WWII Apologists Persist Despite Japanese Policy

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 3, 2008

TOKYO, Nov. 2 -- Once again, a Japanese official with nationalist sympathies -- in this case, the head of the air force -- has glossed over the Asian suffering caused by Japan during World War II.

Once again, China and South Korea -- principal victims of Japan's wartime depredations -- have expressed shock and anger.

And once again, the government in Tokyo has restated its official policy, which is that Japan deeply regrets and apologizes for its wartime aggression.

The abiding reluctance of prominent nationalists in Japan to come to grips with the past resurfaced Friday, when a hotel company announced the winner of its $30,000 "true modern history" essay contest.

The winning essay was written by Gen. Toshio Tamogami, who until Friday night was chief of staff of the air force. He was fired a few hours after the essay appeared on the hotel company's Web site.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because of a "trap" set by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Tamogami claimed in his essay, which also argued "that many Asian countries take a positive view" of Japan's role in the war.

He wrote, too, that the war was good for international race relations: "If Japan had not fought the Great East Asia War at that time, it might have taken another 100 or 200 years before we could have experienced the world of racial equality that we have today."

The essay concluded that "it is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation."

Explaining why Tamogami was fired, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters that a senior military leader "should not make public an opinion opposed to the government's position."

In 1995, then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama officially apologized for Japan's wartime aggression. Still, there is a politically potent minority in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that periodically backtracks and distances itself from the apology.

Before he became prime minister in September, Taro Aso, 68, a longtime elder in the ruling party, had made a series of statements that suggested his nationalist leanings. He upset the governments of North and South Korea by praising his country's 35-year colonial occupation of their peninsula, saying Japan did many good things.

As foreign minister in 2006, Aso annoyed China by suggesting that Japan's emperor should visit Yasukuni, the war shrine in Tokyo where convicted war criminals are honored along with 2.5 million war dead.


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