Japan's Struggle With History
By John T. Correll, Editor in Chief
Air Force Magazine - May 1995, Pg. 5
ACCORDING TO Washington Post reports out of
Tokyo, the Clinton Administration promised in March that
plans for commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the
end of World War II would be toned down in deference to
Japanese sensitivities. "We have assured Japan that
nobody in the US government or the military will use the
term 'V-J Day' this year," an unidentified official
said. A neutral term like "the end of the war" would be
used, avoiding any reference to victory over Japan.
Back in Washington, a damage control team swung into
action. A State Department spokesman assured Air Force
Magazine that the US government had "no policy to not
use the phrase 'V-J Day.'" The effort to set the record
straight, however, was conspicuously limp until
complaints by veterans' groups forced the issue.
Eventually, "administration underlings" were blamed.
This clumsy episode reminds us that World War II is
still a sore subject in Japan and also that some people
in this country are determined to make the memory of it
as inoffensive as possible to the Japanese. Many in
Japan believe their nation was a victim, not the
aggressor. Conservative groups in the Japanese
parliament, reflecting a position of considerable public
popularity, are blocking a proposal by Prime Minister
Tomiichi Murayama that Japan apologize for invading
other Asian nations and killing millions of people.
* In May 1994, Justice Minister Shigeto Nagano was
dismissed after saying that the 1937 "Rape of Nanking"
-- where the death toll of civilians killed by Japanese
troops exceeded the combined total from Hiroshima and
Nagasaki -- was a hoax. In August, another cabinet
minister, Shin Sakurai, Director-General of the
Environment Agency, was forced to resign for saying that
the subjugated nations of Asia had benefited from the
* In August 1994, Ryutaro Hashimoto, Minister of
International Trade and Industry, declared, "I can't
think that the war with the United States, England,
France, and Holland was aggression."
* In January 1995, a Tokyo news magazine, Marco Polo,
was shut down after denying, in an article titled "There
Were No Nazi Gas Chambers," that the Holocaust ever
* Popular historian Noboru Kojima says that "Japan is
too eager to nervously apologize when anyone complains
about the war." He questions whether, for example, the
"comfort women" dragged away by Japanese soldiers were
not just prostitutes.
Not everyone in Japan thinks this way. Otherwise,
Ministers Nagano and Sakurai would not have been driven
from office and Marco Polo might still be publishing.
Recently, textbooks used in Japanese schools have begun
to acknowledge that Japan waged a war of aggression, but
the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor gets only passing
On this and other aspects of the war, Japan remains
in denial mode. Former Cabinet Minister Seisuke Okuno,
who heads a group of 161 members of parliament opposing
the resolution of apology, says that if anybody owes
somebody an apology for World War II conduct, it is the
United States. In March 1995, Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi
Motoshima declared the US use of the atomic bomb in 1945
to have been a war crime on a par with Germany's program
of genocide against the Jews. "I think that the atomic
bombings were one of the two greatest crimes against
humanity in the twentieth century, along with the
Holocaust," he said.
Mayor Motoshima has been upset ever since the
Smithsonian Institution canceled an exhibition that
would have used the Enola Gay, the B-29 that
dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, as a prop in a
political horror show. As originally planned, the
exhibition portrayed the Japanese as defending their
culture against Western imperialism in a war that
culminated, needlessly, in the use of atomic weapons.
Mayor Motoshima and his colleagues in Nagasaki want to
bring an atomic bomb exhibit of their own to the United
States to do the job that the Smithsonian has dropped.
Such a program will be welcome, no doubt, as part of the
"National Teach-In on Hiroshima" that academic activists
are trying to organize at US colleges and universities.
The tragedy of the war did not begin when bombs fell
on Japan. It started with Japan's campaign of conquest
and atrocity to establish a "Greater East Asia
Co-Prosperity Sphere." The US entered the war when
attacked without warning at Pearl Harbor. Ultimately,
the war Japan started spread devastation throughout Asia
and most of the Pacific. By 1945, Japan had no hope of
winning but refused to surrender. Between April 1 and
June 30, the US took 48,000 casualties in the battle for
Okinawa alone. To hold the home islands and preserve the
imperial regime, Japan was prepared to expend a force of
3.5 million troops, thousands of kamikaze aircraft, and
a mobilized population. In making his decision to use
the atomic bomb, President Truman considered the
probable losses if an invasion led to "an Okinawa from
one end of Japan to the other." The mission of the
Enola Gay on August 6 was a military action taken to
bring the war to an end.
World War II does not call for neutral
interpretation. There was a right side and a wrong side.
The right side won. That is what we remember this
anniversary year -- no conciliatory adjustments are
required -- on V-E Day, May 9, and on V-J Day, August
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