Japan has a responsibility to recognize its war atrocities

By Gabriel Yiu*


As we neared the end of this old millennium, concerned citizens from around the world gathered in Tokyo, not to celebrate, but to cast a look back on history and address the question of Japanís responsibility for its role in WWII and to help victims of victimized countries to obtain justice from Japan.


The occasion was the International Citizensí Forum (ICF) on War Crimes & Redresses - Seeking Reconciliation & Peace for the 21st Century.

The list of supporting organizations for the forum is long: it includes

Global Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II in Asia, World

Jewish Congress, Canadian Jewish Congress, teachers' federations from

Hong Kong and Taiwan.


One might ask: For a war ended over half a century ago, why do people around the world still spend such a great effort to organize a event about it?†† The fact that the conference proceeded without any governmental assistance makes it all the harder.The truth is, not many countries would risk offending the second largest economic power in the world, not even countries that suffered at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. Sad to say, Canada is one of them.


Mark Weintraub said in his keynote speech at ICF: "The great task is to somehow move all levels of Japanese society to recognize the enormity of the crimes committed only 50 years ago. That in turn ought to lead to responsibility and to vest accountability with real significance."


To date, Japan has not apologized for the conduct of the nation's military and their atrocious acts of cruelty in WWII; nor has it compensated people who were brutalized.Germany, on the other hand, will have paid almost $60 billion US by 2005 to its wartime victims and their families.


The active organizers of ICF come from Japan and include scholars, attorneys and human rights activists. These far-sighted Japanese work in the cause of international and historical justice, for the younger generation in Japan, and to foster better relations between Japan and its neighbors. These people are branded "traitors" and live in danger of being assaulted by right-wingers in their own country.


One such brave soul is Professor Akira Fujiwara of Hitotsubashi University.

He said that Japan's post-war history has been whitewashed and distorted through censorship, and there as a lack of post-war trials of war criminals.In 1957, a Class A war criminal Kishi Nobusuke even became a two-term prime minister of Japan.


It is fact, noted by these Japanese scholars and professionals, that in recent years the militaristic right-wing elements in Japanese society and within the government have grown in strength. There are many telling signs.Textbooks have been cleansed to eliminate any mention of war atrocities.Government officers have visited the Yasukuni Shrine to pay homage to war criminals. Liberal Democratic lawmakers publicly endorsed a film that glorifies the prime minister and war criminals as honorable samurais and that treats the invasion of China as a just campaign to liberate China from Western colonialism. Last summer, the government pushed through Parliament bills that made the country's rising sun emblem its national flag and a hymn to the emperor its national anthem, both becoming legal symbols of the nation for the first time.The resolutions were opposed by many human rights groups in Japan.


The right-wing faction is clearly dominating the Japanese media. The ICF conference held in Tokyo received very low-profile reporting in Japan.


The ICF organizers considered the conference a success. Over six hundreds participants from various parts of the world exchanged views on the problems of guilt ascription, compensations and more positively reconciliation, closure and lessons for humanity from this dark chapter. The international background of the participants exerted some pressure for the ruling government. After the conference, ICF delegates met with officials from the prime minister's office and the chairman of the opposition Democratic Party.


A German academic, Dr. Gunter Sasthoff put his finger on it. In Germany, the atrocious history of the Nazi regime has been thoroughly and openly discussed by German citizens. The driving force in urging Germany as a nation to accept responsibility for its war crimes has been the citizens themselves. External pressure could only do so much; real change and commitment must come from inside.


Even the organizers of ICF knew that for the victims of the war to receive apology and compensation from the right-wing dominated Japanese government now is unlikely. To move things forward, we need some new ideas.


Earlier, the state of California passed two bills urging the pinpointing of war crime responsibilities and compensations. This is a great step. Other countries and states/provinces could do the same. Perhaps another method the redress movement activities could consider is to enlist the help of Hollywood. It could produce a Japanese version of Schindler's List (Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking is already a best selling book). In Japan, the influence of Hollywood is not to be underestimated; it certainly surpasses that of indigenous productions. A film about the responsibility of Japan for WWII crimes might be the driving force to move and stir up the Japanese citizens.




(Gabriel Yiu is a current affairs commentator and a free-lance columnist of Vancouver Sun.An edited version of this article was published in P. 15 Forum Section ofVancouver Sun on December 28, 1999.)