Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe selected 16 “insightful people” to hold a “sincere talk to review the 20th century and foresee the world order in the 21st century and Japan’s responsibility” (hereafter referred as “talk”). At the conclusion, the participants agreed that, “we need to remain loyal to the historical facts in the most possibly faithful way and face history squarely with a fair and sincere attitude.”
What are the “historical facts” that need to be respected in the most possibly faithful way? And what is the “history” that needs to be faced with a fair and sincere attitude?
The facts are seventy years ago, Japan waged aggressive wars against Asian and Pacific countries, imposing colonial rule on them. The facts are the Chinese people fought bravely in resistance against the Japanese troops and won sympathy and support from the United States, European countries, and other nations throughout the world; a Flying Tigers Fleet consisting of American volunteer pilots led by Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault of the U.S. Army Air Corps fought side by side with the Chinese Air Force. The facts are Japan launched wanton bombing of Chongqing, the wartime capital of China, causing heavy losses of civilian lives to infuriate Washington, which intensified its embargo on strategic material exports to Japan. The embargo escalated in August 1941 to a complete ban of oil exports to Japan, which relied on American imports for all its Navy’s demand for oil. In retaliation, Japan launched a sudden attack on Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941 and declared war on the U.S., which was followed by fierce battles between American and Japanese troops in battlefields from Midway to Iwa Jima to Okinawa.
The facts also include the Japanese army’s brutal massacre in Nanking, China and their sadist torture of American, British, and Australian prisoners of war. Facts are also the people throughout the world united as one to fight and wipe out the fascists on the Chinese, Pacific, European, and North African battlefields.
Therefore, whether Abe will, like former prime minister Tomichi Murayama, sincerely apologize for Japanese aggression and colonial rule in the past not only matters to the feelings of the Asian people but also the feelings of American people and the people of other anti-Fascist countries. If Japan does not “face the history squarely with a sincere attitude,” Washington should take it as shameful to be allied with Tokyo, for American people would not forget the bloody battles they fought together with its Asian allies against the Japanese fascists.
Attendees to the aforementioned “talk” said that, “it is very important for the Abe talk to sum up Japan’s contribution as a peaceful country and help the people to develop a common understanding about it.” That’s also what Abe had said emphatically on several occasions. The U.S. made the pacifist Constitution for Japan after World War II and enforced a series of democratic reform measures in the country, which in turn assumed a peaceful development mode to achieve remarkable economic growth and social harmony. That is also a part of the history that deserves other nations to “face up to squarely with a sincere attitude.” The “Joint Communiqué on Developing an All-round Strategic Relationship of Mutual Benefit” signed by China and Japan in 2008 in Tokyo stated that “China positively evaluate Japan’s contribution to the world peace and stability by remaining on the road towards a pacifist country.” At this time of commemorating the 70th anniversary of the victory of the anti-Fascist war, it is of positive significance to commend Japan’s peaceful development after the war, for a peacefully developing Japan is also a fruit of the world’s anti-Fascist victory.
Nevertheless, one has to note that Japan’s peaceful development was based on the demilitarization the U.S. imposed on the country in the early years after the war and was the result of Japan’s implementation of Article 9 of the pacifist Constitution over a long period of time. If Tokyo abandons the country’s post-war political system and pacifist mode of development, it will once again become a source of instability in East Asia. And that is definitely a negation of Washington’s original thoughts behind its post-war efforts to demilitarize Japan.
The “Abe talk’s” attempt to “remain loyal to the historical facts in the most possibly faithful way and face the history squarely with a fair and sincere attitude” is a welcome move and the intention to “sum up Japan’s contribution as a peaceful country” is also above reproach. However, it is up to Abe himself to decide the tone of the “Abe Talk” for its final version. In recent years, Abe has been importunately trying to distort history. For instance, he claimed that the Far East International Military Tribunal “based its verdicts on the victor’s judgment” and that “the recruitment of comfort women involved no coercion in narrow sense.” Such rightist thoughts of Abe that stem from the pre-war Imperial conception of history have seriously alerted and worried the international community.
Abe must understand – and the U.S. should exert pressure on him to let him understand – that the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II is the ripe time for him to profoundly reflect on Japan’s wartime crimes. We urged the Japanese government to take a responsible attitude towards history because we want it to realize the true nature of the war Japan waged in the Asia-Pacific and hope that Japan pursues a peaceful development. If Abe goes too far in the wrong direction, there will be no peace in the Asia-Pacific and the hard-won beginning of a Sino-Japanese détente may vanish. Look before you leap, Abe.