Today's date:





By Herbert Bix

Herbert P. Bix is author of the controversial best-selling book
"Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan'' (Harper Collins, 2000). Sept. 8 is the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan peace treaty signed in San Francisco. This article is accompanied by an excerpt from an interview with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which concerns demilitarization.

Soon after Koizumi Junichiro came to power in April 2001 in an
overwhelming victory for president of the Liberal Democratic Party, he vowed to fight corruption from within his party and promote reform. His chances to do so were enhanced when he and his party emerged victorious in an upper-house election. On both occasions the Japanese press hailed the "Koizumi revolution'' and lauded the prime minister's pledge to carry out "structural reforms'' that would reverse Japan's decade-long economic
slump and take it into the 21st century.

But Koizumi undercut his opportunity by promising publicly that on the anniversary of the war's end he would visit the Yasukuni Shrine, where the spirits of Japan's war dead, including major and minor (A-, B- and C-class) war criminals, have been enshrined, turned into national deities and designated "heroic spirits'' (eirei). The governments of Korea and China protested. Koizumi's foreign minister and some members of his own party pleaded with him not to make the visit, just as some Germans in 1985 had pleaded with Chancellor Helmut Kohl not to visit Bitburg cemetery where 49
Nazi SS killers were buried. They suggested, as a more suitable memorial site, the government cemetery established in 1954 at Chidorigafuchi, to memorialize Japan's unknown soldiers. Chidorigafuchi also has no official religious connection.

Koizumi said he didn't understand the criticism coming at him from home and abroad because "Japan's prosperity was based on the sacrifice'' of its war dead. Visiting the shrine, he said, was a "natural'' thing for a Japanese to do. Immediately after winning the July 30 election, however, he hedged the issue. And two days before the official Aug. 15 ceremonies marking Japan's surrender in World War II, he paid a quick, early visit to the Shinto shrine, angering all sides.

Leftists and liberals charged his act of mourning the dead was not
genuine. They accused him of violating the constitutional separation of politics and religion and impairing friendship with Asian countries. Hawks within his own party criticized him for bowing to Chinese and Korean pressure. Many questioned not only Koizumi's impoverished sense of diplomacy but also his very ability to take on the corrupt power brokers of the LDP and implement fundamental reforms. Unless Japan on every important
war-related anniversary acts to improve relations with neighboring Korea and China there can be no real domestic "structural reform.''
Significantly, on the day of his Yasukuni visit, blue-chip companies on the Tokyo stock market registered their lowest average values since the bursting of Japan's economic bubble in the early 1990s.

What makes Yasukuni so controversial is its connection to militarism, emperor worship and an emperor-centered view of history. Established in Tokyo in 1869 and later given its name by Hirohito's grandfather Meiji, Yasukuni enshrines and mourns those who died for the emperor. It effaces the distinction between those responsible for the war and its victims, treating all equally in terms of the sacrifice of life offered to the emperor and the state. When U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur abolished State Shinto and disestablished Yasukuni right after World War II, he then had
his constitution drafters insert a clause stipulating the separation participated actively in leading the war, and in whose name it had been fought, from resuming his own visits to Yasukuni and continuing them until the mid-1970s. In 1978, 14 Class A war criminals were secretly enshrined there with the tacit cooperation of Welfare Ministry officials. Ever since, visits to the shrine by government officials have become highly charged events.

Yet the disputed legacy of the lost war only partly explains why this relic of a discredited political order continues to roil the political
waters. Koizumi's official visit at Yasukuni was also meant to nurture a more inward-looking nationalism.

Many waves of national self-examination have swept Japan since it lost the Asia-Pacific war. These "debates'' have often changed attitudes and advanced historical understanding on the war. Throughout the occupation period (1945-52) and most of the Cold War (till 1991) Japanese politics rested on the notion that Emperor Hirohito had always been a pacifist, anti-militarist and passive Western-style constitutional monarch, one who had been coerced by "militarists'' into supporting the war but in the end had acted single-handedly and heroically to end it. These myths of the emperor's blamelessness were designed to maintain national unity and contain the psychological damage wrought by defeat and American occupation.

By the time Hirohito died in 1989 and the Cold War had ended, Japanese historians were making considerable progress in uncovering and documenting crimes committed by the imperial armed forces, from the Nanjing massacre to the system of "sex slavery.'' Some even were probing the emperor's role in the "holy war.'' School textbooks screened and approved by the Ministry of Education had begun to reflect the fruits of this new scholarship on the war, though not yet critical analysis of the emperor's role.

Soon, however, protests from rightists and conservatives alarmed by Japan's increasing international openness could be heard. By the mid-1990s, around the time Japan commemorated the 50th anniversary of the war's end, a backlash against "self-flagellating history'' had begun to set in.

Today, a more inward-looking current of nationalist sentiment, whipped up by ideologues who have acquired a foothold among the younger generation, underlies Koizumi's botched visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. It also helps explain why Japan has slowed its progress on textbook reform.

Despite criticism from China and South Korea, though not the United States, the Ministry of Education and Science recently approved a deeply flawed "new history'' textbook (with 137 mandated corrections) written by right-wing historians. The swift, overwhelming rejection of the text by Japanese educators has not impeded its sales in the bookstores, however, which suggests how contentious the current moment is.

Thus the upcoming anniversary of the U.S.-Japan peace treaty and
security treaty arrives at a particularly critical time for the future of
Japan's economic and political reform. But is reform possible if Japan does not confront its past?

When signed by Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru at the height of the Cold War on Sept. 8, 1951, the San Francisco Peace Treaty required the Allies to abandon their quest for reparations and war damages from the Japanese government. The peace treaty, craftily drawn up by John Foster Dulles, obliged Japan to acknowledge only minimal war responsibility by accepting the judgments of Allied war crimes tribunals in Tokyo and elsewhere, and to pay the victims of its aggression merely token reparations, and only at the state level. The Soviet Union and India refused to sign; China and the two Koreas were not even invited to attend the peace conference. These American arrangements helped lodge Japan in a permanent Cold War position vis-a-vis its potential friends in Asia.

That same day, in return for securing the restoration of its sovereignty and the opportunity to reenter the world community, Yoshida signed a Security Treaty that allowed American bases, facilities and troops on the home islands and on strategic Okinawa to continue. The results have been mixed. The military alliance has helped Japan to prosper and the United States to expand its military hegemony throughout the Pacific, but at the cost of undermining Japan's peace constitution while giving the Pentagon a disproportionate voice in America's Asian policy.

The 50th anniversary of these treaties may furnish a last opportunity for Japan's political leaders to confront and end their double standard on the past. They are already stalling on paying reparations to the surviving victims of their war. Now, if they continue to focus on Yasukuni, sanitize their history and avoid the truth about the emperor's war, they risk forfeiting for decades the trust of their closest Asian neighbors, Korea and China.

(c) 2001, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 9/4/01)