New Battles: Controversy over Ww II Strafes Japanese Museum

Article excerpt

SHOULD A WAR museum set to open in time for this summer's 50th anniversary of World War II include portrayals of Japanese war atrocities such as sex slavery, forced labor and biological experiments on humans?

Museum critics say yes - that Japan must finally come to terms with its own wartime aggression. But project officials want the exhibit to focus only on daily life in wartime Japan, displaying artifacts such as clothing and utensils.

The museum dispute is reminiscent of the recent conflict over the Smithsonian Institution's plans for an exhibit in Washington on the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"The museum will serve the domestic interest," said Toshiaki Nagato of the Health and Welfare Ministry, in charge of the nation's veterans programs, one of which will run the museum. "We didn't want to make it controversial."

But it has become controversial.

Several groups of Japanese historians have sent Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama a demand that the project be put on hold and taken up by Parliament.

They also want the $120 million earmarked for the museum to be funneled instead to programs that help those who suffered as a result of Japanese aggression against its Asian neighbors.

"It's inappropriate for the museum to serve only the interests of Japanese war dead's families," said history professor Shinichi Arai.

Veterans' groups don't see it that way.

"We've wanted the government to give us something tangible to honor the blood shed by our fathers," says Sakae Suehiro, 69, vice chairman of the Japan War-Bereaved Families Association, which would manage the museum. "We have to tell the young generation about people who died for our country, which is the supreme deed one can offer."

The Smithsonian project was scaled down after protests from U.S. veterans and members of Congress said the planned exhibit would have portrayed Japan as a victim without presenting an adequate picture of its aggression.

"It's quite similar to what happened to the Smithsonian," said Chihiro Hosoya, a history professor at International University of Japan who was one of three members to quit a planning panel for the museum in the last four months. …