[New York Times Published: March 6, 2007]
What part of "Japanese Army sex slaves" does Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, have so much trouble understanding and apologizing for?
The underlying facts have long been beyond serious dispute. During World War II, Japan's Army set up sites where women rounded up from Japanese colonies like Korea were expected to deliver sexual services to Japan's soldiers.
These were not commercial brothels. Force, explicit and implicit, was used in recruiting these women. What went on in them was serial rape, not prostitution. The Japanese Army's involvement is documented in the government's own defense files. A senior Tokyo official more or less apologized for this horrific crime in 1993. The unofficial fund set up to compensate victims is set to close down this month.
And Mr. Abe wants the issue to end there. Last week, he claimed that there was no evidence that the victims had been coerced. Yesterday, he grudgingly acknowledged the 1993 quasi apology, but only as part of a pre-emptive declaration that his government would reject the call, now pending in the United States Congress, for an official apology. America isn't the only country interested in seeing Japan belatedly accept full responsibility. Korea and China are also infuriated by years of Japanese equivocations over the issue.
Mr. Abe seems less concerned with repairing Japan's sullied international reputation than with appealing to a large right-wing faction within his Liberal Democratic Party that insists that the whole shameful episode was a case of healthy private enterprise. One ruling party lawmaker, in his misplaced zeal to exculpate the Army, even suggested the offensive analogy of a college that outsourced its cafeteria to a private firm.
Japan is only dishonored by such efforts to contort the truth.
The 1993 statement needs to be expanded upon, not whittled down. Parliament should issue a frank apology and provide generous official compensation to the surviving victims. It is time for Japan's politicians ? starting with Mr. Abe ? to recognize that the first step toward overcoming a shameful past is acknowledging it.
Paging the emperor
As Japan struggles to come to grips with wartime atrocities, its monach could lead the way.
[Los Angeles Times March 7, 2007]
PRIME MINISTER Shinzo Abe's attempt to finesse the Japanese government's role in forcing about 200,000 Asian women to work as sex slaves during World War II is worse than unfortunate. It is counterproductive ? and the best person to repair the damage is Emperor Akihito himself.
Abe took office trying to improve relations with China and South Korea, but he has now torpedoed them by pandering to the Japanese right wing's most disgusting tendencies toward historical revisionism. With Asia in an uproar, Abe insisted there was no backtracking on the nation's remorse. No one will be mollified. The incident sets back regional peace and security ? not to mention the national interests of the United States, which lie in fostering far closer Asian cooperation to deal with issues such as North Korean nuclear disarmament.
The insistence by Japan's extreme nationalists that their country has "apologized enough" for its wartime atrocities, while its politicians and ersatz historians regularly attempt to downplay or simply falsify historical fact, is supremely self-defeating. Moreover, it plays into the insatiable appetite of some Chinese and South Korean leaders to exploit wartime grievances for their own political purposes. Matters have been made worse inside Japan by intimidation against politicians and others who have dared to speak out against official visits to Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial to the nation's war dead, including several war criminals.
Japan is a peace-loving democracy, and its heightened self-assurance on the global stage is a welcome development ? at least when its historical obstinacy doesn't get in the way. The awful truth is that nearly 62 years after the end of World War II, true amends have not been made with South Korea and China. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party's failure to discipline its World War II- atrocity minimizers has damaged Japan's international reputation by undermining the 1995 apology of (Socialist) Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. And because it erodes Tokyo's ability to be an effective partner in Asia, Japan's reluctance to fully acknowledge its wartime behavior has hampered the potential of the U.S.-Japanese alliance.
The person who could do the most to reconcile the people of Japan and their neighbors with the past is Akihito, the son of wartime emperor Hirohito. He is also the one person who could lift this issue above the political fray. In 1992 in Beijing, he spoke eloquently about his nation's tainted past. "There was an unfortunate period during which our country inflicted severe suffering upon the Chinese people," he said. "This is a deep sorrow to me. When the war ended, our people, in deep self-reproach that this kind of war should never occur again, firmly resolved to tread the road of peace."
The emperor could now go one step further and offer a more forceful apology for all crimes committed in his family's name. Such a gesture would be far more definitive and meaningful than any statement issued by a Japanese politician. It's time for both Japan and its neighbors to move on.