Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Japan cannot disguise its past

By Cai Hong (China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-13 07:46

No matter how hard it tries to dress up the war as a valiant battle against colonial powers the truth of its aggression will not be denied

When Japan is criticized for not atoning and apologizing for its imperial army's invasion of other Asian countries, it feels wronged. But the Yushukan, a museum standing on the grounds of the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo, is proving Japan's critics have it right.

The shrine is already controversial as it enshrines the country's 14 Class-A war criminals and hundreds of other war criminals together with other war dead. But along with its permanent exhibits on Japan's war history, the facility is observing the 70th anniversary of the "Great East Asia War" - the name Japanese right-wingers have given their country's aggression against Asian countries and the war with the United States and Britain in World War II.

That name itself is a view of history, and a recent visit to the Yushukan let me see for myself how far the museum is taking liberties with historical accuracy.

On its second floor, the museum shows a documentary that portrays the imperial Japanese army's aggressive attacks as acts of "self-defense". Ironically, the film has the title We Don't Forget, although it portrays Japan as a victim rather than the aggressor.

It claims Korea was the primary concern for Japan's national security after the Meiji Restoration lifted the country out of its isolation, and blames pro-China conservatives for supporting a military revolt in July 1882, which expelled the Japanese from Korea.

Its curators have a problem with the Treaty of Tianjin, which China's Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was forced to sign with France in 1885, for putting China and Japan on an equal footing. They claim that Japan had to arm itself in response to rapid armaments in China.

The museum blows its own trumpet and makes imperial Japan a role model and an inspiration for the rest of Asia. It claims that Japan's victory in the Russo-Japan War (1904-05) encouraged other Asian countries to fight for their independence and extricate themselves from Western oppression. The Chinese were no exception, although they overthrew their own emperor and founded the Republic of China (1911-49).

The cause of WWII, in the museum's explanation, was "harsh retaliation" against Germany after it was defeated in World War I.

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