Japan's Justice Minister Resigns

THE justice minister in Japan's new government resigned on Saturday, 10 days after being sworn in. Shigeto Nagano's mistake was to tread too lightly on the subject of Japan's war record.

In an interview published May 4, Mr. Nagano offered an extremely charitable assessment of Japan's role in World War II. ``It's a mistake to call the [Pacific war] a war of aggression,'' he told the Mainichi newspaper. Nagano's most inflammatory comment was to label what is called ``the Rape of Nanjing'' - in which Japanese troops massacred tens of thousands of people in a southern Chinese city - a ``fabrication.'' His historical incorrectness set off a chorus of condemnations in East Asian capitals, including Tokyo. The bland accounting of Japan's wartime behavior flies in the face of efforts by former premier Morihiro Hosokawa and others to regain the trust of Japan's neighbors by apologizing for and speaking less euphemistically about World War II.

Nagano's timing could hardly have been worse. Tensions over North Korea's suspected nuclear program have led many Japanese to call for an expanded military capability. Such a prospect chills Koreans, Chinese, and others, who worry that an unshakeable militaristic bent lies dormant in Japan.

The retired general retracted his statements and apologized repeatedly in the days following the interview, but to no avail. Premier Tsutomu Hata accepted the resignation Saturday. A replacement, Hiroshi Nakai, was sworn in yesterday.

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