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

On My Mind - Seventy Years Since World War II
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Journalist

October 15, 2015
Could the devastations of war experienced by the Japanese people serve as an effective deterrent against another war?

About a year ago, I wrote in my regular newspaper column that in view of the current international environment surrounding Japan, we needed the national security bills. On the possibility that the gradual reinterpretation of the Constitution would increase the risks of war, I pointed out that "the ‘devastating experience of war' that has been imprinted on the DNA of the Japanese people would act as a deterrent." There was an immediate response in the Letters from Readers section of the newspaper from a 78-year old woman who wrote that she was "astonished by such optimism."

It is certainly true that after seventy years, there are almost no opportunities to hear firsthand accounts of wartime experiences. In a symbolic move, the aging survivors of the Himeyuri Gakutotai – the "Lily Corps" of female student nurses who served on the frontlines toward the end of the Battle of Okinawa – have decided to end their storytelling seminars. In a few decades, those who remember the war will be all gone. On this point alone, we have no way to stop the "weathering of memory."

However, I believe that even without actual experience, the memory of the devastating war will continue to live on in the minds of the Japanese people. Of course, it would not be remembered in the same way as those who lived through the war. Theirs is an existential experience of having had their lives tossed about by an irrational force, which has left them with a compelling feeling that "this should never be repeated."

On the other hand, the generations who do not know the war are in a position to see the miseries of war more objectively and from a distance. Why did we start such a reckless war? Why did so many Japanese either support, or at least passively approve such a move? Why was there no opposition, even when defeat became evident? Even without the actual experience of war, we can reflect upon the past and its lessons. In addition, the fact that we live in a democratic society is also an important deterrent against war. No government can exist without heeding the will of its citizens.

When I was a young newspaper reporter who had just begun to cover international news, I held study sessions on European modern history with a French friend. At my friend's recommendation, we used the original book by a French historian as our text. The historian had this hypothesis: "From the 20th century onward, no country that started a war, experienced utter destruction of its land through defeat, and subsequently embraced democracy will ever launch another war."

Why? According to this historian, since World War I, wars have involved mobilizing the entire population, while advanced weaponry made wars of attrition the norm, and the horrors evoke a powerful aversion against war among people. Another point was that the memorial services and commemorative ceremonies held each year at various levels of society, by the state, local governments and voluntary groups, have played the role of passing down memories of war across generations.

I pointed out to my friend that Germany did launch two wars, in World War I and World War II. To this, my friend replied: "But during World War I, the ravages of war did not leave a mark on German soil." It was true that as the western front became deadlocked, revolution broke out from within and Germany had asked for a ceasefire. (Unfortunately, I have forgotten the name of the historian, and am currently searching for the book.)

Of course, this is not to say we can rest in peace. I propose two courses of action. Teach Japanese modern history at school, up to the postwar period. Hold memorial ceremonies to mark milestone events such as the Japanese surrender on August 15, the dropping of the atomic bombs, the Battle of Okinawa, and the bombing of Tokyo. Commemorations are not only occasions for looking back on our past, but for refreshing our memories toward the future.

Megumi Nishikawa is contributing editor of Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト 

2015年 10月 15日









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