Japanese Atrocities, Apologies, and Atonement

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Japanese prime ministers have, at least four times to date, clearly and publicly and officially apologized for World War II atrocities, war crimes and transgressions. Since the prime minister of Japan is its highest-ranking executive of state, to say that Japan hasn’t apologized to its Asian neighbors is false. Even China, Korea, and Russia, as well as the United States, recognize that Japan has indeed apologized for her past actions.

The most recent official apology came in April of 2005, from current prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who said, "With feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology always engraved in mind, Japan has resolutely maintained, consistently since the end of World War II, never turning into a military power but an economic power, its principle of resolving all matters by peaceful means, without recourse through the use of force."

Even so, critics of Japan will say that the Japanese parliament should pass a law that makes an apology. There might be merit to this, and about 50 per cent of the Japanese public would agree with it. But since parliament has failed to pass any sort of "Apology Bill," some people wrongly believe this means that the Japanese out-and-out reject any form of apology, due to Japanese right-wing nationalism. Couple this with the Japanese prime minister’s insistence on visiting Yasukuni Shrine, and many foreign observers foolishly claim that the right wing is resurgent.

In 1993, a motion to pass a formal apology through the Japanese parliament, or Diet, was defeated. Not surprisingly, the conservatives in the government were vehemently against the resolution and walked out of parliament before the vote. But in a shock move, the pro-Beijing and pro-Pyongyang Japanese Communist Party and some socialist political groups voted against passage of the Bill. The Communist Party wanted a more strongly worded apology. The result was that the conservative parties teamed up with socialist and communist parties to defeat the bill. Politics does make for strange bedfellows sometimes.

To expect that Japan, a country that (as of August, 2004) has 19 political parties, will ever reach consensus on how to apologize for the war is to expect the near-impossible. The best that could be hoped for is an apology by the prime minister. Parliament most likely will never pass a bill, but this has nothing to do with denying war crimes or a nationalist resurgence.

I note here that there are 722 seats in the Japanese parliament. Of those, far right-wing political groups hold a grand total of — are you ready? — zero seats. The far right hasn’t held a seat in parliament since World War II ended. Judging from that, it’s hard to understand why foreigners say that there’s a right-wing resurgence going on. There’s not. The far right is considered the lunatic fringe by the Japanese public.

The Constitution of Japan states that the nation’s "highest organ of state power" is the National Diet. In the Diet there is no clear-cut separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The prime minister is the executive and the leader of the nation. An apology from him is an official apology.

To those who feel that having the prime minister apologize for Japanese World War II transgressions is inadequate, I would like to ask: Would an apology for the invasion of Iraq by British Prime Minister Tony Blair or US President George W. Bush also have no meaning?

Reparations and Compensation

Regardless of the above, the problem that remains for Japan in its relations with its neighbors is an economic one. Japan’s critics seek the moral high ground here by claiming that money is not an issue, but money comes up in every discussion of Japan’s wartime responsibilities. A few examples are Comfort Women, Korean A-bomb victims, and Nanjing massacre victims. If all this were merely a demand for an apology, the topic would have died long ago.

In any case, where in the world is monetary compensation not a fundamental matter when the subject of retribution comes up — whether it be a car accident or war crimes? Japan’s critics should not try to make themselves look like saints in this matter with their claims that this is not a money issue. This is undoubtedly a money issue.

And there is nothing wrong with demanding financial compensation. That is the way the world works. In fact, claiming that apologies are the issue (and not reparations) actually plays into the hands of the conservatives and right-leaning politicos in Japan, as they hold up those claims as evidence that Japan need not pay compensation "since this is not a question of money."

The first Japanese prime minister to have the guts to stand up to the old guard of Japanese politics regarding Japan’s past deeds was Morihiro Hosokawa, who apologized in 1993. Asian nations were quick to praise both Japan and Hosokawa. But that praise soon became scorn when they realized that it did not necessarily mean financial retribution or compensation. Many nations felt it was hypocritical to apologize but offer no compensation. They do have a point. Apologies for war crimes, in a logical progression, do demand monetary compensation.

Yet Japan, as a free nation and a world economic power, should not be held to the same yardstick as Asia’s despotic regimes. Japan, as a democratic nation, and due to past crimes, and admitted wartime aggression and atrocities, should be the nation that stands out as the leader in liberty and capitalism in Asia. Japan should not wish to be compared with the regimes of neighbors such as the former military government of South Korea, or the Chinese communist government that under Mao Zedong murdered over 50 million of its own, or a North Korean government that cannot even feed its own people, yet waged war on its southern brother.

Japan’s Remorse?

Another argument from Japan’s critics is that Japan shows no remorse over World War II in its government-approved textbooks. This matter is another one that seems to me to be greatly exaggerated. Japan is a democratic nation with a free press. If the government approves of a textbook that is accused of "glossing over Japan’s wartime atrocities," that doesn’t mean that every schoolchild in Japan uses that textbook. In fact, contrary to a country like China, for example, that has only one history textbook in its schools, Japan has hundreds.

Japanese schools are beginning to become afflicted with the same tendency that has ruined American education for years: Politically correct interpretations and use of language. School administrations in Japan are heavily loaded with left-leaning staff, and that’s why the playing of the national anthem in Japanese schools caused such a fuss in Japan just a few years ago. To this day, I have heard Japan’s national anthem played only once at my child’s school. Also, I haven’t yet seen any textbooks that fail to mention Japanese war crimes and aggression in Asia. I’m sure they exist — I’m sure books exist in America that claim Hitler was a swell guy, too — but to jump from that point to the conclusion that every school in Japan is teaching that Japan wasn’t at fault for war in Asia and crimes against other nations is preposterous.

Also, to say that the government approves of a textbook that does or does not mention this or that doesn’t nearly tell the whole story. For all we know, the textbook under discussion could be a mere 150 pages long, with lots of pictures, and it could deal with over 3,000 years of Japanese history. Such a book would necessarily "gloss over" dozens of important questions.

I am reminded of when I was a high school student and took a class in Modern European History. All of us students were fascinated by World War II; but when we got to the war, our teacher said, "World War II started on September 1, 1939, and the war in Europe ended on May 8th, 1945." That was it. The biggest conflict of the twentieth century and our teacher covered it in five seconds. He explained that the details of the war and various battles were not important. What were important were the reasons why. Even though we were disappointed, that did make sense. But I digress . . .

As a free country with a free press in a capitalist society, it could be argued that Japan should seek the moral high ground in all dealings with neighbors. I might agree with that. There are many circles within Japan today that believe Japan should pay retribution and compensation for the war. So, if this is true, then why hasn’t Japan been seen as too willing to pay? There are several reasons for this that must be kept in mind when considering a resolution.

Yasukuni Shrine Issue

One more area that garners Japan further criticism comes from a seeming lack of repentance when the Japanese prime minister visits Yasukuni Shrine. Foreign views on Yasukuni are often confused. As I explained in an earlier article, it is not a memorial intended to glorify Japan’s past military deeds. It was designated in the late 1800s as a place to pray for the souls of those who died due to war. There is a huge difference. The Japanese visit shrines to pray for the spirits of the dead. There are over 10,000 shrines in Japan. Yasukuni does not honor war criminals.

That being said, of the current population of Japan, a healthy 50 per cent believe that the Japanese prime minister should not visit the shrine twice a year as is customary, if at all, if the neighbors complain so much about it! For the average Japanese, visits to Yasukuni Shrine are of such little importance that they are a non-issue. Don’t blame the average Japanese for the duties of Japan’s politicos.

Shinto religion views the spirit of the dead as being separate from the body of the living. Shinto religion thus does not recognize the crimes that a spirit’s body committed while walking this earth. This is the way of Shinto. It is not for non-believers to decide whether or not it is right. Shinto is as old as Japan, and that means its history dates back to 700 years before Christ was born. By what right do we presume to tell the Japanese how they should or should not behave towards their dead?

The Shinto religion, although a minor one, is culturally and socially intertwined with the life of the Japanese people. Like Buddhism, it exists in harmony with other religions. Shinto also espouses peaceful coexistence between human beings. It is for this reason that places like Yasukuni Shrine exist, so that those who killed, whether they were convicted of war crimes or not — and Shinto views all killing as a crime — and those who were killed can be prayed for, so that their spirits may rest peacefully.

In spite of what is considered the commonly held belief about Yasukuni Shrine by the Chinese, Koreans, and Americans, things here also are not so simple. There seems to be a sort of nod and a wink of sympathy when it comes to China these days. China has been victimized, but China has also committed many crimes against its own people and waged war on neighbors. One need only remember the Tiananmen Square massacre, the treatment today of the Falun Gong, the invasion of Vietnam and occupation of Tibet, and genocide in its own country, to name a few.

Of course I’m not saying that these crimes make Japan’s crimes okay. I’m merely pointing out that China seems to have its cheerleaders in America today who want to gloss over China’s own wretched past. I have also been told that "China hasn’t invaded any countries for over 30 years." But selective morality helps no one. Japan hasn’t invaded anyone in 64 years.

Yasukuni Shrine is a shrine to pray for the peaceful rest of spirits, ghosts, and the dead. If a Japanese prime minister wants to visit a church to respect the dead and pray for their forgiveness and peace, then in my view, that is nobody else’s business. The dead have paid for their sins. As this politician said:

"The purpose (of visiting Yasukuni) was to express my respect for the sense of loyalty of the people who sacrificed themselves for their country . . . Enshrined at Yasukuni are not only Japanese, but also about 28,000 people from Taiwan who died in war, including my relatives, and I paid homage to their spirits as leader of a political party."

Who said this? Not a Japanese; it was Su Chin-Chiang, a Chinese politician from Taiwan. He added that the Class A war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni have paid for their crimes with their deaths.

The Chinese believe and promote the one-China policy. Governments around the world have come to accept this policy, so to say that, in this specific case, this politician is not Chinese but Taiwanese because his statement does not follow the Chinese communist government’s stated policy, is — let’s be polite — less than consistent.

Another argument I have heard is that to pray for a dead person’s peaceful afterlife is unique to Shinto so people in other countries don’t understand this. This is not true. In fact, other religions also believe that there are sins that can be forgiven after death. For example, Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that since no one who has sin on his or her soul can enter heaven (Rev. 21:27), there must be a place of cleansing after death and before heaven. Catholic teachings say that all of us, because of our human failings, will die either with the stain of some sin on our souls, or with some punishment due to sin still to pay, or both. If there were no purgatory to cleanse the dead of their sins, they could never enter into eternal bliss.

Shall I, as a non-believer of (amongst others) the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu faiths, tell the faithful that those are all false religions? Shall I tell them when or where they can pray, or what they may pray about, or how to follow their God? Shall I question their faith? As a believer in the God-given inherent freedom of man, I can only wish that the followers of those religions find the happiness and the peace to fulfill their religious duties as they see fit. How could anyone who believes in freedom say anything else?

It is perhaps more rational to ask if the government of mainland China is using the issue of Yasukuni Shrine and the supposed rise of Japanese nationalism as a weapon against its own industrialists and capitalists. China’s industrialists and capitalists are ascending and gaining political clout. This new class of wealthy entrepreneurs wants what their Japanese counterparts have had for decades: freedom. The Chinese communist party has no weapon with which to control these newly wealthy people. One of the few things the communist leadership can do to retain power is to try to fan the flames of nationalism in an effort to garner support from the newly rich, and also perhaps to align public opinion against the capitalists and for the government in case the need ever arises.

Chinese capitalists have worked with the Japanese for decades. Japan’s and China’s economies are intertwined. They cannot be separated. But there are huge differences.

For example, a Japanese businessman can move his family wherever he wants, whenever he wants; a Chinese businessman cannot. The Chinese government determines all movement of its citizens. Today’s Chinese citizen cannot freely move from one of China’s 22 provinces to another without written approval. There are Chinese people working as illegal aliens in their own country at this very moment. The up-and-coming wealthy in China don’t like this and want it changed, and for good reason. They want what the Japanese have — and they deserve it.

The Chinese communist party also knows what the Japanese people have. They don’t want to give it to their own people because it spells an end to communist leadership. This is the hidden reason why they keep bringing up the subjects of visits to Yasukuni Shrine, school textbooks, and unfounded island claims. It is a distraction for the masses.

The South Korean government has a similar problem, but it differs in that many South Koreans desperately want reunification with the North as they want to see their relatives before they all die. This is a reasonable request. But South Korea is also under the US nuclear security umbrella. Until the problems of reunification and North Korea’s nuclear weapons are solved, the South Korean government cannot be seen by its public to be supporting the intransigent position of the United States. Once again, Japan makes for a convenient boot-boy. At some point, though, expect an earthshaking change in Japanese and South Korean relations. Trade and cooperation between the two is exploding.

On top of that, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi has twice held private meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. This makes him the only head of state to meet with Kim, apart from Russia’s Vladimir Putin and South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung. Both visits were made without the approval of Washington.

Some Background

According to the Potsdam Declaration, and more specifically The Cairo Declaration of November 1943, the Allied nations wanted to build world democracy through the prevention of aggression and enslavement of other countries. The Cairo Declaration, created by Britain, China and the US, says:

"All three Great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan . . .

"It is their purpose that Japan shall be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the First World War in 1914, and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China. Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed. The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent."

We can read here what the publicly announced wishes of the Allied nations were. The important point — and it is not that difficult to understand — is that the declaration says Japan keeps any and all islands she held before the Asian aggression began. Islands that were not taken from China or Korea remained Japan’s, as those nations recognized Japanese ownership. This was what the Allies agreed. This makes any Chinese or Korean claims towards current Japanese-held islands in the Pacific spurious at best.

Understanding this critical point also explains why China wants to take the diplomatic route when discussing the status of the Senkaku Islands. China has no legal grounds to stand on in the matter, and knows it.

Consider the difference in China’s attitudes towards Taiwan and Senkaku. The government of mainland China reserves the right to take Taiwan by military force at any time. On the other hand, it wants to negotiate the status of the Senkaku Islands. If China felt it had a valid claim on Senkaku, there would certainly be no such conciliatory attitude towards Japan in dealing with this issue. This also explains why Japan doesn’t want to discuss it: There is nothing to be gained from discussions. Japan’s ownership is internationally recognized. The Chinese argument that the Senkaku Islands are merely rocks that cannot support economic development is a pathetic one. Could any uninhabited island, like California’s Santa Barbara Island, for example, support economic development without some sort of investment?

When talk turns to the matter of retribution, there are two schools of thought in Japan: The ones who believe Japan should pay compensation, and the ones who believe she shouldn’t. The Japanese Constitution refers to this, as does a Japanese Parliament resolution passed on December 2, 1945 concerning war responsibility, which reads:

"We think war responsibility should be defined in the following two ways: responsibility for initiating the war, which is attributable to those who recklessly plotted to disturb international peace, and responsibility for criminal offenses involving of atrocities committed during the war in violation of international conventions. The general public, which followed state orders and legally performed those activities, should therefore be exempted from any responsibility."

That last sentence creates one of the areas of disagreement. If the general public is exempted from responsibility, then, the argument goes, why should they be taxed to pay for reparations? One side claims that the people of Japan, as part of a nation that belongs in the family of nations, must carry their burden and pay for past mistakes. This is to argue that the United Nations and big government, for example, are the answer to our problems. The other side has many reasons to deny payment, but the most logical is that government is the root of all our problems, and today’s taxpayers shouldn’t be held responsible for something they had nothing to do with.

The idea that money paid by Japan to the governments of China or Korea will actually wind up in the hands of those who suffered during the war stretches the imagination. It suggests an extremely optimistic view of how political government operates. In fact, Japan was often used as an economic pawn by South Korean president Syngman Rhee in his dealings with the US concerning the Korean War and its aftermath. And the internationally recognized Chinese government of Chiang Kai-Shek renounced all claims against Japan for compensation in 1952 in return for help in fighting the Chinese communists. In a case of the pot calling the kettle black, these two men were then given cynical approval by Chou En-Lai as "legal bandits." Of course, this money never got further than the friends of Chiang Kai-Shek and Syngman Rhee. When Syngman Rhee went into exile and escaped from South Korea with the help of the CIA, his deputy minister of finance revealed that President Rhee had embezzled over $20 million dollars cash. Is this Japan’s fault? Of course not.

The Potsdam Declaration

The Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945, defining the terms for Japanese surrender, states:

"Article 6: There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist that a new order of peace, security and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world.

"Article 7: Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan’s war-making power is destroyed, points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies shall be occupied to secure the achievement of the basic objectives we are here setting forth.

"Article 8: The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine."

Japan was occupied to achieve these aims. But the Cold War changed the reasons for the US occupation, from creating a peaceful Japan to using Japan as a pawn against the Soviet Union and as a bulwark against a communist takeover of Asia. The US exercised absolute control over Japan and its postwar legal system. This power game also led the US to intervene in war crimes trials and to release political and business leaders, as well as convicted war criminals of the former Imperial Japan.

Considering these facts, it is outrageous for anybody — but especially the current political leaders of the former Allied nations of China, Korea, and the United States — to say that Japan is solely responsible for releasing convicted war criminals and does not show enough remorse for its actions in World War II. It is a denial of fact to say that the US has no responsibility for the current problems Japan faces with her neighbors, and for violating the Potsdam Declaration.

Who Forgave Japanese War Criminals?

The United States also bears much responsibility in covering for the crimes and misdeeds of wartime criminals in postwar Germany and Japan. Members of the infamous Japanese Army Unit 731, blamed for experimentation and developing biological weapons by using Chinese as guinea pigs, were exempted from prosecution by the US occupation authorities — not by the postwar Japanese government — in return for providing information on their experiments. Similar stories for former Nazi party members in Germany after the war ended are well documented.

Korean "comfort women" who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army had their grievances neglected by the American Occupational Authority, who chose to ignore the violations of their human rights and instead allowed the continued use of some of them as prostitutes for American GIs on Truk Island after the war.

After the war ended, the Occupational Authority under the leadership of Douglas MacArthur created and wrote Japanese law. During the Tokyo war crimes trials, no mention was made of compensation for Korean comfort women or victims of Unit 731. Japanese leaders were on trial there. It was the responsibility of the Allies to bring these charges against the former leaders of Japan. They did not. Why not?

The occupation of Japan officially ended on April 28, 1952, although there are still over 48,000 US troops stationed in Japan today. During the occupation, the United States and its allies were not interested in addressing Japan’s transgressions against Asian peoples. The only claims handled by the Occupational Authority were abuse against Western prisoners of war. The only case that US authorities handled concerning sexual slavery concerned Caucasian women who were captured in the Dutch East Indies. Claims from Asian women against the Japanese were ignored by American authorities. It is hard to imagine that, besides fear of communism, racism played no part in the US authorities ignoring Chinese and Korean claims for redress. If this is not a case of race hatred, then what could it possibly be?

Postwar Japan

The San Francisco Peace Treaty signed between Japan and the Allied nations also allowed for the issue of Japanese payment of compensation to be shelved for decades. Article 14 (a) states:

"It is recognized that Japan should pay reparations to the Allied Powers for the damage and suffering caused by it during the war. Nevertheless it is also recognized that the resources of Japan are not presently sufficient, if it is to maintain a viable economy, to make complete reparation for all such damage and suffering and at the same time meet its other obligations."

Because of the "red scare" in the US and the fear of a communist takeover in Europe and in Asia, the US not only allowed but encouraged former World War II allied governments in China and South Korea to make deals with Japan. These deals supposedly served the United States’ purpose of holding back the communist menace in Asia; Japan would help finance corrupt Chinese and Korean dictatorships friendly to the United States to help prevent their being defeated by corrupt Chinese and Korean communist regimes that were enemies of the United States. These deals were also made with the understanding that those Asian governments would silence claims against Japan by their own citizens in return for favors and money.

History shows how successful this policy was. Japan is left holding the bag today when it is obvious that the US, as well as the former governments of China and South Korea, bear just as much responsibility as Japan does in dealing with this matter. Is it Japan’s fault and Japan’s fault alone that this situation has come about? Hardly.

Another recent complaint about Japan’s postwar behavior comes from Americans and other Westerners who have the idea that Japan has gotten a free ride over the US defense of Japan all these years. It has already been pointed out above why the US allowed, even encouraged, Japanese intransigence in this matter, but the idea that Japan gets free shelter under the US defense umbrella is nonsense.

In an article that appeared in the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network’s website, Asia expert Gavin McCormack wrote:

"In less than three years since 9/11/2001, Japan has paid around $30 billion dollars in u2018support’ costs for the US (military) bases in Japan, including, in 2003 alone, almost $6 billion for the bases that most Okinawan people would dearly love to be rid of; it was also paying huge sums as part of its so-called u2018rear-support’ for the anti-terror coalition, including meeting the oil needs of allied ships in the Persian Gulf. In addition, the Japanese government subsidy for the 39,691 US troops stationed in Japan amounts to around $150,000 dollars per head every year. On top of that ongoing commitment it has also promised to build for the US Marines a brand-new base in the waters of northern Okinawa likely to cost an additional one trillion yen ($9 billion). Washington has no other ally in this league of open pocket generosity.

"Asked for additional aid for rebuilding Iraq, and told that u2018billions’ was the appropriate unit for consideration, Koizumi promised $5 billion, far in excess of any other contribution other than that of the USA itself and about three times the sum levied from the whole of Europe."

From reading the above it is plain as day that Japan does not get a free ride on defense from the United States and, in fact, since the so-called War on Terror began, Japan has been the ATM for US President George W. Bush in financing his international folly.

Japan is stuck in its special relationship with the United States. In fact, for Japan to get out from under the US security umbrella, it would have to become a nuclear power in order to offset a nuclear North Korea. Would a nuclear Japan be what Japan’s critics want?

It doesn’t take too much imagination to realize that China and Korea cannot have their cake and eat it too. If Asian countries wish to have an Asian-leaning Japan, rather than one that relies so heavily on the United States, then something has to be done about nuclear-armed North Korea. No Japanese prime minister could hold his office for more than a second if he were to announce a unilateral withdrawal from the US security agreement without having some sort of nuclear deterrent towards a belligerent and anti-Japan North Korea, or even China for that matter. It’s imbecilic even to consider that a Japanese prime minister could.

Deals with Despotic Post-War Asian Regimes

Throughout the 1960s Japan made several deals with the government of South Korea and the internationally recognized government of China in Taiwan. (Communist China was not internationally recognized or given a seat in the United Nations until 1971.) In the case of South Korea, those in Japan who wish to refuse any compensation to Korean nationals will cite the Japan-ROK Treaty of 1965 which shocked the world and normalized relations between the two countries.

In 1965, $800 million dollars, in a combination of grants ($500 million) and low-interest loans, was made by the Japanese government to the government of South Korea under its military dictatorship of Park Chung Hee. The terms of the deal, which were kept secret for 40 years, recorded that South Korea agreed to demand no compensation, either at the government or individual level.

As a part of that 1965 treaty, because the South Korean government renounced its ability to make state claims against Japan, Japanese investment poured into South Korea. In return, the government of South Korea suppressed claims by its nationals against Japan. It can therefore be seen that the South Korean government is as much to blame as Japan for non-payment of World War II victims of Japanese war crimes. Of course, there are many who claim that the former government of South Korea was corrupt, but whether it was or it wasn’t, to blame Japan solely is hypocritical.

Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek toast the Japanese surrender

In China, after the war ended, and wanting all the help he could get in fighting Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek absolved Japan from all crimes by blaming atrocities on Japanese imperialism. The Japanese were hugely indebted to him for this, but it also led many Japanese to question why — if the internationally recognized Chinese government absolved Japan of its sins — Japan should have to pay any more compensation. There is something to be said for this argument, too. Returning the favor, Japan did not recognize the communist government of China until 1971. This is one of the reasons that Taiwan and Japan enjoy good relations to this day.

Japan, under US occupation and the US security umbrella after World War II and all through the Cold War, was in no position to make foreign policy without the express approval of her masters in Washington. After the war ended, almost all of Asia was under the boot of some sort of dictatorship or colonialism. China, North Korea and the USSR were communist countries with a stated agenda of over-running the so-called democratic countries. Dictatorships in the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan made financial deals with Japan and the United States and, in turn, ran roughshod over their own people’s human rights in order to protect the position and line the pockets of the ruling class. Hong Kong, Macau, and Guam were still under the control of American or British empires in Asia; Japan was occupied and overwhelmed by American and Soviet hostilities.

All the people of all these Asian nations could not make their voices heard under these conditions and under the oppression of dictatorships and occupation. This includes the Japanese.

Until North Korea’s military capabilities are dealt with, Japan cannot realistically come out from underneath the US nuclear security umbrella — unless, of course, Japan throws away its pacifist constitution denouncing war as a means to resolve international disputes and becomes a nation armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. That is not what Asia wants.

But what can Japan do about the situation now? This is a difficult question, and the bashing of Japan by people unfamiliar with history only serves to create ill-will and intransigence on the Japanese right, especially when that bashing comes from British, Australians, Chinese or Koreans living under governments just as guilty as the Japanese government in allowing this situation to go unresolved for so long. And that goes double for hypocritical and busybody Americans that are just as guilty as anyone else is in this matter.

To blame Japan for all the problems she currently faces with her Asian neighbors is to ignore historical fact and record. Perhaps Japan should pay more reparations or compensation to people from Asian nations, but to say that Japan hasn’t apologized for the war, hasn’t made any attempt to compensate, and hasn’t even thought about it much, is completely wrong.

Japanese Victim Complex

Finally, one of the biggest problems with getting the Japanese to consider war reparations is the self-pitying victim complex that many of them have. Even left-wing intellectuals will say, for example, "The British, Americans, French, Dutch and Russians haven’t apologized for murdering Chinese and Koreans, and nor have they apologized for colonizing those countries." Or: "The war was not all Japan’s fault as other nations were building empires in Asia too." Or: "The United States did not apologize for twice dropping atomic bombs on civilian-populated cities." These are all facts. Even so, they are poor excuses.

It doesn’t make too much sense to say that because I suffered, I need not apologize to you for the suffering I caused you, now does it? As pro-Japan and pro-Japanese thinking as I am, I don’t believe that the Japanese should use the same childish excuses that Americans and others have used, and continue to use to this day.

Of course the Japanese suffered greatly. Of course many died. But Japan killed and injured many in a war of aggression against her Asian neighbors too. Those victims and their families deserve satisfaction. What that satisfaction entails is up to each victim. It is conceivable, practical and quite realistic to believe that these people deserve compensation. But to blindly blame Japan for everything, to lie about events and whip up nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiment, does no one any favors excepting the ruling classes in China and Korea. It also plays into the hands of the conservatives in Japan who do not want to pay any more money to Chinese and Korean victims.

There are many challenges to overcome. The law of Japan, written by the American Occupational Authority and passed into law in 1947, does not recognize the concept of damages. The law also has a statute of limitations — a limit on the time period during which a person can file a lawsuit. In recent court cases involving Koreans and Chinese who have asked for compensation from Japan, the statute of limitations was cited and the court cases dropped. For example, in April of 2005 a Tokyo court rejected a suit asking for an apology and compensation to survivors and relatives of victims of Japan’s biological warfare and the 1937 "Rape of Nanjing," in which it is generally agreed by modern historians that Imperial Japanese soldiers killed 150,000. The court ruled that the statute of limitations applied. Keep in mind that the courts and judges are there to uphold the law, not to write it.

Also, for good or bad, since Japanese law doesn’t recognize the concept of damages, it cannot allow for compensation payments excepting losses actually incurred. Contrast this with the United States, for example, where someone can sue you in court for damages and where common sense goes out the window in far too many cases today. For example, a woman buys some hot coffee at McDonalds and spills it on her lap while driving her car. A court awards her a $4.7 million settlement. This would never happen in Japan.

An imaginary example: I get hit by a car and hospitalized. In Japan, I can sue only for hospital bills, and lost income. That’s why Japanese courts are not clogged with people suing each other all the time and in constant litigation. The Japanese will negotiate financial settlements in most cases. Is this good or bad? That’s for each person to decide. But that’s the way it is.

So, from a legal viewpoint, Japan cannot pay damages due to China and Korea due to the law of the land — which was written by the United States. Not until the law is changed, anyway. And it won’t be changed if the Japanese feel they are being picked on — such as being told that Japan hasn’t apologized for World War II; or feeling that other nations are interfering with her domestic affairs. These are important points to keep in mind whenever discussing these issues.

Another important point — I believe a critical one — is the selective morality evident in these matters. For example, one of the biggest outstanding claims against the Japanese government is from Koreans — prisoners in Japan in 1945 — who were exposed to radiation poisoning from the atomic bomb blasts. After the war, they were repatriated to Korea under the terms of the Japanese surrender. After these poor people were returned to their homeland, their own government denied them medical care for injuries caused by the bombing and its effects. Perfectly reasonably, these victims then claimed compensation from the Japanese government. But why haven’t they sought retribution from their own government — a government that received money from Japan on numerous occasions?

Questions and Solutions

In the case of the Korean victims, deals made by the former military government of Korea with Japan let Japan off the hook for non-state claims from those who suffered. The South Korean government received money from Japan, yet didn’t compensate its own suffering people, and then suppressed claims by its own nationals against Japan. Why is Japan the only defendant in cases that involve financial retribution and demands for compensation? Why does Japan have to take all the criticism? Why don’t these people sue their own governments and the United States too?

When Chinese sue the Japanese government for damages over the Nanjing massacre, or chemical and biological warfare injuries suffered, why do they sue only the Japanese government? Remember, Chiang Kai-shek forgave and dismissed all personal claims against Japan in return for financial help to fight the communists. Why don’t they sue their own government in Taiwan? Why not sue the US government that prevented claims of this sort being heard during the Tokyo war crimes trials?

Why don’t the Korean A-bomb victims, while suing their own government and the Japanese government, also sue the US government for using a weapon of mass destruction on a civilian population in a blatant war crime? The US should certainly be named as a defendant in any claim for compensation for suffering or death caused by the atomic bomb.

As far as proof of the dropping of the A-bomb on a civilian city being a war crime, one has only to look at international law and what is written in the Geneva Conventions. The bombing was also known by the US government of Harry S. Truman at the time to have been completely unnecessary.

One reason that these people do not sue their own governments is that they have no faith in their own legal systems. And it might look unpatriotic. If the victims of Japan’s past war crimes and aggression were to be completely fair, and sue all who have prevented their claims for redress up until this day, then it might send a message to their corrupt governments — and other corrupt governments around the world — that they may one day be held responsible for the same type of shenanigans.

In the twenty-first century, Japan should squarely face the question of how to placate and satisfy her Asian neighbors for past crimes. Until Japan does, it will be nearly impossible for her to be accepted back in her Asian family. That being said, ignorant fanning of the flames of nationalist resentment holds no benefit for anybody. Nationalist rhetoric and racial hatred is not beneficial to any of the parties in this discussion, especially when it comes from the United States, one of the main culprits in this entire affair.

This article proofread and copy edited by Jeremy Irwin.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He is the president of a mass-media production company and also runs a talent agency in Japan. His first book, Schizophrenic in Japan, is now on sale.

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