"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it."

George Santayana, Spanish-American philosopher 1863-1952


Japanese governments refuse to acknowledge Japan's military aggression

Despite irrefutable evidence that Japan waged aggressive war across East Asia and the western Pacific region between 1937 and 1945, this has never been frankly acknowledged by Japan's dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which has ruled Japan for nearly fifty years. Many Japanese LDP members of parliament, government officials, academics, and revisionist film makers have aligned themselves with militarists and extreme nationalists in claiming that Japan's "intervention" in China in 1931, 1933, and 1937 was necessary to "liberate" the Chinese from exploitation by Western colonial interests.

This massive heap of human skulls and bones at Nanking (now Nanjing), together with Japanese photographic records of the atrocity, constitute irrefutable proof of Japan's genocidal war against China. These are some of the remains of victims of the Rape of Nanking (also known as the Nanjing Massacre) in 1937.

The following published comments are a small sample of Japanese falsification and distortion of Pacific War history:

The Pacific War was a war of liberation.

Nagano Shigeto, Japan's Justice Minister (1994).

The Pacific War was a war to liberate colonised Asia.

This resolution was moved in the Japanese Parliament (Diet) in 1995 by 221 members of Japan's dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Japan was forced to go to war by American oil and other embargoes.

Hosei Norota, senior member of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (2001).

Japan was forced into WW II to liberate Asia from the yoke of Western colonialism.

Hideaki Kase, producer of the controversial Japanese film "Merdeka" (2001).

Japan's refusal to acknowledge its military atrocities

Japanese LDP governments refuse to admit that at least five million Chinese civilians and prisoners of war were "liberated" from their lives by the Japanese military during the so-called "interventions" in China, and prefer to describe the brutal war waged against China between 1937 and 1945 not as a war, but as "The China Incident".

Despite the clearest possible evidence that the Imperial Japanese military slaughtered, raped, and looted their way across East Asia and the western Pacific region between 1937 and 1945, successive Japanese LDP governments and many Japanese politicians, bureaucrats, and academics have aligned themselves with militarist and extreme nationalist groups by denying that terrible atrocities were committed against millions of prisoners of war and civilian captives or employing vague euphemisms to hide the extent and scale of the horrors that were committed. Again, senior Japanese politicians and academics brazenly deny historical facts accepted by the rest of the world:

The Nanjing Massacre is a lie made up by the Chinese.

Ishihara Shintaro, former Japanese Cabinet Minister, interviewed October 1990.

The Nanjing Massacre is a fabrication.

Nagano Shigeto, Japan's Justice Minister (1994).

The Americans brainwashed the postwar Japanese into believing they had committed terrible war crimes.

Professor Nobukatsu Fujioka, Professor of Education, Tokyo University (1997)

Between 1937 and 1945, hundreds of thousands of captive foreign women were forced to become sexual slaves in Japanese Army brothels across East Asia and the Pacific region. Although they are prepared to compensate the unfortunate victims through a private fund, Japanese governments will not admit publicly that the Imperial Japanese Army committed these atrocities against women. Here is one sneering denial of historical truth by a very senior Japanese politician:

Foreign 'Comfort Women' conscripted for Japanese Army brothels were prostitutes.

Kajiyama Seiroku, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary (1997).

After forty-one years of denial of Japan's war guilt and war crimes by Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) governments, rule by the long-dominant LDP ended in 1993. When Japan's first Socialist Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, was touring South-East Asia in 1995, he apologised for the "tremendous damage and suffering" caused by Japan's "colonial rule and aggression… in the not too distant past". Murayama's apology did not mention atrocities such as the Nanjing Massacre, and was the closest Japan has ever come to an admission of war guilt and apology for its war crimes.

The apology by Murayama was viewed as inadequate in China but caused widespread fury in Japan. In an endeavour to repair the political damage that his apology caused to the Socialist Party, Murayama's government officially recognised two infamous symbols of Imperial Japan, the rising sun flag (Hinomaru) and the song of praise to the divine emperor (Kimigayo). The Socialist government ordered that the Hinomaru and Kimigayo be integrated into official school celebrations.

The Hinomaru (literally "circle of the sun")
This flag with the red disc on a white background was flown wherever the Japanese military slaughtered, raped, and looted their way across East-Asia and the western Pacific between 1931 and 1945, and is hated by people in these areas who are old enough to remember the brutality of Japanese armies.

The official recognition of these symbols of Imperial militarism by the Socialist government severely undermined the credibility of Japan's Socialist Party as an opponent of militarism.

With the fiftieth anniversary of the Japanese surrender due on 15 August 1995, Prime Minister Murayama had planned to initiate an anti-war resolution in the Japanese parliament (The Diet). Murayama's resolution was pre-empted by 221 members of the LDP who resolved that the Pacific War had been "a war to liberate colonised Asia". The resolution caused outrage in Asian countries that had been brutally invaded and occupied by Imperial Japanese armies.

The Liberal Democratic Party regained and held power after January 1996, and successive LDP governments have continued the hard-line policy of refusing to acknowledge Japan's war guilt and war crimes. In 1999, the LDP government used the occasion of a visit by the president of China to refuse a formal apology for Japan's many war crimes against China between 1931 and 1945. In 2000, the Chinese requested a formal apology for Japan's war crimes against China on the occasion of a visit by the Japanese Prime Minister to China. Japan ignored the request.

There are no indications that the LDP is changing its hard-line policy of refusing to acknowledge Japan's war guilt and war crimes under the leadership of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Contrasting Germany's acknowledgment and Japan's denial of war crimes

Japan's refusal to acknowledge its war guilt and war crimes stands in stark contrast to the willingness of Germany to confront its war crimes. However, it is arguable that Japan has only been able to avoid squarely confronting its war guilt and war crimes because of the active connivance of the United States. In 1948, intensification of the Cold War persuaded the American government that Japan should become an American ally and bulwark against the spread of communism in Asia. This was unlikely to happen if investigation and prosecution of Japanese for war crimes continued.

From the beginning of 1949, the United States called a halt to Japanese war crime prosecutions and the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan, General Douglas MacArthur, began to release suspected war criminals from Sugamo Prison. MacArthur also obstructed prosecutions of Japanese war criminals by Allied countries. I will return to the American role in facilitating Japan's refusal to acknowledge its war guilt and war crimes in the next chapter.

Censoring school books to hide the truth about Japan's war guilt and war crimes

Until the end of Allied occupation of Japan in 1952, school textbooks were strictly controlled to prevent Japan's military aggression being glorified or excused.

Following the end of Allied occupation, the traditionalists reasserted their control of Japanese education. In 1956, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party denounced schoolbooks that told the truth about Japan's war guilt and war crimes in a published statement entitled "The Problem of the deplorable Textbooks".

In 1962, an officially sponsored seven-volume history of the Pacific War was published. This sanitised history, called "Japan's Way into the Pacific War", ignored Japan's military aggression across East Asia and the western Pacific and the countless atrocities committed by Japan's military. Shortly afterwards, Japan's Self Defence Forces published a history of the Pacific War that exonerated Japan's Imperial military from any war guilt or war crimes. These fraudulent histories laid the foundation for successive Japanese LDP governments to deny Japan's war guilt and war crimes.

Following the lead from their political masters, Japan's education bureaucrats began to censor history books for schoolchildren to prevent them learning the truth about Japan's military aggression between 1937 and 1945, and the many horrifying atrocities that were committed by Japanese during the course of that military aggression. If Japanese schoolchildren are told anything at all about the Pacific War, it is usually in a false context where the United States, Britain and the Netherlands are dishonestly accused of "forcing" Japan to wage a defensive war to obtain supplies of oil and rubber. The schoolchildren are not told in official history textbooks that oil and rubber were withheld from Japan in an effort to persuade Japan to halt its brutal and unprovoked war against China.

The children are not permitted to learn in their history books about the slaughter of millions of prisoners of war and captive civilians by the Japanese military, or the hundreds of thousands of captive foreign women who were forced to become sexual slaves in Japanese Army brothels across East Asia and the Pacific region.

At times the falsifications and distortions of history in Japanese school textbooks have become sufficiently outrageous to produce a storm of international protest. In 1982, on the fiftieth anniversary of Japan's forcible seizure and annexation of China's Manchurian region, the Ministry of Education ordered amendments to school history books. The children were not to be told that Japanese armies "invaded" Chinese Manchuria. Instead, they were to be told that Japanese armies made a "gradual advance" into Manchuria. Not content with this falsification of history, the Ministry of Education insisted that children not be told that Japan "annexed Korea in 1910" but that this sovereign country was "reunified with Japan".

Under pressure from both China and South Korea, the Japanese Prime Minister resigned and Japan promised to withdraw the falsifications of history from children's textbooks. The new Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone placated outraged neo-Imperialists and militarists by attending the infamous Yasukuni Shinto shrine and paying homage to Japan's war dead, including its worst war criminals.

In 1985, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Japan's surrender in 1945, a new history textbook was released for schools. The "Newly Edited Japanese History" declared that Japan's armies entered China, the Philippines, French Indo-China, British Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies not as invaders but to "liberate" their Asian brothers from colonial oppression. This history book denounced as a lie the claimed slaughter of at least 200,000 Chinese civilians and prisoners of war after the fall of Nanking (Nanjing) to Japanese troops in 1937. China was outraged and lodged a fierce protest. The Japanese government promised that the offending text would be amended, but this was undermined by a public declaration from forty-seven members of the ruling LDP government that Japan's seizure of vast areas of China between 1931 and 1945 was caused by misunderstandings and was not undertaken for the purpose of expanding the Japanese empire.

In response to agitation for sanitising Japan's war history from extreme nationalist and militarist groups, Japan's Education Ministry approved in 2001 a history textbook for use in junior high schools produced by the extremist Society for History Textbook Reform. Among other revisions of history, this textbook played down the Nanjing Massacre, the use of hundreds of thousands of foreign women as sex slaves in Japanese Army brothels, and replaced the brutal "invasion" of China by the Japanese Army with an "advance" into China. This fraudulent distortion of history was opposed by Japanese liberals, including the influential civic group "Children and Textbooks Japan Network 21", and the strength of the opposition led to many school boards refusing to accept the revisionist history book.

The debate on the content of history textbooks for schools continues under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi whose LDP has a history of supporting the cover-up of Japan's war guilt and war crimes, and then backing down when the level of protest from Asian neighbours and Japanese liberals causes embarrassment to Japan internationally.