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The precious sacrifices of Japan's war dead
Lessons of the past are lost on new generation
- Fr William Grimm, Tokyo
- August 18, 2014
Many years ago, I ran across a pamphlet published in 1943 or so by NHK, the Japanese broadcasting company. It contained transcripts of the company's English-language news bulletins during the first few years of World War II.
I was especially fascinated by their report of a battle on Attu in the Aleutian Islands in which my father took part. The bulletin said that following a landing by American troops radio contact with the Japanese forces had ceased, but it was assumed that all the imperial troops had died gloriously. Whether gloriously or otherwise, they did die, and my family has a photo that Dad took of the cemetery where the US military buried the Japanese.
Another interesting piece was a diatribe against the bombing raids that were just beginning against Japanese cities. The gist of the message was that it was hypocritical for the United States to be bombing Japanese cities when the US had condemned Japan for inventing mass terror bombing of cities in China. I wonder if anyone at the NHK realized the irony of condemning another country for doing what their own country did first.
That does not justify indiscriminate US bombing raids like the one on Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945, that killed more people than either of the atomic bombings later that year, but it sheds light on a tendency that unfortunately remains among too many Japanese. That is the view that the suffering of the war years was primarily endured by the Japanese.
The Japanese, both military and civilian, did endure immeasurable suffering, culminating in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan paid a horrific price, one so great that within Japan it overshadows the suffering that Japan inflicted upon others. It is almost as if the atomic bombs blew away all Japanese responsibility for the war.
As Japan's prime ministers do each year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a short address at an August 15 memorial service to mark the 69th anniversary of the end of World War II. The day is always spoken of as the end of the war (shuusen) rather than the defeat (haisen), as if the war were some reality with a totally separate existence apart from Japan.
Abe's own right-of-center politics and those of his supporters can be blamed for his leaving out any reference to the fact that the war was the result of Japanese aggression on the Asian mainland and in the Pacific.
There is a tendency in Japan to think of the war as something that just happened without Japanese involvement. Few refer to the fact that the war was a result of militaristic expansionism on the part of Japan. Since the majority of Japanese are too young to have any memories of that period, it is getting easier to get away with whitewashing the past.
In his address, Abe repeated a thought that is part of the ceremony each year: "The peace and prosperity that we now enjoy have been built upon the precious sacrifices of the war dead. We will never forget this, even for a moment."
Literally speaking, that is true. However, the war dead who are really responsible for "the peace and prosperity" of Japan are not those of whom Abe spoke.
The war dead whose "precious sacrifices" made today's Japan possible were not Japanese.
They were Chinese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians, Pacific Islanders, Australians, British, Canadians, Americans et al. It was their resistance and deaths that eventually defeated the system that had enslaved the Japanese. Had Japan's militarism not been defeated, Japan would not have known prosperity and peace.
Each year at this time, Japanese politicians visit the Yasukuni Shrine that commemorates those members of the Japanese military who died in the nation's wars. And each year, people in countries that were victimized by Japanese militarism protest those visits.
Those protests are justified, and will remain justified until some Japanese political leader has the honesty and courage to say, "The peace and prosperity that we now enjoy have been built upon the precious sacrifices of the war dead who saved the world and Japan from a horrible ideology of militarism and imperialism. We will not forget this, even for a moment."
Maryknoll Fr William Grimm is the publisher of ucanews.com.