No matter how hard it tries to dress up the war as a valiant battle against colonial powers the truth of its aggression will not be denied
When Japan is criticized for not atoning and apologizing for its imperial army’s invasion of other Asian countries, it feels wronged. But the Yushukan, a museum standing on the grounds of the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo, is proving Japan’s critics have it right.
The shrine is already controversial as it enshrines the country’s 14 Class-A war criminals and hundreds of other war criminals together with other war dead. But along with its permanent exhibits on Japan’s war history, the facility is observing the 70th anniversary of the “Great East Asia War” – the name Japanese right-wingers have given their country’s aggression against Asian countries and the war with the United States and Britain in World War II.
That name itself is a view of history, and a recent visit to the Yushukan let me see for myself how far the museum is taking liberties with historical accuracy.
On its second floor, the museum shows a documentary that portrays the imperial Japanese army’s aggressive attacks as acts of “self-defense”. Ironically, the film has the title We Don’t Forget, although it portrays Japan as a victim rather than the aggressor.
It claims Korea was the primary concern for Japan’s national security after the Meiji Restoration lifted the country out of its isolation, and blames pro-China conservatives for supporting a military revolt in July 1882, which expelled the Japanese from Korea.
Its curators have a problem with the Treaty of Tianjin, which China’s Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was forced to sign with France in 1885, for putting China and Japan on an equal footing. They claim that Japan had to arm itself in response to rapid armaments in China.
The museum blows its own trumpet and makes imperial Japan a role model and an inspiration for the rest of Asia. It claims that Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japan War (1904-05) encouraged other Asian countries to fight for their independence and extricate themselves from Western oppression. The Chinese were no exception, although they overthrew their own emperor and founded the Republic of China (1911-49).
The cause of WWII, in the museum’s explanation, was “harsh retaliation” against Germany after it was defeated in World War I.
With such an analysis, the museum exposes itself to ridicule and ignorance, if not bad faith in misleading its audience.
The exhibits are awash with fabrications. When discussing the period from the start of the Russo-Japan War in 1904 to the Manchurian Incident of 1931, the museum states that “the Chinese … with nationalistic and xenophobic zeal after the revolution, focused their animosity on the then existing international agreements. An anti-Japanese movement in Manchuria… prompted the action by the Kwangtung Army, and the establishment of Manchukuo”.
This narrative suggests that the Chinese chose to build the Japanese army which controlled Japan’s puppet state in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia.
In his written confession, Rokusashi Takebe, who served as chief of general affairs of the “Manchukuo”, said he had implemented the industrial development of the “state” during Japan’s aggression against China. And the designs were approved by the Japanese government and army at that time. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East convicted Takebe of being a war criminal.
The Yushukan describes Japan’s invasion of China as an “incident” because the two countries, in the museum curators’ words, did not declare war against each other, in defiance of the fact that China formally declared war against Japan in December 1941. The museum exhibits Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s written declaration of war against the US and Britain.
The narrative the museum has chosen to tell is about war between Japan and the US and Britain. It selectively and deliberately omits what it did to other Asian countries.
Shigeru Honjo, commander-in-chief of the Kwangtung Army, took his own life in November 1945. Maintaining his loyalty to Japanese emperor and his country and seeking to discredit China to the last, Honjo said in his farewell letter that the Manchurian Incident, which took anti-Japanese sentiment to its peak, began with a railway blast. “Insofar as the Kwangtung Army was concerned, we took action unavoidably, in self-defense.”
“We received no orders whatever from the government or from the supreme military commander of the Kwangtung Army at the time,” his letter continued.
This justification is only too blatantly an alibi for the imperial Japanese government, which drew up detailed plans for invading China.
In its very brief description of the Nanjing Massacre, which is named the “Nanjing Incident”, the Yushukan even puts feathers in Japanese army’s cap. “After the Japanese surrounded Nanjing in December 1937, Gen. Iwane Matsui distributed maps to his men with foreign settlements and the safety zone marked in red ink. Matsui told them that they were to maintain strict military disciplines and that those committing unlawful acts were to be severely punished.”
Then the massacre, in which some 300,000 Chinese people were killed, is described as merely something in which “the Chinese soldiers disguised in civilian clothes” were “severely persecuted”.
The museum displays many suicide letters of Japanese soldiers as a demonstration of their courage and loyalty.
Takajiro Onishi, vice-admiral of the imperial Japanese navy and designer of the tactic of kamikaze suicide attacks on Allied ships, killed himself on August 16, 1945, the second day after Japan surrendered. In his suicide note, he told his countrymen to maintain the special attacks with spirit … for “the peace of the people of the world”.
On Dec 26, 2013 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine – the first by a sitting Japanese leader in seven years, disingenuously claiming that he went there to reflect on the “preciousness of peace” and conveniently disavowing the hundreds and thousands of civilians the Japanese imperial army slaughtered.
The Yushukan, together with the Yasukuni Shrine, is Japan’s extreme embodiment of its forgetfulness, ignorance and self-pity.
Though it portrays Japan’s actions at the beginning of the last century as a noble enterprise undertaken by Japan in pure self-defense, the world should bear witness to the undeniable truth that this is a lie.
Now self-defense is back on Abe’s agenda and he has decided the country should reclaim the right to exercise it outside Japan.
When Japan, through such things as the Yushukan, is still allowed to exalt and glorify Japan’s imperial militarism, it is not surprising that Abe’s vision of self-defense sends chills down his neighbors’ spines.
Cai Hong is China Daily’s Tokyo bureau chief.
Copyright: China Daily