Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

On My Mind - Seventy Years Since World War II
NUMATA Sadaaki  / Chairman, The English-Speaking Union of Japan

August 13, 2015
During WWII, 7% of Allied forces fighting in Burma died. Some 500,000 British troops were held as POWs by Japanese troops, the highest captivity rate among the Allied forces, of which 25% died. Against this background, from the beginning of the year 1995, which was the 50th Anniversary of the VJ Day (Victory over Japan) for Britain, there was an outpouring of anti-Japanese sentiment in the British media, especially the tabloids. They carried story after story of atrocities by the Imperial Japanese Army as recounted by former British POWs. My colleagues and I at the Japanese Embassy in London acutely felt the need for the Prime Minister to make a forthright and clear-cut statement on this on August 15.

On August 15, Prime Minister Murayama's Statement of August 15 contained such key words as "(Japan's) colonial rule and aggression", "tremendous suffering to the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations", and "express my (Prime Minister's) feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology", which Ambassador Hiroaki Fujii and I emphasized in our appearances on BBC and other radio and television channels on that day. From the next day on, the British media became very quiet. The cathartic process of the former POWs venting their pent-up resentment and grudges seemed to come to an end.

Why had it taken nearly 50 years after the war for these sentiments to be expressed publicly by the Japanese Prime Minister?

The intensification of the East-West Cold War within a few years after the war gave rise to a sharp confrontation between the left and the right within Japan, which stood in the way of an in-depth national debate as to what the Pacific War had been fought for and what those who had perished in the war had sacrificed their lives for. Decades went by without a real debate on this, leaving a feeling of unfinished business in the minds of the Japanese.

When the Cold War ended by the beginning of the 1990s, it became necessary for Japan to find its new bearings in the international community, beyond following the U.S. lead as a member of the Western bloc. Further, there was a renewed international focus on the question of how Japan would come to terms with its wartime past, which had hitherto submerged under the East-West confrontation. This developed into a contentious issue in Japan's relations with increasingly self-assertive China and Korea. This also became an issue to be reckoned with in relation to former Allied Powers such as Britain, the United States, Australia and the Netherlands.

Twenty years ago, the Murayama Statement was seen by the international community as a clear expression of Japan's intention to make a clean break with its militarist past, manifesting its "remorse on the war" by deeds, and pledging to continue to live as a nation committed to peace. Since then, some in Japan have felt that this is essentially a matter for the Japanese themselves to sort out and have criticized the Murayama Statement for being the product of foreign pressures or being masochistic and therefore degrading to Japan’s honour. In reality, as a responsible member of the international community, Japan could not close itself into a shell to complete its self-introspection on the war 70 years after its end, but would have to engage itself actively with the outside world. Continuing the process of postwar reconciliation is a necessary part of such engagement.

The process of postwar reconciliation with Britain is acknowledged to have been successful. I can think of the following reasons for that.

The two governments kept in close contact, sharing the view that the legal settlement under the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952 should remain unchanged and keenly conscious of the need to minimize the chances for discrepancies between them.
In terms of apology, the Murayama Statement played a significant role in managing the outpouring of negative British public sentiment on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the VJ Day.
Reconciliation, which involved overcoming the visceral revulsion on the part of former POWs to anything evocative of the old Japanese military, was the most difficult phase. In the latter part of the 1990s, we widened the circle of reconciliation through actively supporting a variety of initiatives by non-governmental actors, such as efforts for exchanges by former British and Japanese officers on the Burma front, community leaders, academics and educators and other civil society actors on both sides.

On the basis of my own involvement, I feel that postwar reconciliation is like building blocks. You need to build it block by block patiently, moving from one phase to another. Since it is a joint undertaking between perpetrators and victims, it is at times difficult to proceed with mutual responsiveness, as has been the case with Japan's relations with China and Korea. But utmost care should be taken not to allow the delicate half-built edifice to crumble down.

Sadaaki Numata is former Japanese Ambassador to Pakistan and Canada and Minister Plenipotentiary in London.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

沼田 貞昭  / 日本英語交流連盟会長  

2015年 8月 13日
第2次世界大戦中、ビルマ戦線で戦った連合軍の戦死者は7%だった.日本軍の捕虜となった英軍将兵は約5万人、連合軍の将兵の中で捕虜となったのは英国が一番多く、その死亡率は25%だった。 このような事情を背景として、対日戦勝(VJ Day)50周年記念にあたる1995年の年初からタブロイド紙をはじめとする英国のメデイアには反日感情がほとばしり出て来た。英国人元捕虜による旧日本軍の残虐行為についてのストーリーが次から次へと掲載され、ロンドンの日本大使館に勤務していた筆者と同僚達は、8月15日に総理大臣がこの問題について率直かつ明確な立場を表明する必要があることを痛感していた。  








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