen

@BobWilliamKnight @Martial YOU ARE A STUBBORN RETARD WHO REFUSES TO ACCEPT EVIDENCE AND DECIDES TO RETORT IN A MANNER BY INSULTING OTHERS

JUST ACCEPT THE SOLID FACTS

DerekChen
DerekChen

@Martial @BobWilliamKnight Ha,haha so true right? Bob is simply ignorant and refuses to accept solid facts and rants on and on about how Japan should be forgiven. Somethings simply cannot be forgiven. 

FrancoisSt-Pierre
FrancoisSt-Pierre

@BobWilliamKnight @Martial Bob est tout simplement ignorants et refuse d'accepter les faits et les diatribes solides et encore sur la façon dont le Japon devrait être pardonné. Quelque chose ne peut simplement pas être pardonné.

DerekChen
DerekChen

@BobWilliamKnight @MikeWilliams You have not cited your sources either. I find it ironic that you would tell others to cite their sources when you have not cited your own. You are certainly not an Oxford graduate.

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