Saturday, January 07, 2006

As Deep as the Atrocities? (article related to 'Revisionist Edutainment' below 1.5.06)

Remorse over war still matter of debate


HANAOKA, Akita Pref. (AP) Townspeople cheered when the Chinese slave laborers, dressed in rags, eyes wild with hunger, were paraded back from the mountains after a failed rebellion and escape.

At the time, July 1945, many in this northern mining town thought the 800 slaves got what they deserved for killing several Japanese guards in their revolt: They were beaten, starved and tortured. At the end of the war, weeks later, just half were alive. The perpetrators got off lightly.

Three employees of Kajima Gumi, predecessor of today's construction giant Kajima Corp. that oversaw the workers, were sentenced to death and another to life imprisonment by the Allied war crimes court in 1948. But the penalties were later reduced, and all were released by 1955. The man responsible for laborers in the town is celebrated with a bust near where his charges were killed.

The "Hanaoka Incident" could easily enter the record as yet another example of how Japan, 60 years after the end of the war, has not convincingly faced up to the colossal slaughter of innocents as it conquered a wide swath of Asia in the 1930s and 1940s.

But there is another side to the Hanaoka story.

Yasuo Togashi was 9 when he and his neighbors cheered when the bone-thin escapees were recaptured. When he became an adult, he was overwhelmed with regret as he learned what those Chinese endured, and he joined a group of townspeople who dedicated their lives to keeping those memories alive.

"We thought the Chinese weren't even human, and we were happy when they were caught," said Togashi, 69, a retired teacher. "Now, I feel nothing but remorse. I didn't really understand it at the time, but as an adult I was really shocked about it."

Since the 1950s, Togashi and others have tried to set things right: They have built monuments, hosted survivors visiting from China, and taught schoolchildren about the past. The town holds an annual remembrance for the victims.

"We have to make an apology from the heart," Togashi said. "Even if they were not directly involved, people should feel regret about this. We have to make sure it never happens again."
Since the 1970s, Japanese prime ministers and even emperors have expressed varying degrees of regret and remorse over the wartime suffering caused by Japan.

In April, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sought to defuse a surge of war-related tensions with China during a speech at an Asian-African summit. "In the past," he said, "Japan through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering for the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations."

Not all of Asia is clamoring for further atonement. Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam, all conquered by the Japanese, have mostly come to terms with the war and are more interested in building ties with the world's second-largest economy than in dwelling on the past.
Yet, with the approach of Aug. 15, the day Japan marks as the end of World War II, it is clear many Asians have nagging doubts about the depth of Japanese remorse.

Those doubts can erupt into violence, particularly in areas that bore the brunt of Japanese expansionism. Anti-Japan riots broke out in China in April, triggered by the Japanese government's approval of a history textbook that critics say glosses over wartime atrocities.

The main reason for the doubt is the awesome scope of Japanese brutality as Tokyo built an empire that, at its height, stretched from deep in the Pacific to Southeast Asia.
The Japanese assault was merciless. Civilians were bombed, doused with biological agents, machinegunned and subjected to cruel medical experiments. Tens of thousands of women were forced into brothels for Japanese troops. Prisoners were tortured, executed, starved or worked to death.

Politics is another factor in the lingering resentment. The battle against Japanese aggression is a pillar in the communists' claim to leadership in China and North Korea.

But at the bottom, the Japanese themselves have not decided how much remorse they feel, and their ambivalence is reflected in ways that undermine their statements of regret.
On April 22, while Koizumi was apologizing for the war, at least one member of his Cabinet and more than 80 Diet members visited Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals along with Japan's war dead.

An increasingly powerful clique of revisionist scholars is encouraging a rollback of mentions of Japanese atrocities from wartime accounts in school textbooks.
Comic book artist Yoshinori Kobayashi has sold millions of copies of works that rant against the U.S. and Japan's neighbors and argue apologies for the war are humiliating.
Ground zero in Hiroshima, meanwhile, symbolizes a view of the war long engraved in Japanese hearts: that of Japan as victim.

Outside Hiroshima, there is the Holocaust Education Center to teach Japanese about Nazi atrocities. Its operators insist they make no connection between the Holocaust and Hiroshima, but the museum's location resonates deeply with the Japanese view of the bombings as a slaughter of innocents.

And nowhere does the museum note that Japan was Germany's ally, or that Japanese soldiers, like the Nazis, perpetrated mass killings and medical experiments on humans.
Kiyoko Nakano, visiting the Hiroshima dome, draws the standard Japanese lesson from the bombing of her hometown: that all killing of innocents is a crime and should be condemned.

But, unlike many Japanese, she includes her own country among the list of criminals and denounces those who seek to obscure Japan's wrongdoing.

The Japan Times: Aug. 4, 2005

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