Japan’s never-ending war
On Nov. 12, Japanese newspapers reported that a committee reporting directly to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-examining the verdict of the Tokyo war crimes trial. It was the 67th anniversary of the verdicts given by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and the news was chilling.
The Tokyo tribunal officially ended the Pacific War. From Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 to the surrender to the United States in 1945, 25 Japanese Class A war criminals were held responsible for Japan’s countless crimes against peace. As only a handful of leaders were actually held accountable, the Tokyo trials were more of a “cleansing” process. The serious crimes that Japan had committed during World War II were cleared symbolically. Along with the Nuremberg trials in Germany, the Tokyo tribunal officially put an end to the devastating war and provided a chance for a new international order.
So the Japanese government’s attempt to re-examine the trials fundamentally undermines the postwar international order. It is different from revising some clauses in the Japanese constitution, which was itself established during the time of the Tokyo tribunal.
The trial was legitimate. Due to the lack of precedence, there were concerns about the legal procedures and judicial issues. In fact, Indian jurist Radhabinod Pal acknowledged that the atrocities of the Japanese troops were evident but found the accused not guilty, as the tribunal was “the opportunity for the victors to retaliate.” But the trials proceeded fairly, clearing away most of the concerns, and the principles that led the trials became established in international law. The idea of a “crime against humanity” became the basic framework through which many gruesome crimes would come to be punished.
Therefore, it is inconceivable and worrisome that the Japanese government wants to review the proceedings. In fact, Japan has little to actually gain from revisiting the trials. Japan’s footsteps during World War II were so arrogant, immoral and cruel that mentioning them again would be shameful and damaging to Japan.
In the end, the motivation is the “romantic patriotism” of the Japanese people. The glory of the nation is considered the highest value to the Japanese public today, and they want to revisit their history. The Japanese people want to reminisce about the early 1940s, when Japan dominated East Asia and the West Pacific. Some miss the dream of conquering the world.
As Japan became instantly powerful through its successful modernization, Japan’s elite class created a mythology in which the Japanese people were destined to unify and rule the world because their emperor communicates with god. The propagation of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” lie, calling for the expulsion of Western powers from East Asia, was the first step. Of course, the Japanese people would become the rulers, and other “inferior” people would take “lower” positions accordingly. Based on this mythology, Japan pursued far more discriminatory and exploitative policies than the Western colonizers. Therefore, the Southeast Asian people, who had initially welcomed the Japanese forces as liberators, became hostile to Japan. The Japanese intellectuals who have a conscience find the Japanese people’s belief in this mythology more shameful than the nation’s wartime atrocities.
Romantic patriotism cannot remain within one border. The rights that a country claims based on its history, real or imagined, inevitably collide with those of other countries. As a result, a region with a heightened sense of romantic patriotism will easily get involved in wars over history. Romantic patriotism is especially dominant in the Chinese-based East Asian civilizations, where countries have longstanding traditions and deep attachments to history.
Ending a war is far more difficult than starting one. The Pacific War is a painful example. In December 1941, Japan made a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. But contrary to the hopes of the Japanese, the United States did not surrender, instead responding with a full-scale war. With the fall of Saipan in July 1944, Japan’s defense network collapsed, and its defeat became inevitable. But the war continued for another year, and this period contained many of the war’s casualties.
Actual war ends when the last battle is over. But the war over history never comes to an end. It will continue to haunt countries and people forever.
In May 1894, 4,000 Japanese soldiers landed in Jemulpo. Joseon never asked for their help, but Japan unilaterally sent troops to protect Japanese people living in Korea from internal troubles. And this dispatch of troops led to the First Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, the annexation of Korea, the Manchurian Incident, Second Sino-Japanese War and then the Pacific War.
Oshima Yoshimasa, a general during the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, is the great-grandfather of Shinzo Abe. Prime Minister Abe must acknowledge the grim truth that his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was suspected of war crimes and that his great-grandfather commanded the military expedition that led to so much suffering.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 3, Page 35
*The author is a novelist.
by Bok Koh-ill