By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
TOKYO, Nov. 11 -- A former Japanese air force chief, removed from his post last month for writing an essay that says Japan was not an aggressor in World War II, is refusing to quietly fade away.
Pugnaciously defending his version of Japan's role in a war that killed millions across Asia, Toshio Tamogami, 60, told parliament Tuesday that he does not see "anything wrong with what I wrote."
The ousted general's revisionism, together with revelations that 94 air force staff members may have written similar essays this year, has triggered demands in parliament for a full-scale investigation of the training given to military officers to determine if it is consistent with government policy, which states that Japan deeply regrets and apologizes for its wartime aggression.
Questions have been raised about officer training at the Joint Staff College, where Tamogami served as a commandant and personally revised the curriculum. Some of Japan's elite military leaders were trained at the college.
Members of parliament said Tuesday that Tamogami may have taught trainee officers to deny Japan's aggression in the war.
"I think there is a need for reeducation and for a complete examination inside the military," Tokushin Yamauchi, an opposition lawmaker, said during his questioning of Tamogami.
Tamogami was dismissed for writing, among other things, that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor because of a "trap" set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also wrote that "many Asian countries take a positive view" of Japan's wartime role.
China and South Korea, the principal victims of Japan's brutality before and during the war, have voiced shock and anger over the general's claims.
In parliament Tuesday, Tamogami said he had no regrets. "I was fired after saying Japan is a good country," he said. "It seems a bit strange."
The affair of the noisily unapologetic general, whose views echo those of many prominent nationalists in Japan, is turning into a substantial political liability for Prime Minister Taro Aso, who must call a general election in less than a year.
Before he became prime minister in September, Aso, 68, an 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 there.
As foreign minister in 2006, Aso annoyed China by suggesting that Japan's emperor should visit Yasukuni, the shrine in Tokyo where convicted war criminals are honored along with 2.5 million war dead.
Documents have surfaced in recent years showing that during the war, Aso's family's cement business used thousands of Korean, Chinese, Australian, British and Dutch prisoners as slave laborers. Asked about the matter in September, Aso said that he was 5 years old when the war ended and that in his work at Aso Cement, he had "never been involved in this issue."
Aso moved quickly to rid his government of Tamogami, who was demoted within hours of his essay's appearance on a Web site Oct. 31.
The Defense Ministry, however, said it could not fire Tamogami outright -- and deny him a $600,000 retirement bonus -- without waiting several weeks for paperwork to be processed. So it allowed him to retire with the bonus. Demands are growing, even within Aso's ruling party, for the government to withhold the money.
Tamogami will have none of it. He told parliament Tuesday he has no intention of voluntarily giving back his retirement bonus, which has yet to be paid to him.
Since the general was forced out, an investigation by the Defense Ministry has found that his office encouraged air force officers across Japan to participate in the $30,000 essay contest that Tamogami ended up winning. The theme of the contest, which was sponsored by a longtime friend of the general's, was "The True Perspective of Modern History."
Sixty-three entrants were air force staff from Komatsu Air Base, where Tamogami was formerly a commander. It is not yet known if those essays also expressed revisionist views of the war.
In the past week, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada has apologized to parliament for educational material used in navy training. Since the end of World War II, the training information said, "Our nation has been gripped in the belief that we are an inferior race."
Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who served one year before abruptly quitting in September 2007, Japan backed away from its previous apologies to the "comfort women," the term used for the 50,000 to 200,000 Asian women forced by the Japanese government into brothels before and during World War II.
Abe, who had strong support in the nationalist wing of the ruling party, said there was no documentation proving that the Japanese military coerced Asian women into becoming prostitutes. His statements pushed the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a resolution calling on Japan to apologize for its treatment of the sex slaves.
Studies by the Japanese government itself have uncovered more than 100 documents showing Japanese military involvement in the building of brothels and the recruitment of women, according to a 2006 report by the Congressional Research Service.
Also under Abe, the government tried to whitewash the history of the war as taught in Japanese public schools. In 2007, the Education Ministry deleted references in textbooks to orders by the Japanese military in 1944 that civilians in Okinawa commit mass suicide rather than surrender to invading U.S. forces.
Courts here have since recognized the military's role in wartime mass suicides on the island, and textbooks have been rewritten to acknowledge that fact.
Special correspondent Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report.