Japan Still Unwilling to Face War Issue, Critics Say
Feb. 22, 1989
TOKYO (AP) _ Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita's recent refusal to call Japan an aggressor in World War II has drawn renewed criticism at home and abroad that the nation is unwilling to acknowledge its militaristic past.
The backlash comes at a particularly sensitive time for Takeshita, with dignitaries from 163 nations gathering in Tokyo for Friday's elaborate funeral for Emperor Hirohito, whose own responsibility for the war is a subject of sharp debate.
When a Communist Party legislator asked in Parliament last week about Japan's wartime actions against Asian countries, Takeshita replied:
''There are various arguments on whether the past was a war by accident or for self-defense. I believe, however, that it is the historian's task in later ages to form a conclusion whether it was or was not a war of aggression.''
Asked if he felt Adolf Hitler waged a war of aggression in Europe, Takeshita said, ''It is very difficult to define academically war as a whole as a war of aggression.''
Opponents of the monarchy and critics of Takeshita's ruling Liberal Democratic Party reacted with rebukes.
''The Liberal Democrats actually believe the war was right. They simply will not concede that it was aggression,'' said Tetsuzo Fuwa, the lawmaker who put the questions to Takeshita.
''The LDP made Nobusuke Kishi, a former war criminal himself, prime minister,'' Fuwa said in an interview. ''I know of no other country where a man with this background can become head of government.''
Sharp criticism also came from China and South Korea, both victims of brutality by Japanese forces in the years before and during the war.
An official Chinese newspaper termed Takeshita's comments ''absurd'' and ''preposterous,'' and warned that he ''may lead the Japanese people astray once more.'' South Korean media accused the Japanese leader of refusing to recognize Japan's wartime aggression.
Italian and Soviet newspapers also published commentaries accusing Takeshita of evasion and failing to draw lessons from history.
''Ruling politicians don't want to say they were wrong,'' said Nobuaki Nakagawa of the United Church of Christ in Japan, the largest Protestant denomination in this country. ''They deny history because admitting it would hinder their militarization of Japan. But their refusal to recognize Japan's actions increases the chances of history repeating itself.''
The question of war responsibility is touchy because of debate over the personal role of the late emperor, who once was revered as divine. Some critics say he encouraged the war, others maintain he at least could have ended it sooner. Many historians, however, contend the monarch was a figurehead, powerless against the military Cabinet.
Two Cabinet ministers were forced to step down in 1986 and 1988 after they said Japan's wartime actions were justifiable and did not constitute aggression.
This time again, the government moved quickly to try to head off any diplomatic rows. The chief government spokesman said Takeshita's comments were ''misunderstood,'' and reaffirmed Japan's acknowledgment that it inflicted grave damage on Asian neighbors during the war.
In Beijing, Japanese sources said, Ambassador Toshijiro Nakajima called on Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Shuqing to say Japan cannot deny its aggressor role. He said there is no change in Japan's position, stated in a 1972 communique when diplomatic relations were established, of accepting responsibility for the suffering it caused during the war.
''All the government does is issue a statement saying it recognizes it is under international criticism,'' Fuwa said. ''It refuses to acknowledge war responsibility because to do so would admit the responsibility of the emperor.''
Japan's conservative ruling party ''has no regrets'' about the injuries and damage it caused, said the United Church of Christ's Nakagawa.
''The party feels that the war was proper, and not an invasion; they truly believe they were liberating Asia from U.S. and European imperialism,'' he said. ''Their interpretation of history is warped. They say war with America was wrong, but with Asia it was inevitable.''
Demonstrations are planned on the day of the funeral for Hirohito, who died of cancer Jan. 7 at age 87. The church plans several rallies and marches protesting the native Shinto religious rites for Hirohito and Japan's imperial system.