WW4 Report visits Yasukuni shrine

The Japanese anti-war group Zenko, whose 37th annual conference just closed in Tokyo, is a critical voice of dissent to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, where “Class A” war criminals like Hideki Tojo, as well as many hundreds of common soldiers, are honored. Not all of the survivors of those soldiers are happy that their loved ones are enshrined at Yasukuni, and Zenko has organized support for Koreans and Okinawans who have brought suit in the Japanese courts to have the names of their fathers or grandfathers removed from the shrine. Kinjo Minoru, an Okinawan sculptor and leading voice against the US military presence on the island, is one of the litigants. He said his father did not fight for Imperial Japan willingly, and that official Japanese history is trying to erase the memory of the “Okinawa massacre”—in which military authorities ordered the island’s inhabitants to commit mass suicide rather than surrender to the US in July 1945, leading to hundreds of deaths.

When this reporter visited Yasukuni on Hiroshima Day, the day after the Zenko conference ended, a Japanese nationalist was keeping vigil outside the entrance with a home-made sign (in both Japanese and English) decrying the “Fake of Nanking,” saying there is “no documentary evidence” to support the 1937 massacre and calling it propaganda of the “anti-Japan policy of China.” His hand-scrawled banner also accused China of “genocide” in Tibet, East Turkestan and Darfur.

The shrine is a magnet for such types, who seem to be multiplying rapidly in Japan. Many are better organized than this lone vigiler. Upon leaving the shrine, this reporter would see a minivan trailing a huge Japanese flag, with loudspeakers blaring pro-remilitarization propaganda. Sometimes they blare martial music, and fly the war-era flag, with rays emitted from the sun.

The shrine was first built after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, in which Japan entered the modern era, to honor warriors who fought for the emperor against recalcitrant shogunate loyalists unwilling to cede power. It is in an admittedly resplendent medieval style. Since access to the shrine’s interior is restricted to those who actually intend to pray, this reporter admired it from the outside and went to the accompanying museum, a modern affair assembled mostly over the past ten years. Those years have seen remilitarization become a major issue in Japan, and the Yasukuni museum is potent propaganda for the remilitarization drive. It is far more sophisticated and exacting in its attention to political, geographic and military detail than any museum in the United States. Most of the exhibits are in both Japanese and English.

One room is dedicated to the ancient and medieval periods, generally extolling those who fought for the emperors rather than the shoguns. The remaining 18 rooms are dedicated to the period since the Meiji Restoration, when the warrior system of the shoguns was rapidly transformed into a modern army. The first of these rooms documents the encroachment of European power and finally the United States in Asia, portraying Japan as the last bulwark of defense against the continent’s total submission to colonialism and neo-colonialism. Every one of Japan’s foreign wars is portrayed as a part of this struggle.

The distortions begin right away. The 1894 Sino-Japanese War is said to have secured Korean “independence.” In reality, it merely saw Korea move from the Chinese to the Japanese influence sphere (and saw the first Japanese troops permanently stationed in China). Such propaganda would not work with the 1904 Russo-Japanese War, which marked the beginning of 40 years of outright Japanese occupation of Korea. This is instead portrayed as an impetus to the anti-colonialist forces of Asia, who were encouraged by Japan’s victory over a European army.

Such little-known campaigns as Japan’s World War I expedition to the Mediterranean are documented, and it is noted with pride that Japan joined the intervention against Soviet Russia in 1917. Much is made of the fact that Japan’s 1919 proposal for amending a “racial equality clause” to the covenant of the League of Nations was rejected by the United States and Britain.

The propaganda rapidly gets uglier as the cataclysm of World War II approaches. Every incident of Chinese “terrorism” against the Japanese military in the 1930s is portrayed in lugubrious detail, in panel after panel. Never is the question raised of what right Japan had to be in China in the first place—an obvious lapse given that the European military presence there is portrayed as an affront against Asian dignity. In a nod to accuracy, one line of text does note that the 1931 sabotage of a Japanese-owned rail line at Mukden was actually instrumented by the Japanese military itself. This admission somehow does not upset the exhibit’s case that Chinese “terrorist” provocation forced a reluctant Japan to occupy Manchuria.

The 1937 Rape of Nanking is, predictably, refered to as the “Nanking Incident,” and gets short treatment in comparison to the several panels devoted to Chinese “terrorism.” The viewer is informed that Japanese troops behaved in China’s then-capital with “strict military discipline.” The only reference to atrocities reads: “Chinese soldiers disguised in civilian clothes were severely prosecuted.”

In the lead-up to the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, several panels document Japan’s position of dependence on US imports of oil, minerals and other critical material—implicitly arguing that this left Japan with no alternative but to seize Southeast Asia, and that this necessitated destroying the US Pacific fleet. The imposition of oil sanctions by the US in response to the aggression in China is portrayed as forcing Japan’s hand. Several panels document Japanese diplomatic efforts to avoid sanctions. The text of a Japanese missive to US Secretary of State Cordell Hull praising Hitler for standing up against Soviet designs for the “socialization of the world” is presented with no sense of distance or irony.

The text of the Imperial Rescript of Dec. 8, 1941, ordering the Pearl Harbor attack, is presented in full. There is again not a shred of ironic distance from its Orwellian war-is-peace rhetoric. Excerpts:

To insure the stability of East Asia and to contribute to world peace is the far-sighted policy which was formulated by Our Great Illustrious Imperial Grandsire… To cultivate friendship among nations and to enjoy prosperity in common with all nations has always been the guiding principle of Our Empire’s foreign policy. It has been truly unavoidable and far from Our wishes that Our Empire has now been brought to cross swords with America and Britain. More than four years have passed since China, failing to comprehend the true intentions of Our Empire, and recklessly cultivating trouble, disturbed the peace of East Asia and compelled Our Empire to take up arms… Patiently we have waited and long we have endured in the hope that Our Government might retrieve the situation in peace. But our adversaries, showing not the least spirit of conciliation, have unduly delayed a settlement; and in the meantime, they have intensified the the economic and political pressure to compel thereby Our Empire to submission. This trend of affairs would, if left unchecked, not only nullify Our Empire’s efforts of many years for the sake of the stabilization of East Asia, but also endanger the very existence of Our Nation. The situation being such as it is, Our Empire for its existence and self-defense has no other recourse but to appeal to arms and crush every obstacle in its path.

Japan’s campaigns in the Pacific, Philippines, Southeast Asia and Burma are again portrayed in loving detail. The “turning point” of Midway and Guadalcanal is acknowledged briefly. The disaster of 1945 is dealt with in the following terse line: “By 1945, Japan had lost Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Its homeland had been reduced to ashes by air raids and atomic bombs, and for the first time in history, the nation experienced the agony of defeat.” The Imperial Rescript of Aug. 15, 1945, ordering Japan’s surrender, is noted—but not a word of it is quoted.

Even after this, the exhibit attempts to rehabilitate Japan’s aggression: “The colonizers who had been defeated by Japan early in World War II could not suppress the ideals that Japan had advanced after World War I and were subsequently rejected—racial equality and self-determination for the peoples of Asia—by military force. One after another, the nations of Southeast Asia won their independence, and their success inspired Africa and other areas as well.” This is really an admirable bit of chutzpah, given that Southeast Asia’s independence leadership (such as Ho Chi Minh, whose photo is presented along with this text) had also resisted the Japanese as a colonial power during the war.

The penultimate room shows the photos of all those honored at the shrine. Tanks, warplanes, torpedoes and artillery fill the final room. The 30-minute “documentary” film accompanying the exhibit (only in Japanese) is a relentless barrage of war footage and swelling military music.

The contemporary world situation shows these exhibits is a particularly terrifying light. George Bush, who needs partners for his Iraq adventure, is encouraging Japan’s remilitarization—which ultimately means complicity with the revisionism which is its necessary conmitant. This complicity is made even deeper by the obvious reality that Bush’s bogus justifications for the Iraq invasion closely mirror Hirohito’s for the Pearl Harbor attack—albeit sans the archaic flowery prose. Therefore, it is not surpising that (as we noted in our last report from Japan) some figures in Tokyo’s ruling political elite are now also embracing US revisionism about the war crimes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Zero-sum thinking continues to prevail on these issues. If China is complicit with genocide in Darfur, therefore the Rape of Nanking didn’t happen. If the Rape of Nanking did happen, then the atomic bombings were justified. The Japanese ultra-right (those who blare propaganda from megaphones outside Yasukuni) generally do not share in the Hiroshima apologism, and support both remilitarization and breaking the security pact with the US. Bush’s policy, paradoxically, strengthens their hand—just as US support for political Islam in Afghanistan in the 1980s strengthened the hands of bitterly anti-US forces who ultimately took power.

Consistent anti-militarist voices such as Zenko sorely need to be brought to bear. Zenko adherents this July held an International Peoples Tribunal on the Dropping of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Working with surviving hibakusha as plaintiffs, they convened a panel of jurists and international law scholars, including Prof. Lennox Hinds of Rutgers University, Prof. Carlos Vargas of Costa Rica University and Prof. IE Masaji of Japan’s Himeji Dokkyo University, and brought evidence that Harry Truman, James Byrnes, Henry Stimson and other defendants violated the Geneva Conventions in their decision to use the bomb on civilian population centers. This work gives Zenko unique legitimacy to challenge the official Japanese revisionism represented by Yasukuni.

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  1. Japanese anarchists to protest Yasukuni
    This Aug. 15, Japanese ultra-nationalists and fascists will hold a commemorance vigil at the Yasukuni shrine, and, in what has become something of a political tradition, will be met with anti-nationalist protesters. Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone began visiting the shrine every Aug. 15 in 1985—40 years to the day after Hirohito ordered Japanese surrender. Japanese rightists have turned the day into rallying cry ever since. Starting in the mid-1990s, anarchists and other anti-nationalists have confronted them—and been confronted in turn by the riot police. Here are some pictures from last year’s protest, which brought out Taiwanese, Buddhists and other opponents of Japanese militarism as well as anarchists and “anti-fas” (anti-fascists).

  2. Anti-Yasukuni action
    Photos of the Aug. 15 confrontation at the Yasukuni shrine are online at the below links. Note chilling shots of black-uniformed fascists standing at attention in military formation at the shrine. Then note masked “anti-fas” pushing against line of helmeted riot police in effort to break through to the shrine and attack the fascists.

    Yasukunix 2007 Part1
    Yasukunix 2007 Part2

    An AP account didn’t mention the protests, but did have this to say:

    Veterans, relatives of war dead and lawmakers crowded a Tokyo war shrine Wednesday as Japan marked the 62nd anniversary of its World War II surrender. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and all but one member of his cabinet stayed away.

    The one member who visited Yasukuni Shrine was Sanae Takaichi, whose portfolio includes affairs related to Okinawa, which suffered heavy casualties during the war.

    Takaichi said she wanted “to honor those who gave their precious lives” for Japan.

    Separately, 46 members of Parliament offered their prayers at the shrine, down from 62 last year.

    Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, made repeated trips to the shrine – including one a year ago, the only visit he made on the surrender anniversary – and incensed China and South Korea, triggering refusals to hold meetings with him. They view the shrine as a symbol of Japanese military aggression.

    Japanese rightists were enraged by Abe’s absence Wednesday. About 10 trucks blaring nationalist slogans converged in front of the prime minister’s official residence, calling Abe “a traitor to the Japanese people” because of his decision not to visit this year.


    Earlier, at a war ceremony near Yasukuni also attended by Emperor Akihito, Abe expressed his contrition for the suffering Japan caused during its military conquests in Asia.

    “Japan caused great damage and pain to people in many countries, especially in Asia,” he said. “I express sympathy to these victims on behalf of the people of Japan.”

    After bowing deeply before a floral memorial to the three million Japanese war dead, Akihito vowed that Japan would never repeat the tragedy.

    “I mourn those who perished in the war, and pray for world peace and for the future of Japan,” he said.

  3. Echoes of Yasukuni in Calcutta
    From AFP, Aug. 24:

    Japanese Leader Hails Indians Who Backed Tokyo in ’40s
    CALCUTTA — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan voiced admiration on Thursday for two Indians who stood up to Britain, the country’s colonial ruler, during World War II and sided with Japan.

    Mr. Abe came here to meet relatives of the two, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, a nationalist leader who advocated armed resistance to the British, and Radhabinod Pal, the sole judge who dissented at the Allied tribunal that condemned to death war-time Japanese leaders.

    “Many Japanese have been moved deeply by such persons of strong will and action of the independence of India like Subhas Chandra Bose,” Mr. Abe said in a speech at the opening of the Indo-Japan Cultural Center.

    “Even to this day, many Japanese revere Radhabinod Pal.”

    Mr. Abe, who was completing a three-day official visit to India, had dismissed suggestions back home that meeting Judge Pal’s son would anger other Asian nations resentful over Japan’s wartime atrocities and Japan’s recent actions to play down the atrocities in textbooks and other historical accounts.

    In a dissenting opinion, Judge Pal had questioned the legitimacy of the tribunal, sealing a friendship between Judge Pal and Mr. Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who was charged with war crimes but never tried.

    Judge Pal’s son, Prashanto Pal, 81, said he was “very, very happy to see” Mr. Abe. “I feel proud of the fact that my father is still remembered for his contribution that was only correct and just. How can you blame only one side for war crimes and not the others?”

    During Mr. Abe’s visit, India and Japan vowed to seal an economic partnership deal by December.

    He held talks with West Bengal State’s chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and toured a museum dedicated to Mr. Bose.

    During World War II, Mr. Bose escaped his British watchers, sought help from Nazi Germany and later went to Tokyo. In Tokyo, he organized the Indian National Army, which fought beside Japanese forces against the allies in northeast India, and Burma.

    Mr. Abe viewed photographs of Mr. Bose as a boy and his May 1942 meeting with Hitler in Berlin, and a picture of his German wife holding their baby daughter.

    The last known photograph of Mr. Bose shows him stepping off a plane in Saigon on Aug. 17, 1945, a day before his widely disputed death in an air crash in Taiwan.

    Mr. Abe was shown around the museum by Krishna Bose, a relative of the nationalist leader, and her son, Sugata Bose, a Harvard University history professor.

    “I was very impressed to see so many memorabilia” related to Mr. Bose “who had a strong bond with Japan,” Mr. Abe said. “I expressed strong determination to strengthen our bilateral relations that Subhas Chandra Bose had wanted.”

  4. Abe in Delhi invokes Indian honored at Yasukuni
    From the New York Times, Aug. 31:

    Decades After War Trials, Japan Still Honors a Dissenting Judge
    TOKYO — An Indian judge, remembered by fewer and fewer of his own countrymen 40 years after his death, is still big in Japan.

    In recent weeks alone, NHK, the public broadcaster, devoted 55 minutes of prime time to his life, and a scholar came out with a 309-page book exploring his thinking and its impact on Japan. Capping it all, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during a visit to India last week, paid tribute to him in a speech to the Indian Parliament in New Delhi and then traveled to Calcutta to meet the judge’s 81-year-old son.

    A monument to the judge — erected two years ago at the Yasukuni Shrine, the memorial to Japan’s war dead and a rallying point for Japanese nationalists — provides a clue to his identity: Radhabinod Pal, the only one out of 11 Allied justices who handed down a not guilty verdict for Japan’s top wartime leaders at the post-World War II International Military Tribunal for the Far East, or the Tokyo trials.

    “Justice Pal is highly respected even today by many Japanese for the noble spirit of courage he exhibited during the International Military Tribunal for the Far East,” Mr. Abe told the Indian Parliament.

    Indeed, many of postwar Japan’s nationalist leaders and thinkers have long upheld Judge Pal as a hero, seizing on — and often distorting — his dissenting opinion at the Tokyo trials to argue that Japan did not wage a war of aggression in Asia but one of self-defense and liberation. As nationalist politicians like Mr. Abe have gained power in recent years, and as like-minded academics and journalists have pushed forward a revisionist view of Japan’s wartime history, Judge Pal has stepped back into the spotlight, where he remains a touchstone of the culture wars surrounding the Tokyo trials.

    Mr. Abe, who has cast doubt on the validity of the Tokyo trials in the past, avoided elaborating on his views in the Indian Parliament or during his 20-minute meeting with Judge Pal’s son, Prasanta. But the meeting’s subtext was not lost on some Japanese newspapers, which warned that it would hardly help repair Japan’s poor image among its neighbors.

    After the war, conventional war crimes by the Japanese, categorized as Class B and Class C, were handled in local trials throughout Asia. Twenty-five top leaders were charged with Class A crimes — of waging aggressive wars and committing crimes against peace and humanity, categories created by the Allies after the war — and tried in Tokyo by justices from 11 countries.

    It was not clear why the British and American authorities selected Judge Pal, who had served in Calcutta’s high court and strongly sympathized with the anticolonial struggle in India. As an Asian nationalist, he saw things very differently from the other judges.

    In colonizing parts of Asia, Japan had merely aped the Western powers, he said. He rejected the charges of crimes against peace and humanity as ex post facto laws, and wrote in a long dissent that they were a “sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge.” While he fully acknowledged Japan’s war atrocities — including the Nanjing massacre — he said they were covered in the Class B and Class C trials.

    “I would hold that each and every one of the accused must be found not guilty of each and every one of the charges in the indictment and should be acquitted of all those charges,” Judge Pal wrote of the 25 Japanese defendants, who were convicted by the rest of the justices.

    Judge Pal also described the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States as the worst atrocities of the war, comparable with Nazi crimes.

    The American occupation of Japan ended in 1952, after Tokyo signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty and accepted the Tokyo trials’ verdict. But the end of the occupation also lifted a ban on the publication of Judge Pal’s 1,235-page dissent, which Japanese nationalists brandished and began using as the basis of their argument that the Tokyo trials were a sham.

    Takeshi Nakajima, an associate professor at the Hokkaido University Public Policy School whose book “Judge Pal” was published last month, said that Japanese critics of the trials selectively chose passages from his dissent.

    “Pal was very hard on Japan, though he of course spoke very severely of the United States,” Mr. Nakajima said. “All imperialist powers were part of the same gang to him. His attitude was consistent.”

    Casting subtleties aside, postwar politicians invited Judge Pal to Japan several times and showered him with honors. One of his strongest backers was Nobusuke Kishi, a prime minister in the late 1950s who had been a Class A war criminal suspect but was never charged. Kishi is Mr. Abe’s grandfather and political role model.

    “For us, we were extremely grateful for Judge Pa’s presence — there was no other foreigner who said so clearly that Japan wasn’t the only country that had done wrong,” said Hideaki Kase, chairman of the Japan-India Goodwill Association, an organization founded in part because of Judge Pal’s legacy.

    But Mr. Kase, who once served as an adviser to Yasuhiro Nakasone, the former prime minister, said that he disagreed with certain parts of Judge Pal’s conclusions, including his acknowledgment of the Nanjing massacre. Describing the massacre as a “complete lie,” Mr. Kase said that Judge Pal had fallen victim to “Chinese and Allied propaganda.”

    In many ways, Judge Pal seemed to share the mixed feelings that many Indian anticolonialists had of Japan. As an Asian nation competing with the Western powers, Japan inspired admiration, but also consternation for its colonization of Asia, said Sugata Bose, a historian of South Asia at Harvard.

    Mr. Bose said his great-uncle Subhash Chandra Bose, the Indian independence movement leader, criticized Japan’s invasion of China but allied himself with Japan against the British.

    “It is a complex view from South and Southeast Asia,” Mr. Bose said. “There is some degree of gratitude for the help that the Japanese provided, to the extent that such help was provided. At the same time, there was also grave suspicion of Japan.”

    Still, Subhash Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army, a popular armed force formed by Indian anticolonialists, accepted assistance from Japan.

    “Judge Pal, as an Indian, would have known all about this,” Mr. Bose said. “And it may have indirectly influenced his views.”