[Viewpoint]The persistence of Japanese militarism

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[Viewpoint]The persistence of Japanese militarism

Japanese nonfiction writer Hisae Sawachi, 77, is a founder of the Article 9 Association, which is opposed to the ultra-right wing campaign to amend Japan’s constitution.

At the age of 10, Sawachi witnessed Japan’s defeat in Manchuria, and for more than a year lived as a refugee there. After the Japanese military withdrew, it was the Chinese and resident Koreans who protected him and his family.

After graduating from Waseda University and working as a magazine editor, Sawachi began his career as an author. While investigating war records, he realized that the lists of war casualties contained no accurate count of fallen soldiers in the 1942 Battle of Midway. The next day, he began researching the lists of people who received decorations published in newspapers. He also visited the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, veterans associations in the United States and Japan and the graves of fallen soldiers in the two countries in order to make an accurate list of those who died in the battle.

So far, 3,057 Japanese and 372 Americans were found to have died at Midway, and he met with their families to write about the fallen soldiers’ lives, dreams and the cruel reality of the war that Japan had begun.

The stories were published in 1984 as two books, “Midowei Kaisen: Kiroku (Record: The Battle of Midway)” and “Sleep Well, the Sea.”

In this book, he disclosed that the United States, which won the battle, repatriated 34 Japanese who were captured, but the Japanese military killed about 30 American prisoners of war. He interviewed those who participated in the torture of the U.S. POWs and revealed the cruelty committed by the Japanese military at the time.

For the books, Sawachi won the Kikujigan award in 1986. With members of the Article 9 Association, he still tours around Japan speaking about the evil aftermath of war and warns against the Japanese government’s attempts to rearm.

Last week, it was revealed that Toshio Tamogami, the former Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff, has written an essay justifying Japan’s colonial rule of Korea. Because he was the incumbent air self-defense force chief, writing an essay directly contradicting the official view of the Japanese government, it has become a big issue in Korea and Japan.

In the essay, “Was Japan an aggressor nation?”, he wrote that Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula became wealthy under Japan’s rule, and many Asian nations have a positive view of Japan’s rule over them. It was unfair to call Japan an aggressor, he argued. He also wrote that since the late 19th century, Japan has never sent its military to the Korean Peninsula and China without their consent.

The essay won the grand prize in the True Modern Historical Perspective competition, organized by APA Group, and will be published in the company’s magazine on Nov. 5. The company said it will translate the essay into English and publish it as well.

The essay was made public Friday by the hotel and condominium developer APA Group, which announced that Tamogami had won the grand prize in the contest it organized. The prize came with an award of 3 million yen ($30,129).

At a press conference on Nov. 3, Tamogami said “I don’t think my essay was wrong. The government’s view [of acknowledging its wrongdoings during the war] should be reconsidered.”

He also said “If I cannot say what I want to say, how is this country different from North Korea?”

What is even more shocking is that Tamogami had already published a similar argument in May last year in an in-house magazine for executives of Air Self-Defense Force executives.

Shockingly, the Japanese government did not make an issue out of such practices and still appointed him to his post.

Prime Minister Taro Aso and Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada immediately sacked him for his views that run counter to the government’s position and for acting inappropriately as a public servant. And yet, no investigation and reprimand took place.

“He said he did not want to cooperate with the investigation, and he is 60 years old, so we will handle this incident by forcing him to retire,” the Defense Ministry said. Although the retirement age for a chief of the self-defense force is 62, the ministry claimed that the retirement age for an air force officer who is dismissed from the chief position is 50.

Tamogami will even receive retirement pension. For Tamogami, who was going to retire next year anyway, the sacking was not a punishment. It was just a face-saving measure.

South Korea, China and Japan agreed to hold a summit on Dec. 14, a gathering that was delayed due to Japan’s recent history textbook controversy.

With the global financial crisis, North Korea’s situation and food safety concerns, the three countries’ cooperation is critical.

And yet, the Japanese right wing’s distortion of history and politicians’ continued coddling of them have remained unchanged.

Is it really too much to ask these Japanese to have a conscience, just like Sawachi?


*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park So-young
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