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Ambivalent Japanese split over war responsibility
By Kwan Weng Kin (The Straits Times)
Updated: 2005-08-17 13:23

Sixty years after the end of World War II, the Japanese still have not come to a general consensus as to who was responsible for that dark chapter in their nation's history.
Ambivalent Japanese split over war responsibility
Chinese plaintiffs, including families of the victims, and Japanese supporters arrive at the Tokyo High Court with the banner demanding apology and compensation for the victims of germ warfare conducted by the former Japanese imperial army during World War II in Tokyo Tuesday, April 19, 2005. [AP]

Six decades after Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender, there are still calls for a full-scale inquiry to determine just who were guilty.

On August 15, Japan's largest-circulating daily, the Yomiuri Shimbun, published an editorial entitled Time Ripe for Review of War Responsibility.

Many Japanese have expressed doubts about the legality of the post-war Tokyo Tribunal that tried the nation's wartime leaders.

"Nonetheless, there is no mistake that the war caused awful suffering to people of East Asia, leaving Japan to live with a sense of historical guilt," said the Yomiuri.

"If the Tokyo Tribunal is considered to have had many highly questionable and unfair elements, it may be advisable for the Japanese people to reconsider who bears responsibility for the war."

But the country is also split over the question of whether it was justified in going to war against the United States and China.

According to a survey published on August 15 by the Mainichi Shimbun, 43 per cent of the Japanese people think the war waged by Japan was wrong, while 29 per cent think it was "unavoidable."

It also found three in four Japanese believe there was not enough public discussion about war responsibility.

The Japanese people's ambivalence towards WWII is also seen in their attitudes towards Class A war criminals.

Some of those war criminals were later pardoned and became Cabinet ministers. But 14 of them are enshrined in the Yasukuni war shrine.

Their presence in the shrine divides the relatives of the 2.5 million war dead who are also honoured there.

Many war-bereaved families urge Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and even Emperor Akihito to pray at the shrine, and they consider wartime premier Hideki Tojo and other Class A criminals to have been wronged.

But on August 15, nearly 200 people took part in a symposium demanding their Premier refrain from going to Yasukuni out of consideration for the feelings of other Asian countries that were victim to Japanese military aggression.

Japanese who hold such views may be fighting an uphill battle as Japanese society is slowly subscribing to right-wing sentiments.

The latest edition of a high school textbook written by right-wing historians, which critics say whitewashes Japan's wartime history, found more acceptance this year among education boards than it did four years ago.

Observers say the textbook, produced by the Tsukurukai group, also appears to owe its greater endorsement to pressure exerted by lawmakers belonging to Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Moves by nationalist LDP lawmakers to revise the Japanese Constitution and to elevate the status of the Self-Defence Force, Japan's de facto military, have also caused concern among the Japanese.

Despite the spotlight on history textbooks, many young Japanese have not been taught much about the war, hindering their efforts to come to terms with it.

Wrote a young mother in a letter to the Yomiuri: "I don't remember having learnt very much about war history in school. What I know, I learnt from novels and movies ... I hope I will have the confidence to teach my children about it."

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