Happenings 2005

60th Anniversary of WWII End


By Frank Ching

Anniversaries are occasions for recalling and reassessing past events and for making resolutions about the future. Each New Year, for example, resolutions are made, often to be broken before long but, at least, there is reflection on what we have done in the past and how these actions have impacted on others.

Thus in 2000 U.S. President Bill Clinton chose the dawning of a new millennium to issue an apology to African-Americans for the institution of slavery. And Pope John Paul II apologized for the misdeeds of the Roman Catholic Church over the previous 2,000 years and placed a written apology to the Jewish people in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

China is marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in a triumphal mood, claiming that the Chinese Communist Party brought about Japan’s defeat. It is spending US$50 million to renovate a memorial hall in honor of the victims who died during the Rape of Nanjing in 1937, when Japanese soldiers killed between 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese civilians.

The 60th anniversary is being marked in Japan in a somewhat different way. While the Chinese are keeping alive the memory of Japanese atrocities, Tokyo is removing such information from history textbooks and, generally, playing down atrocities committed during the war.

Japan’s House of Representatives last week adopted a resolution that expressed “deep regret” over the suffering brought on the people of various Asian countries. Significantly, however, it dropped the terms “colonial rule” and “aggressive war” which were used 10 years ago—to mark the 50th anniversary—when a more forthright resolution was adopted.

Reflecting the mood of Japanese politicians, the latest resolution, passed by a large majority of the Diet—including all political parties except the Japanese Communist Party—urged Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to visit the Yasukuni Shrine on August 15 to mark the end of the war. Such a move will be considered profoundly insulting by China and South Korea, since the shrine is a symbol of Japanese militarism and honors executed Class A war criminals.

The Chinese see themselves, understandably, as victims in the war, having been subjected to invasion and occupation for 8 years. Interestingly, however, the Japanese increasingly are also depicting themselves as victims.

This is reflected in the Japanese commemorations. Earlier this year, Japan commemorated the 60th anniversary of the firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945, which not only razed the city but killed about 100,000 people. A few days ago, it commemorated the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. And this year, for the first time, the Japanese government is holding an overseas exhibition—in Chicago—of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But while the Japanese government and parliament are playing down the brutal aspects of Japanese actions during the war, Japanese civil society is doing what it can to keep memories alive. On August 1, a museum on sexual slavery during the war was opened in Tokyo, established by public donations. Some 200,000 women—mostly Korean and Chinese but also including people from other parts of Asia—were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese government and were known as “comfort women.” The museum was founded by a nonprofit organization, the Women’s Fund for Peace and Human Rights.

Recently, Nariaki Nakayama, the Japanese minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, infuriated Chinese as well as Koreans when he reportedly said that women forced to work as sex slaves should “be proud of being comfort women.”

Both China and South Korea protested against his remarks. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesmen asserted: “This year marks the 60th anniversary of the victory of the world anti-Fascist war. The Japanese government should face up to the history with an honest attitude, make deep reflection and properly handle the issues left over by history, including the issue of ‘comfort women.’”

This anniversary, it seems, sees China and Japan further apart on the question of history than they have been since the establishment of diplomatic relations more than 30 years ago. And there is little likelihood that the gap is going to be closed anytime soon.

This is a great pity because Sino-Japanese animosity will impede the economic integration of East Asia, something that the region needs, now that the United States has formed Cafta as well as Nafta and the European Union has expanded to include 25 countries. If East Asia does not work together, it will not be able to compete.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.
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