Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has issued his long anticipated (as in speculated about) statement commemorating the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. The Mainichi Shimbun published a 1,662 word, English translation of Abe’s statement.
Abe’s statement begins with a lengthy history lesson, mapping Japan’s road to war. His prelude ends with “Japan gradually transformed itself into a challenger to the new international order that the international community sought to establish after tremendous sacrifices. Japan took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war.”
Abe’s next sentence in his statement: “And, seventy years ago, Japan was defeated.”
His statement continues with something similar to his speech, in which he offered “condolences”, before the United States Congress earlier this year: “On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad. I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences.”
Abe then remembers Japan’s war dead: “More than three million of our compatriots lost their lives during the war: on the battlefields worrying about the future of their homeland and wishing for the happiness of their families; in remote foreign countries after the war, in extreme cold or heat, suffering from starvation and disease. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the air raids on Tokyo and other cities, and the ground battles in Okinawa, among others, took a heavy toll among ordinary citizens without mercy.”
Abe then turns to those “countries that fought against Japan. …countless lives were lost among young people with promising futures. In China, Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and elsewhere that became the battlefields, numerous innocent citizens suffered and fell victim to battles as well as hardships such as severe deprivation of food.”
…and in an oblique reference that I infer is to the comfort women/sex slaves: “We must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured.”
Abe’s statement finally approaches some measure of culpability, “Upon the innocent people did our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering. History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone. Each and every one of them had his or her life, dream, and beloved family.” Then he immediately eases back: “When I squarely contemplate this obvious fact, even now, I find myself speechless and my heart is rent with the utmost grief.”
“Condolences”, “never forget”, “speechless”, and “utmost grief” are words that I could use to describe what I had read in my middle school history text on the chapter about World War II. Clearly I could feel those emotions and make such statements without having a sense of apology, remorse, or wrong-doing for acts that I clearly had no sense of historical or collective culpability in.
Abe finally says something that Korea and the rest of East Asia can find solace in:
“We must never again repeat the devastation of war.
Incident, aggression, war — we shall never again resort to any form of the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. We shall abandon colonial rule forever and respect the right of self-determination of all peoples throughout the world.”
Finally, Abe uses the language used in apologies:
“With deep repentance for the war, Japan made that pledge. …Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war. In order to manifest such feelings through concrete actions, we have engraved in our hearts the histories of suffering of the people in Asia as our neighbours: those in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, and Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and China, among others; and we have consistently devoted ourselves to the peace and prosperity of the region since the end of the war.
Such position articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future.”
Abe paid tribute to those countries that took Japan back into the international community and made special mention of China: “How much emotional struggle must have existed and what great efforts must have been necessary for the Chinese people who underwent all the sufferings of the war and for the former POWs who experienced unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military in order for them to be so tolerant nevertheless?”
Abe then pitches to those Japanese experiencing apology fatigue:
“In Japan, the postwar generations now exceed eighty per cent of its population. We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.”
Abe’s statement rightly concludes with hope from lessons that Japan collectively will “engrave in our hearts”: the peaceful settlement of international disputes, dangers of trade blocs, and non-proliferation and ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons. Referencing women injured during war, Abe said the following:
“We will engrave in our hearts the past, when the dignity and honour of many women were severely injured during wars in the 20th century. Upon this reflection, Japan wishes to be a country always at the side of such women’s injured hearts. Japan will lead the world in making the 21st century an era in which women’s human rights are not infringed upon.”
My immediate, one word reaction to Abe’s overall statement is disappointment.