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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a clear statement by having his ritual gift, with his name and the title of his Liberal Democratic Party, sent to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday.
He did not visit the shrine, because it would have been a slap in the face to Japan's neighbors and the United States, but he did not stop members of his Cabinet from going to the shrine. Even though, as he and they well know, their visits to the shrine were not a matter of personal choice, as the shrine commemorates 14 Class A war criminals among Japan's war dead.
Thursday marked the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, and not only did Abe avoid the promise usually given by his predecessors to uphold Japan's pledge not to engage in war, he also broke with two decades of tradition by not expressing any remorse over Japan's aggression against its neighbors.
The Abe administration is deliberately trying to sweep that part of the country's past under the carpet. The neo-nationalist officials claim that the world is prejudiced against Japan, but that is because it refuses to acknowledge and apologize for the suffering it caused with its imperialist ambitions.
From the Nanjing Massacre in the opening months of the war against China to the Rape of Manila in the final stage of the Pacific War, imperial Japan's soldiers left a trail of unspeakable cruelty and rapacity across Asia.
Abe and his supporters try to pretend these atrocities never happened, but history will not be denied by their attempts to obfuscate the past.
To escape a crisis of national identity, some Japanese politicians have tried to rewrite history, claiming that people who do not have a history to be proud of cannot constitute a nation. But how can people take pride in a nation that refuses to take an honest look at itself?
Japanese conservative elites have proven steadfastly disinclined to seriously open either their minds or the archives when it comes to the war. They remain wedded to the narrowest technical notions of reparations and redress, and still proudly commemorate the country's Class A war criminals.
But in doing so they are incurring the odium of Japan's neighbors.
Instead of trying to find glory in denial, they should give the country back some pride by issuing sincere statements of responsibility, repentance and apology.
(China Daily 08/16/2013 page8)