Akiko Takenaka has written an article entitled, “Japanese Memories of the Asia-Pacific War: Analyzing the Revisionist Turn Post-1995,” for The Asia-Pacific Journal. In it she examines the different interpretations of the responsibility for the Second World War. The Japanese people have been criticized because they have not been sufficiently contrite about their role in the war. The article attempts to explain their various positions.
The conflict between those wanting to emphasize Japan’s guilt and those who want to minimize it reflects the almost universal breakdown on the matter of collective guilt. As Takenaka says “war memory has become a political position.” An accurate account of what actually took place has fallen victim to political agendas.
Crimes were committed. Japanese historians should record those crimes. They are part of Japan’s history. Revisionist historians argue that history books must present a picture that Japanese youths can be proud of. It should not be necessary to “whitewash” the history books. Even youths realize that crimes have been committed by all nations. However, a balanced account of what transpired does not fit with the progressive agenda. Crimes must be highlighted. The people of each nation must be made to feel guilty for events in their history. An incredibly thorough job has been done in Germany using the world wars and the holocaust. The people of the United States must bear the burden of slavery and the murder of the indigenous people. Guilt is an incredibly lucrative industry. Should Caucasian American be held responsible for slavery if the parents or grandparents migrated to the United States after the Emancipation Proclamation. Should they feel guilty for the plight of a Nigerian who just migrated to the U.S. simply because of his race?
Takenaka points out that the ways the Asia-Pacific War was depicted in Japanese textbooks caused tensions between Japan and its East Asian neighbors. The level of hostility is remarkably high considering the length of time involved. A member of the Japanese Lower House, Takaichi Sanae, born in 1961, has been in the forefront of efforts to deny responsibility for the war by people born after 1945. This is the position of individuals who believe in individual responsibility as opposed to collective responsibility. Sanae’s position is opposed by Carol Gluck, a holocaust researcher. Gluck argues it takes more than the top political and military leaders, therefore all Japanese bear some responsibility. It is easy to condemn people from the comfort of our living room. There were people who stood up and protested the actions of their despotic governments. In the case of Nazi Germany, the name of 22 year old Sophie Scholl comes to mind. She was executed in 1943.
Controversy has arisen by people paying official tribute at Yasukuni Shrine. This is where the spirits of all military dead from modern Japan including fourteen war criminals are memorialized. In the majority of towns and cities of the American South there are monuments to the fallen from the Civil War. There is a movement to remove these monuments. Defenders of their Confederate heritage are condemned as racist for opposing this.
Do the traditionalist have a point. They would like to portray Japan a victim and as the liberator of Asia from Western imperialism. In some respects this is true. Japanese occupation was not always as barbaric as it is portrayed. Chinese actually migrated to Manchukuo during the Japanese occupation. However, trying to make it appear as a benevolent policy is stretching it. The argument that Japan fought the war of self-defense might have some validity in the case of its relations with the U.S. The Roosevelt administration was well aware that cutting off Japan’s oil supply would lead to war. Their crime in China pale in comparison to the murderous policies of the Mao regime. The Japanese are condemned for their practice of providing “comfort women” for their troops.
It is a natural human trait to minimize the significance of crimes one is responsible for. Progressives are more than willing to condemn the crimes of the U.S. and Japan when they were under less progressive rule. Are they willing to condemn progressive regimes? Apparently not. They have successfully deleted numerous crimes from the history books.
Progressives have consistently underestimated the number of fatalities in the air war and the fact that this war was directed at the civilian population. In Europe is was known as the Lindemann Plan. Takenaka gives a figure of approximately 330,000 people killed in the air war over Japan. This is a bogus figure. The casualty figures for Hiroshima range from 90,000 to 146,000. The figures for Nagasaki are 39,000 to 80,000. The fire bombing of Tokyo resulted in 100,000 deaths according to American and Japanese authorities. Wikipedia claims, “both may have had reasons of their own for minimizing the death toll.” That would mean a total of 326,000 fatalities for three cities leaving the fatalities from nearly 197 cities uncounted. There is no mention in Western history book on the slave labor provision in the Morgenthau Plan and the Yalta Agreement. There is no mention of the engineered famine in Europe after the war. The Western allies did not establish barbaric comfort stations, instead through their economic policies they converted all Axis women into prostitutes. The Roosevelt administration was complicit in the Katyn Forest Massacre coverup. The list of embarrassing acts is as long the Japanese.
Finally, Takenaka mentions Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution which prohibits the Japanese military from going to war. It is a product of the postwar belief that Germany and Japan were uniquely aggressive and should be disarmed. This delusional view only lasted a short time before the West was begging the Germans to rearm. Article 9 has been very successful for Japan only because the United States ensures it safety. As the U.S. withdraws from Asia Japan had better make efforts to defend itself.