ICAS Special Contribution


Japanese Views of
Their Nation's Historic Legacy
from World War II

Dennis P. Halpin

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Email: icas@icasinc.org

Biographic Sketch & Links: Dennis P. Halpin

[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge the special contribution of this paper
with written permission to ICAS of Dennis P. Halpin . sjk]

Japanese Views of Their Nation's Historic Legacy from World War II

Dennis P. Halpin


To: Chairman Henry J. Hyde

From: Dennis P. Halpin

Date: November 13, 2006

Findings of Staff Delegation Visit to Tokyo, Japan, April 12-15, 2006

RE: Observations on Japanese Views of Their Nation's Historic Legacy from World War II; Interview with Professor Ushimura Kei on his work "Beyond the Judgment of Civilization," which questions the findings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East;

Relevancy for contemporary trials of convicted war criminals (such as Saddam Hussein)

This report has been drafted in response to a number of inquiries that the Committee on International Relations has received seeking the views of the Committee and its Chairman, Henry J. Hyde, with regard to Japan's historic legacy from the Second World War and the current impact this has had on regional relations. The Committee sought to address some of these concerns in a Full Committee hearing, titled "Japan and Its Neighbors: Back to the Future?" which was held on September 14, 2006. This report is an addendum to that hearing, providing details on information obtained by Congressional staff on the issue during visits to Japan in January 2004 (Halpin/Tillemann) and, more recently, in April 2006 (Halpin/Weil). Chairman Hyde as the last combat veteran of the Second World War serving in the House of Representatives, and as a veteran of the Pacific Theater, has expressed a personal interest in how historic issues in Asia are resolved especially as a means for promoting more constructive relations among America's allies in this increasingly volatile region. U.S. policymakers with responsibility for East Asia have given only marginal consideration to these issues, despite their potential for having an adverse impact on alliance management in the region and the resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Dennis P. Halpin, professional staff of the House International Relations Committee (HIRC), and Ms. Lynne Weil, Communications Director for the Minority on the House International Relations Committee (HIRC) traveled on official business to Singapore and Tokyo from April 8 to April 15, 2006. The purpose of this trip was: in Singapore, to discuss with the U.S. Embassy a possible Congressional Delegation (CODEL) visit later this year (which was held in August), to see the Singapore naval facility where U.S. ships make port calls, to discuss Singapore's relations with Japan (the Emperor of Japan visited in June), China, and Taiwan, and to hear the Singapore Government's views of possible Asian candidates to replace Kofi Annan as UN Secretary General at the end of the year (South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was subsequently elected.). Purpose of trip to Tokyo was: to discuss North Korean issues, cross-Strait issues, relations with China, Japanese public reaction to U.S. base issues, to visit museums which present Japanese historic perspectives on World War II, and to discuss Japan's perspective on UN reform and obtaining a permanent Security Council seat. Ms. Weil also had meetings with Embassy staff in both Singapore and Tokyo to examine U.S. public diplomacy operations at these posts.

A major focus of the staffdel visit to Japan was to ascertain popular attitudes with regard to the historic events related to the Second World War, including the judgments rendered by the Military Tribunal for the Far East (period of the Tribunal's operation was from June 1946 to November 1948). The death sentence announced recently in the trial of Saddam Hussein, and the denunciation of that verdict by his American defense attorney Ramsey Clark as "victor's justice," should give pause to those in Washington who have consistently ignored similar assertions made by leading figures in our allied country of Japan. The Government of Japan accepted the findings of the Military Tribunal for the Far East in signing the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco which formally brought the Second World War to an end. Article 11 of the Treaty states, in part: "Japan accepts the judgments of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and of other Allied War Crimes Courts both within and outside Japan, and will carry out the sentences imposed thereby upon Japanese nationals imprisoned in Japan."

Several leading political figures in Japan, however, have raised doubts about the validity of the Tokyo verdicts. Abe Shinzo, Japan's new Prime Minister, issued a written Cabinet statement on October 25, 2005, in his previous position of Chief Cabinet Secretary. The statement, which was given in response to a question from the Diet regarding the verdicts of the Military Tribunal for the Far East, said that "the war criminals were sentenced according to the international tribunal and not domestic laws" (despite the fact that the Government of Japan accepted these verdicts in the ratification of an international treaty.) However, Prime Minister Abe reportedly acknowledged the war responsibility of his grandfather, the late former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, and Japan's other wartime leaders just prior to his fence-mending visit in early October of this year to meet with the leaders of China and South Korea.

The web page prepared by Shinto priests of the Yasukuni Shrine, the most visible symbol of historic controversy in Asia, specifically states that the Military Tribunal for the Far East represents "victors' justice." The Shrine web site states, in part:

"This matter is drawn upon the judgment professed by the Military Tribunal for the Far East that Japan fought a war of aggression. Can we say that this view is correct? We must pass judgment on this matter in the same manner of a tribunal that passes judgment after gathering credible proof. We cannot help but feel the possibility of ulterior motives have not been discounted. Isn't it a fact that the West with its military power invaded and ruled over much of Asia and Africa and that this was the start of East-West relations? There is no uncertainty in history. Japan's dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia. We cannot overlook the intent of those who wish to tarnish the good name of the noble souls of Yasukuni."

How can Washington seek to respond to the Arab street, which is expressing grave doubts over the validity and justice of the Saddam Hussein verdict, while at the same time tolerating similar assertions in Japan? Yet no one in official Washington has vigorously defended the Tokyo Tribunal, which represents one of the great precedent-setting trials at the end of the Second World War dealing with war crimes, against widespread assertions in Japan that the verdicts represent no more than "victor's justice" and were a judicial sham.

The younger generation in Japan is well aware of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki due to the domestic educational curriculum, the anti-nuclear movement, and the annual anniversary dates in August that include commemorative ceremonies in these two cities which draw national and world attention. The younger generation's knowledge of Imperial Japan's war crimes, the subject of the infamous "textbook debate" in Japan, seems significantly less.

One of the leading advocates of a younger generation of Japanese scholars who question the validity of the judgment at Tokyo is Professor Ushimura Kei of Meisei University. I have read his book on the subject (in translation) Beyond the Judgment of Civilization and conducted a personal interview with him in Tokyo on April 14, 2006. In that interview, Professor Ushimura, who is forty-seven years of age, having been born more than a decade after the Second World War ended (1959), confidently asserted that "a majority" of his generation shared his view regarding the flawed nature and the injustices carried out by the Allied Powers, headed by the United States, in the administration of the Tokyo Trials. As Professor Ushimura represents a generation without any personal remembrance of either the Second World War or the Military Tribunal for the Far East which followed, his assertion is particularly disturbing. There must be strong cultural re-enforcements of the view that the Americans and their Allies carried out "victors' justice" in rendering death sentences to war-time Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and other Class A war criminals for a post-war generation to reach such a conclusion. An August 6, 1998 Associated Press report noted, for example, the top earning domestic film in Japan in 1998 was "a controversial movie that depicts Japan's top war criminal as a hero..."Pride," a film about World War II leader General Hideki Tojo...immediately provoked an outcry from neighboring countries, including China and South Korea, which were occupied by Japanese troops...The film portrays Tojo as a peaceful man who went to war in self-defense, and to liberate Asia from Western colonialism - a popular view among nationalist Japanese.")

Given the vital importance of both the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials as precedents in establishing an international rationale for the trial of such future war criminals as Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, it appears to go against American interests to be silent in the face of such vigorous challenges to the verdicts as those put forward by the officials at the Yasukuni Shrine or in the academic works of nationalist young scholars. Professor Ushimura presents as the major premise in his work Beyond the Judgment of Civilization (on page 8) the assertion that "The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which prosecuted Japan's wartime leaders following the Second World War, was a case of the victorious Allies' unilaterally dragging a vanquished Japan into court under the ex post facto legal charges of 'crimes against peace' and 'crimes against humanity.' >From the beginning there were no justices from neutral countries , and the Allied Powers were the sole decision makers as to the selection of the defendants. Furthermore, at the trial itself, such actions by the prosecuting Allies as America's dropping of the atomic bombs and Russia's declaring of war on Japan after breaking the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact were all disregarded as irrelevant. Here one finds the basis for the viewpoint that the Tokyo Trial was an instance of 'victor's justice.'"

Professor Ushimura places special focus on the Dutch and the War Crime Tribunals they conducted in Indonesia to further the Japanese assertion that Imperial Japan's war of aggression was undertaken to oppose Western imperialism in Asia. In discussing the memoirs of General Imamura Hitoshi, who was the commander-in-chief of the occupation army of Java, Ushimura asserts (on pages 315-316): "The verdict in Imamura's case was an exception, for, even though the fighting between Japan and the Netherlands had lasted barely nine days, the Dutch were the most unsparing in their judgments, surpassing all other Allies in sentencing a total of 236 defendants to death...Imamura asserted that 'the other Allied nations could in any case take pride and satisfaction in having defeated Japan...But at the end of the war Holland simply had the Dutch East Indies returned to it by the British and Australian forces that had recaptured them, so in the end it missed out on the sense of superiority that the others experienced in bearing down directly on the Japanese forces and overpowering them. Naturally, as long as emotions remain pent up, the appetite for revenge is not satisfied. This national discontent found an outlet for vindictiveness in the war crimes tribunals. In this way, the country that suffered the least harm carried out the most ruthless punishment.' ...Anger over the fact that Japan's military occupation of the Dutch East Indies became the decisive factor behind Indonesia's acquisition of independence after World War II; in other words, it was Japan's fault that Holland lost the colony it had held in Southeast Asia since the beginning of the seventeenth century...By denouncing the evil acts of the Japanese army through the medium of trials, the Dutch would not only be able to throw off the moral burden of their colonial rule but would easily attain the status of 'perfect victims.'"

Thus Professor Ushimura further articulates the Yasukuni assertion that Japan's quest for a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was aimed at throwing off the yoke of Western colonialism in Asia. The professor fails to note, however, that Dutch women captured by Japanese forces are the only Western women, among the large numbers of Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese and Filipinas, who have been officially documented as having been coercively placed in the Japanese Imperial Army's "comfort women" brigades as sex slaves.

The "comfort women" issue was further addressed in an April 13th visit to the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace (WAM) in Tokyo. U.S. Embassy officer Ann Kambara accompanied on the visit. The museum opened on August 1, 2005, marking the sixtieth anniversary of the end of hostilities in World War II. It is located in rented space in a building owned by a Christian organization near Waseda University. The museum contains documentation, including video-taped interviews with survivors, presenting the cases of about two hundred "comfort women" including Koreans (North and South), Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipinas, Indonesians, East Timorese, Dutch, Malaysians, Japanese, and Korean residents of Japan.

The museum's Secretary General, Ms. Mina Watanabe, discussed difficulties encountered in establishing and operating the museum, including finding an available, welcoming site, the total blackout on reporting on the opening of the museum and its continuing activities by the mainstream Japanese media, and harassment from extreme right-wing groups. The harassment has included episodic visits by members of right-wing organizations who adopt sinister postures and e-mails stating that museum members are "traitors," that they should "go back to North Korea," and that they are "friends of terrorists." Right-wing organizations have labeled the WAM as "a prostitutes' museum." The most sinister threat involved a posting on an internet web site which stated that "they don't have fire extinguishers in the museum, so it will be easy to burn them." This threat against the museum took on a more ominous tone following the August 2006 arson attack on the ancestral home of Japanese political leader Koichi Kato. That attack followed Mr. Kato's public criticism of former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.

The "comfort women" issue became a major focus earlier this year in the U.S. House of Representatives when the International Relations Committee, in direct response to a request from retiring Member Lane Evans of Illinois, agreed to take up a resolution of which he was the main sponsor. The resolution is H. Res. 759 "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of Japan should formally acknowledge and accept responsibility for its sexual enslavement of young women, known to the world as "comfort women", during its colonial occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II, and for other purposes." It has fifty-five co-sponsors. On September 13, 2006, the International Relations Committee agreed to seek consideration of this resolution under suspension of the rules by unanimous consent. Despite vigorous lobbying efforts by the Korean-American community, however, no further action is expected on this resolution in the 109th Congress.

The "comfort women" issue is only one of a series of unresolved history issues, including visits by officials to the Yasukuni Shrine; denial in certain quarters of the verdicts of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal; refusal by some to accept culpability for the Nanjing Massacre; lack of accountability for the use of Chinese, Korean and U.S. and Allied POW slave labor; a full accounting of bio-chemical experiments conducted on civilians and POWs in Manchuria; and the revisionist interpretation of history in some Japanese textbooks. These issues of unresolved history remain a source of major strain in Asia, especially between the two major allies of the United States in the region, Japan and South Korea. This issue periodically leads to severe strains between Tokyo and Seoul - an occurrence which becomes increasingly hazardous as the shadow of a nuclear North Korea is cast across Northeast Asia. Solidarity between our allies in the region has become increasingly essential, as a result of a nuclear North Korea, in the achievement of the policy goals of the Untied States.

Comparable strain from World War II history has never been a major factor in America's European alliance structure. One key difference regarding historic reflection is symbolized in the means by which former Axis Powers in Europe have addressed World War II questions in contrast to Japan. The Fosse Ardeatine Memorial on the outskirts of Rome, for example, where President Bush laid a wreath in 2004, contains the graves of over three hundred Italian men and boys who were shot in retaliation for a resistance attack on Nazi forces in Rome. A small adjacent museum contains photographs celebrating the liberation of Rome by Allied forces in 1944. This memorial and museum indicates how Italy has chosen as a nation to reflect on the Second World War as a commemoration of resistance rather than of collaboration. A major difference between Italy and Japan in this regard was pointed out by a Japanese scholar who accompanied our staff delegation on its April visit to the Yushukan Museum in Tokyo which glorifies Japan's imperial past. This difference involves the fact that, while a major resistance movement to Fascism developed in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, there was virtually no resistance to militarism in Imperial Japan once Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Japan, thus, has no resistance movement to celebrate in the national historic consciousness.

There have been, of course, a series of apologies from Japanese officials for the inhumane and shocking incidents carried out by the Imperial Japanese armed forces during the Second World War. These apologies have lost a great deal of their impact, however, because they are almost inevitably followed by statements of qualification or outright rejection by other prominent Japanese leaders. This, in turn, raises questions about the apologies' "sincerity" - a key virtue in East Asian Confucian cultures. And there has been no dramatic turning point in Asia which fully acknowledges the lingering wounds left by past transgressions so that the healing process can fully begin. There has been no dramatic gesture such as West German Chancellor Willy Brandt's "silent apology" when he dropped to his knees before the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in December 1970. In this case a picture was truly worth a thousand words. The lack of such a dramatic gesture in Asia has meant that there has been no genuine reconciliation between Japan, on the one hand, and China and Korea, on the other, since the end of the Second World War.

The Yasukuni Shrine and adjacent Yushukan Museum in Tokyo not only honor war criminals among the fallen, but also seek to justify Tokyo's World War II actions, including the attack on Pearl Harbor, by laying blame on the American oil embargo. The museum specifically presents the myth that the Pacific War was waged to liberate Asian nations from the yoke of Western imperialism. While these sites are maintained under the auspices of the Shinto religion rather than by the Japanese Government, the regular visits of the former Prime Minister, government officials, and Members of the Diet have given a semi-official imprimatur to the sites and their interpretation of history.

I had previously visited the Yushukan Museum and found that the two-year interim between visits had produced no discernible changes in the museum displays or in its message of glorification of Japan's militarist past. A former colleague from the International Relations Committee, Sarah Tillemann, and I made the first Committee visit to this museum in January 2004. Our conclusions were contained in a report of our staff delegation visit to Taiwan and Japan, which was submitted in March of 2004 to the Committee's Chairman, Henry J. Hyde. Our findings included the following:

"A staffdel visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and the neighboring Yushkan Museum supported reports that Japan has a long way to go before it makes peace with its neighbors over World War II atrocities...The Yushukan Museum further supports the accusations of Japan's neighbors. The museum gives an account of modern Japanese history, from the Meiji Restoration to the end of World War II, that justifies Japan's military aggression and trivializes gross human rights abuses. While this is not a mainstream Japanese interpretation of the war, it appeals to a wide enough audience that it has been given prominence in a major museum...A clear indication of the unique interpretation of history put forward at the museum is a wall near the exit containing photographs of leading Asian leaders of independence movements, most prominently being Mahatma Gandhi. The caption connected to the photographs noted that, although Japan's ambitions for a "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere" failed to be realized, various independence movements sprang up after the Second World War to continue the struggle for an end to racial discrimination and colonialism in Asia."

One can only wonder whether, sixty years hence, there will be a similar museum and shrine erected somewhere in the Islamic world which will present a similarly revisionist historic interpretation of the events of September 11, 2001 and will dismiss the recent conviction of Saddam Hussein for war crimes as "victors' justice." If America will not stand up to a strong and growing chorus of rightist voices in Japan which assert that the Pacific War was caused by FDR's oil embargo and not Japan's militarism then how will we address future assaults on America's "unilateralism ?" If we no longer "Remember Pearl Harbor" then how can we assume future American generations will "Remember 9/11"?

This page last updated 12/1/2006 jdb

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