Will Shinzo Abe's Historic US Speech Drown out Japan's War Denials?

By McCurry, Justin | The Christian Science Monitor, April 29, 2015 | Go to article overview

Will Shinzo Abe's Historic US Speech Drown out Japan's War Denials?


McCurry, Justin, The Christian Science Monitor


When Shinzo Abe becomes the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint session of the US Congress today it will be under a shadow cast by events of seven decades ago.

For Japan, Prime Minister Abe's week-long trip to the US that saw him at Harvard on Monday, and in the Oval Office and at a White House state dinner on Tuesday, is meant to demonstrate just how far the Japan-US relationship has come since the Pacific war ended in August 1945.

Mr. Abe has been talking about cooperation on trade and security, underpinned by a shared anxiety over an increasingly assertive China. President Obama standing yesterday with Abe in the Rose Garden reiterated that, "our treaty commitment to Japan's security is absolute." Obama said he shared Japan's concern at some of China's actions in maritime disputes.

But for all the positive aspects of what former US ambassador to Tokyo Mike Mansfield once described as the most important bilateral relationship in the world, "bar none," Abe's much desired moment of triumph on Capitol Hill could fall flat unless he grasps the nettle of Japan's wartime legacy.

There are few signs, though, that Abe will disabuse his US critics that he is anything other than a deeply conservative leader with an ideological commitment to rewriting Japan's modern history.

The clamor from those critics for Abe to issue an explicit apology for Japan's wartime behavior has grown: Last week 25 House members, led by Japanese-American Mike Honda (D) of Calif., wrote a letter to Japan's ambassador to Washington urging Abe to address sensitive wartime issues in his congressional speech.

Abe, the letter said, should "formally reaffirm and validate" previous apologies.

"To ignore past atrocities," added Rep. Steve Israel (D) of New York, "is to ensure a very troubling future."

70th anniversary of World War 2The timing of Abe's address is significant, coming amid a succession of commemorations of key World War II battles, not the least Okinawa and Iwo Jima, and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat on 15 August 1945. Today, the day of the speech, moreover, is the birthday of Japan's wartime emperor, Hirohito.

Previous Japanese prime ministers attempted to use the 50th and 60th war anniversaries to mend fences with China and South Korea, where the scars of occupation have yet to heal.

At issue is whether Abe, while staying faithful to his revisionist roots, will nonetheless echo the tenets of his predecessors' postwar doctrine: a "heartfelt apology" for past wrongs and recognition that Japan had waged a "war of aggression."

During a speech at the Asia-African conference in Jakarta last week, Abe voiced "deep remorse" for Japan's wartime actions, but stopped short of apologizing.

Tellingly, he suggested in an earlier TV interview that he saw no need to repeat previous official apologies, preferring instead to issue a more "forward-looking" statement.

This drew a predictably angry response from China and South Korea, where Abe's brand of revisionism is seen as proof of an unrepentant leader, determined to banish his country's "masochistic" genuflection over events that unfolded well before he was born. …

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