Editorial: Memorial service for the war dead

Put pledge for peace into action

“No matter how time flows, we have a path that we must never change. Today is a day on which we renew that pledge towards peace.” We can still hear these lines from the address by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the memorial service for the war dead. He said nothing like this last year. Perhaps he was conscious of public criticism of authorization of the exercise of the right of collective defense.

But we are concerned that some important things were left out. Like last year, he said nothing about a pledge not to go to war nor did he mention the harm perpetrated by Japan on other Asian nations during the war or express any regret for it.

Can the trust of people at home and abroad be gained in this way? Though the prime minister referred to “a path that we must never change,” the Abe administration has taken stances on security policy and the perception of history that clearly differ from the stances of previous administrations.

From the prime minister’s standpoint, he no doubt feels he played a certain card against China and South Korea yesterday: He did not visit Yasukuni Shrine. China and other countries had repeatedly called on the prime minister not to visit the shrine. It is certainly better to have refrained from doing anything to escalate conflict at this stage.

But, amid the worsening conflict over perceptions of history, including the issue of the so-called “comfort women,” it is unclear to what extent this will lead to improved relations between Japan and South Korea or between Japan and China. For Japan to squarely face its past history of war and colonization and to clearly express its intention never to go to war again must certainly be the most important premise for South Korea and China. From that standpoint, the prime minister failed to take full advantage of the opportunity to send a message on a landmark date.

Of course, both countries desire improved relations. Looking at reactions to yesterday’s address by the prime minister, he seems to have avoided harsh criticism.

In her address marking what South Korea refers to as its independence day, President Park Geun-hye first referred to next year’s 50 anniversary of the normalization of ties between the Republic of Korea and Japan and then said, “It is now time to set our sights on the next 50 years and start making progress toward future-oriented friendly, cooperative relations.” She also called for resolution of the comfort women issue, but she did not directly criticize the Japanese government’s move to examine the accuracy of the Kono statement.

What about China? China issued a statement objecting to the visits to Yasukuni Shrine by officials in the Abe administration, but it apparently decided not to summon the Japanese ambassador in protest as it did last year.

In both countries concern has been expressed about worsening economic relations. That may be an underlying reason. Nevertheless Japan must not lose its humility when it comes to past history. “Future-oriented” is not a matter of the aggressor taking a defiant attitude after having undermined previous expressions of regret.

The prime minister has said he intends to issue his own statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war next year. He has also advocated a “departure from the postwar regime” and has apparently tried to show his political colors more clearly over the past year. But at the same time the administration has indicated that it will continue support for the Murayama Statement, which issued a clear apology to Asian nations on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, and the Kono Statement. If that is the case, even if Mr. Abe issues another statement, that doesn’t mean he can ignore the legacy of previous Cabinets.

In yesterday’s address the prime minister referred to the remains of war dead that have never been recovered and mentioned those who lost their lives in the jungle or at sea in Papua New Guinea. This apparently reflects his determination to work to recover the remains of approximately 1.3 million soldiers that have yet to be repatriated. Naturally, that is necessary. But at the same time he should give even more thought to the victims in other countries who were caught up in the war. Merely looking at things in an inward-looking way is problematic.

How can a pledge to Asia for peace be carried out? The prime minister must demonstrate the answer to this question through more concrete actions.

(Originally published on August 16)