Victors write history.
But almost 70 years after the end of the Second World War the militaristic faction of the Japanese right-wing are still in a state of denial about the result. Their attempts to rewrite history – especially the actions and behaviour of the Japanese military in China – have never ceased but have never before had much impact or much support even within Japan. The Nanjing massacre and the use of “comfort women“ by the military in occupied territories are often downplayed or even denied by the revisionists. But now there is a rightist party in government which is in tacit agreement with many of these extreme views.The most potent symbol for the militaristic and nationalistic heritage in Japan is the Yasakuni shrine. As Mark Selden writes
Japan’s Yasukuni problem is inseparable from the fact that nationalism is the dominant ideology of our era. …… In the postwar, with Japan at peace and occupied by US forces, the shrine has played a role in structuring how the war is remembered and presented to the Japanese people. It did so within a framework crafted by the occupation authorities who exonerated the emperor of all responsibility for initiating or waging war. ….. Not only would the emperor not be deposed or tried as a war criminal, he would be shielded even from testifying at the Tokyo Trial. The verdict at Tokyo, sentencing Tojo and a small number of prominent military and government officials to death, as well as the convictions of thousands of soldiers and police officials tried in B and C class tribunals, in leaving untouched Japan’s supreme wartime leader, essentially absolved the Japanese people of the responsibility to examine their own behavior in the era of colonialism and war. For these reasons, the US as well as Japan ultimately shares responsibility for resolving issues of war responsibility that it helped to create, including those associated with the emperor and with Yasukuni Shrine.
Emperor Hirohito at the Yasakuni shrine 1935
Just a month ago the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasakuni Shrine to honour the convicted war criminals enshrined there.
BBC: Whatever Shinzo Abe says, any visit to the Yasakuni shrine by a Japanese prime minister is deeply political and sure to cause offence. In the 1960s and 70s, the spirits of scores of convicted Japanese war criminals were “enshrined” there. The most controversial were the 14 “Class A” war criminals, including wartime leader Hideki Tojo, who were “enshrined” in the late 1970s. These men were the ones who ordered and oversaw Japan’s brutal war in China and South East Asia. …..
…… Close observers of the Japanese prime minister say he is at heart a nationalist and a historical revisionist. He believes the trials that convicted Japan’s wartime leaders were “victors’ justice”. His own grandfather Nobusuke Kishi served in the war cabinet and was arrested by the Americans on suspicion of being a Class A war criminal. He was later released without charge.
School text books are now beginning to downplay or remain silent about Japanese atrocities (not that they have ever been fully accepting of their occurrence or of Japanese responsibility). Now this revisionism is spreading to the national broadcaster NHK and again with some support from the government.
JapanDailyPress: The Japanese public broadcasting firm NHK is under fire again as another senior manager sparked controversy over his comments denying any massacre from happening in the Nanjing province of China in 1930s. Naoki Hyakuta, member of the 12-man management committee for programming policy and budget-setting, denied reports of rape and murder by Japanese troops in China during 1937-38, shrugging it off as “propaganda.” ……
…. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga justified the right-wing novelist’s statements, saying that he is entitled to his opinions. Speaking to the press, he said that he is aware of the reports “but has learnt (expressing personal views) doesn’t violate the Broadcast Law.” Fears of the broadcasting firm molding into PM Abe’s nationalist policy are starting to circulate with Hyakuta’s comments following new chief Katsuto Momii’s statements last month about the use of “comfort women,” or sexual slaves, being a normal practice during wartime, with many other nations doing the same.
Jan 31, 2014:The already embattled new chief of NHK is set to face a Diet committee today on claims that his comments about the “comfort women” system of World War II can be considered “political interferance.” ……. Katsuto Momii will be grilled by the Parliament over his statement during his first press conference as the new chairman. He said that the use of sexual slaves, or comfort women, during times of war was also being practiced by other countries like France, Germany, and the United States, among others. While he has already apologized for his comments, saying they were his personal beliefs and not that of NHK, the international furor over it has not abated. ….
Certainly there is a growing concern about growing Chinese might in South East Asia and this concern is partially shared in the US. So the US, while disapproving of the revisionist trends in Japanese government circles, has been fairly mild in its criticism as long as the Japanese target is China. In the territorial disputes between Japan and China for example the US generally supports the Japanese positions.
I perceive a risk that as the Japanese commercial predominance weakens there could be an upsurge in the militaristic ambitions of the nationalistic right. It is only my perception of course but having lived in Japan and in Germany, I sense a greater risk of sudden chaos with the Japanese militaristic nationalists than with the German neo-Nazis. The manner is which the rest of Europe acts as a check and balance against extremism is something missing in Japan.