Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Japan should learn from Germany

By Fu Jing (China Daily) Updated: 2012-02-28 08:15

Germans have repeatedly had the courage and honesty to face up to the atrocities that were committed by their countrymen during World War II.

If only the same could be said of the Japanese, some of whom continue to try and deny history.

This contrast in how to live with the past has been starkly shown by the public statements of a German and a Japanese politician in recent days.

During his weekend visit to the tiny town of Marzabotto in Italy, where Nazi executioners committed a brutal massacre of 800 women, children and elderly people on Sept 29, 1944, the newly elected President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, a German, said in a speech:

"Present-day Germans are not personally to blame, but they do bear a heavy responsibility. They have a responsibility to keep the memory alive and ensure that it is never forgotten that what happened was done in the name of our nation."

Schulz did not try to hide the details or gloss over the horror. On that day, he said, the SS men forced their way into houses, schools and churches, shot victims, threw hand grenades into houses and set fire to churches. A few survivors escaped because they were buried under piles of corpses or managed to hide.

Concluding that the suffering was beyond imagination, he said: "Peace needs to be fought for afresh every day. We must be on the alert every day to oppose any resurgence of the murderous ideology which led to these inhuman deeds."

In contrast, on Feb 20, Takashi Ka-wamura, the mayor of the Japanese city of Nagoya, claimed the Nanjing Massacre "probably never happened" when meeting with a delegation from Nanjing, a city that witnessed the mass slaughter of 300,000 people in 1937 following the Japanese invasion of the then Chinese capital.

This refusal to acknowledge the truth understandably hurt the Chinese public who quickly posted evidence of Japan's war crimes online. Nanjing was left with no option but to suspend official ties with Nagoya.

Japan should follow Germany's lead and acknowledge the wrongs of its past.

About 15 European countries have laws against such denials and attempts to rewrite history, according to a study by Gong Ting, a Brussels-based law researcher and Gong Tiegang, a freelance journalist. In Germany itself, such deeds are punishable with imprisonment for up to five years or a fine.

But in Asian countries there are no such laws. And laws matter more than a bilateral peace agreement. If there were an anti-denial law in Japan, the mayor would not have been so hasty to deny the truth.

Meanwhile, it is vital that we present the true history to future generations. My 7-year old son and our 6-year-old Japanese neighbor Yuki had a quarrel last week about Japan's aggression in China. Little Yuki's arguments were that Japan won, and even if it lost, it had apologized to China. My son answered with the facts. The debate was so intense that I didn't know how to intervene. Finally little Yuki ran away, crying.

After this, I realized how vital it is for both China and Japan to take legislative action to punish war-crime denials. Only in this way can we prevent history from being perverted and ensure that such acts never happen again.

The author is chief correspondent of China Daily in Brussels.

(China Daily 02/28/2012 page8)

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