How Japanese 'Reflect,' Not Apologize, on WWII
LAST week, the lower house of Japan's parliament passed a resolution promising national self-reflection about the country's war record - avoiding a direct apology.Skip to next paragraph
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So how come the top three fiction bestsellers at a leading Tokyo bookstore are military novels about victorious Japanese troops? And how come 17 of the country's 47 prefectural assemblies have passed resolutions that nobly eulogize Japan's war dead? And what is Japan's version of Oliver Stone going to come up with to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II?
The easiest question to answer is the last. No filmmaker here makes mass-market movies about war that plow through the national conscience in the way that Mr. Stone's "Platoon" exhumed the American experience in Vietnam. The first two questions are a little trickier, because they address Japan's difficulty in what is known here as "facing history."
Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama claimed victory when the resolution passed on Friday, but it may well cause more problems than it solves. For one thing, the maneuvering around the resolution's passage has been embarrassingly controversial - opposition politicians yesterday introduced a no-confidence measure over the issue, although analysts did not expect it to topple the government.
Even Mr. Murayama's coalition government was divided over the issue, because the coalition includes conservatives who refuse to sanction any official apology for the war. Their objection stems from two considerations: One is that many Japanese feel an apology would dishonor the country's war dead, whose survivors have organized into a powerful political lobby.
The other is that government officials argue that a formal apology would have given momentum to those who demand that the Japanese government pay individual compensation to the war's victims. These claimants include women in South Korea and the Philippines forced into military brothels and British prisoners of war brutally treated by their Japanese captors.
Some want to atone
On the other side of the issue are politicians symbolized by Murayama, liberals who want to use the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war's end to atone publicly and to win the confidence of Japan's neighbors. There are some moral reasons for this stance - many Japanese are genuinely disgusted with what the country did from the early 1930s until 1945 - as well as political and practical motives.
Murayama is facing some key elections in the months ahead and his Social Democratic Party needs to win political points. And many analysts argue that Japan, in an increasingly interdependent world, should do all it can to win friends abroad.
But the divisions resulted in a vaguely worded compromise measure that was forced through parliament with vast numbers of legislators boycotting the decisionmaking session. In the end, it passed with 230 legislators standing in support - out of a body of 511. Officials and commentators in China and South Korea, two of Japan's most important trading partners, scorned the tepid language of the document.