Japan’s Remorse


Japan has had a very difficult past. Whitewash has not worked. War memories are not yet distant. The third generation has been facing a dilemma, which looks unresolved between Japan and its Asian neighbours.

On 14 August, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s expressed a “mixed remorse” on the 70th anniversary of end of World War II. He hoped that the future generation would not offer an apology. Critics say he played down Japan’s war brutalities. He declared: “We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologise.”

Next morning Japanese conservatives, some wearing imperial army uniforms, and some Diet members gathered at the famous (notorious for Chinese and Koreans) Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo where “A-Class” war dead are buried. Fearing severe reaction from China and the two Koreas, Abe did not go but he still participated. He sent a “ritual cash” to show his own commitment with the souls of dead.

They chanted patriotic songs. They paid homage to dead to “revive” their own spirit to defend Japan. They asserted that Japan had done “no wrong”. Actually, they were the one who were held responsible for aggression 70 years ago. From the Meiji era, it is said that more than three million compatriots laid down their lives for Japan. They were soldiers and young Kamikaze (suicide pilots).

The American anger resulted in atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that resulted in heavy toll, making Japan the only nation to have suffered from a nuclear holocaust. Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan on 15 August 1945.

Emperor Akihito went ahead of many steps to that of Abe. The outside world has taken up his apology more seriously than Abe’s. The mood of Emperor Akihito contrasted with Abe who took the full responsibility of Japan’s aggression and offered “deep remorse” for the war, expressing hope that the “war ravages will never be repeated”. “Together with all of our people, I now pay my heartfelt tribute to all those who lost their lives in the war, both on the battlefields and elsewhere, and pray for world peace and for the continuing development of our country”, the Emperor said.

The Socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama offered the most ‘heartfelt apology’ in 1995 commemorating the 50th anniversary of end of war, which was most welcomed by China and Korea, the nations that suffered the most. They closely watch Japan’s apology events. The present Sino-Japanese relations hinge on the mood of apology. China, however, slammed Abe’s apology. China was expecting a “sincere apology” as was stated by Chinese Foreign Ministry, adding that Japan should have made “a clean break with the past of militarist aggression, rather than being evasive on this major issue of principle.”

The Nanking massacre and comfort women are a stigma for Japan. The Article IX was thus well placed to demilitarise Japan and chopped-off its Asian territorial possessions taken during wars. Under military alliance with United States since 1951, Japan has been pursuing a policy of non-aggression against its immediate Asian neighbours.

Now the neighbours are no longer weaker. Two of them possess nuclear arsenals. Many of them challenge Japan’s economic ascendency. Japan can deter threat with the support of the United States under a nuclear umbrella provided to it. The Cold War security architecture erected after Japan’s defeat has been witnessing changes and the world has to see how Japan fills that vacuum.

Asian peace depends on Japan’s mood and its relations with China. Japan cannot undermine, ignore, and remain indifferent to China. They have to come to terms. Bilateral dialogue must be resumed. China’s position in the South China Sea should be understood. Outsiders should not meddle to escalate tension. Let the Sino-Japanese rapprochement to work to defuse the tension as did in the early 1970s.

Abe is in a dilemma. There is internal and external pressure on him to convert the Self Defense Forces into an assertive posture. He wants to reinterpret the Article IX of the Pacifist Constitution that demilitarised Japan. Article IX explicitly declares that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained”.

Abe thinks that this has handicapped Japan to effectively contribute to ensure peace in world affairs under the changed circumstances and the SDF must participate. The Americans, who drafted this article, would not object now if the meaning attained in 1947 will be changed by Abe and his Diet. The world still has to see if military assertive and re-militarised Japan would not be a threat to its Asian neighbours and continuously plays its peaceful role.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ISS or of the Government of Pakistan.