Editorial: 75 years after end of World War II, renewed determination to renounce war

The National Memorial Service for War Dead, marking the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II, was held yesterday. A total of 2.3 million soldiers and civilian military personnel died in the war, with about 800,000 civilians killed in air raids on Japan’s cities and in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Great suffering was exacted in Asian nations that Japan invaded and ruled as its colonies.

The peace enjoyed today can thus be said to have been established at a profound cost. The determination should be made anew to renounce war so as not to repeat war’s horrors.

The national memorial service, scaled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was attended by the smallest number of participants ever. The memorial service was the second for Emperor Naruhito, who acceded to the throne last year. In his speech this year, like in last year’s address, Emperor Naruhito, wearing a mask, expressed “deep remorse” over Japan’s actions during World War II, a phrasing the Emperor Emeritus started to use on the 70th anniversary of the war’s end. The Emperor’s strong determination that the ravages of war should never again be repeated even amid changing times certainly resonated with the Japanese people.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for the eighth consecutive year, failed to touch on Japan’s responsibilities, nor did he express feelings of regret for damages Japan had inflicted on other countries. Also absent from his remarks this year was any mention of the need to face the past, such as the words he used in his remarks last year—“Japan will reflect on lessons from history.”

Instead, for the first time at the memorial service, the prime minister used the expression “proactive contribution to peace.” The Abe administration has approved the right of collective self-defense and lifted other conventional restrictions. Are we not in danger of being drawn into war? Our doubts cannot be dispelled.

The government’s reckless attitude differs from the consciousness of Japan’s citizens. According to a public-opinion poll conducted by mail, 47 percent, the highest percentage of respondents, answered that Japan has not waged war after World War II because of “Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution.” The second most common answer, at 23 percent, indicated it was because “those who experienced the war or the atomic bombings have shared their horrific experiences.”

This might be proof that the people of this country believe the hardships experienced by their predecessors, who have reflected on the war that Japan initiated and made efforts to communicate their memories of wartime, serve as the foundation for peace.

One wonders if the government has met the people’s expectations, such as by working to fill voids in compensation for damages caused during the war. Three years ago, an all-party parliamentary caucus put together a draft bill to compensate victims of air raids, but that bill has thus far gone nowhere. The Tokyo District Court pointed out in its 2009 ruling on a lawsuit involving air raids on Tokyo that the issue should be resolved through legislation formed on the basis of numerous political considerations. Despite the court’s recommendation, the government has not played its part in such a process.

Yesterday, four cabinet members visited Yasukuni Shrine, the largest number since Mr. Abe’s second administration was inaugurated. Class-A war criminals were first jointly honored with the war dead at Yasukuni Shrine in 1978. Since then, visits to the shrine by the prime minister and cabinet members have provoked strong reactions from neighboring countries. With that, Japan’s Emperor stopped paying visits to the shrine. Although some have proposed ideas for resolving the issue, such as enshrining the war criminals separately or erecting a national memorial facility, the proposals have yet to be realized. That the underlying problem of the joint enshrinement has not been resolved for more than 40 years must be considered the result of government negligence.

The issue of compensation for Koreans forced to work during World War II remains complicated. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said yesterday he would respect the decision by South Korea’s top court that demanded Japanese companies compensate the former conscripted workers. On the other hand, he also mentioned that his government was prepared for face-to-face talks with Japan at any time. How serious he was in making the remarks is unclear, but both governments clearly need to make an effort to engage in dialogue to unravel this tangled thread.

As tensions intensify between the United States and China, the international situation has become uncertain, in particular against the backdrop of the “my country first” and “peace by force” policies held by policymakers of the world’s great powers. Precisely for this reason, in times such as these, further effort must be made for dialogue and diplomacy.

(Originally published on August 16, 2020)