Recent opinion-editorials and analysis of the tension between China and Japan tend to trivialize the World War II atrocities committed by Japan’s Imperial army and attribute the root of tension to geopolitical power struggle between the two nations.
Overlooked by these western analysts are historical facts. They also fail to notice that anti-Japan protests are coming from all over Asia, not just China, and even among Asian American communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Imagine a serial rapist and mass murderer who suddenly became a model citizen, even a wealthy individual known for community service and philanthropy. Can any length of exemplary conduct expiate his past criminal behavior?
If the statue of limitations can never expire for individuals that committed capital crimes, then why are American commentators so willing to dismiss the World War II atrocities Japan committed? Is it because they fail to comprehend the intensity of Asian feelings on this forgotten Holocaust? Asians can not forget.
The Japanese troops slaughtered innocent civilians at random without provocation and with extreme cruelty. They used live civilians tied to posts and infants tossed in the air for bayonet practice. Officers held contests to see who can behead more prisoners with their Samurai swords.
Women in Nanjing China and elsewhere in Asia were gang-raped and then butchered. Rampaging soldiers derived sadistic jollies by slitting the bellies of pregnant women and extracting the fetuses. Women from occupied countries were forced into sexual slavery to satisfy the lust of the troops.
A Colonel Ishii ran Camp 731 near Harbin China to conduct biological experiments on prisoners that included injection of live bacteria, surgery without anesthetics, and breaking limbs after subjecting victims to extreme cold. Even though victims of Camp 731 experiments included American prisoners of war, Colonel Ishii was never tried for war crimes. The American authorities let him go in exchange for his amassed biological data.
Downed American flyers captured near Chichi Jima towards the end of the war were ritually executed and their livers barbequed and eaten by the troops defending the island. This was reported by Jim Bradley in his book, Flyboy.
These were not isolated acts of violence but results of a deliberate edict from the top and implemented on a massive scale.
The government of Japan has always been quick to point to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in portraying Japan as victim of the war. Their textbooks and official documents do not portray Japan as the aggressor and described none of the atrocities committed during the war, not even those acts photographed by their own troops as take-home souvenirs.
Perhaps not by design, but Japan instigated the latest flare-up in tension by approving another set of textbooks containing the same denial of events in WWII. At the same time, the government actively campaigned for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.
The reaction from the people of Asian ancestry is visceral. To say that the Beijing government is behind the protest or that this is mere manifestations of power play directed towards Tokyo is patently nonsense.
Since the conclusion of WWII and the adoption of the so called “peace” constitution, Japan has been a phenomenal economic success and a generous donor to the developing nations. They can indeed make a strong case for a permanent seat on the Security Council except for their unwillingness to apologize and make full restitution to their WWII victims. This is akin to the reformed criminal refusing to express regret for his past.
Every decade or so, one of Japan’s prime ministers would express remorse, the latest being Junichiro Koizumi while attending an international forum in Indonesia. But his “heartfelt apology” is not enough. It is not the same as an official act accompanied by a law that mandates the restitution of damages to victims and the introduction of the truth of Japan’s dark past into the textbooks. One has to wonder about his “heartfelt-ness,” when his foreign minister immediately proposes to examine China’s history textbooks for inaccuracies on their depiction of Japan and the war.
China supports Germany’s application for a permanent seat and Japan can learn from Germany’s example. Immediately after WWII, Germany apologized and paid billions in restitution. Germany made no attempt to deny the existence of the Holocaust against the Jews but incorporated that history into their curriculum.
Germany’s action leads to healing and forgiveness. Japan’s inaction leaves a festering wound. The world is reminded of Japan’s past whenever another leftover poison gas canister is uncovered in China, or when Japanese leader makes another visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, or the Ministry of Education approves another textbook with the cover up.
To earn the trust and even affection of their neighbors without reservations, the people of Japan must renounce their past. They can’t renounce their past if they don’t know what happened. By making a full admission of the misconduct of WWII along with full restitution, the government of Japan will finally earn the respect and honor a great nation deserves, a nation that can face the truth and not resort to cover up.