Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, will be making a historic visit to the U.S. to speak before Congress, and has come under immense pressure to reaffirm the wartime apologies made by past Japanese leaders. The announcement of Abe’s visit came on Monday, when his country and the U.S. unveiled a plan to engage in joint military exercises. In its communique, the U.S. affirmed its commitment to the security of Japan, which included backing up Tokyo in disputes with China over Senkaku and Diaoyu islands. In return, Japan pledged itself to be more active in its bilateral agreements with the U.S.
Almost immediately after the meeting was announced, the attention shifted to what would possibly be contained in Abe’s speech, which will be made before Congress this coming Wednesday, April 29. This date also happens to coincide with the birthday of Japanese World War II Emperor Hirohito, who was considered responsible for initiating Japan’s militaristic policies both prior to the war. This began with Japan’s incursion into Manchuria and Korea and war further exacerbated with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which ushered in America’s entrance into the war. In addition to so many lives being claimed, Japanese-American citizens had also suffered, having been thrown into internment camps by order of the U.S. government. In 1995, the Japanese parliament voted to issue an apology for its country’s conduct during the war, a government standard which would be reaffirmed by subsequent leaders, like by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2005. Abe, however, was reported to have walked out of the 1995 vote, believing the war to have been justified.
To the Japanese who suffered, as well as U.S. war veterans, the idea of speaking at the wartime emperor’s birthday seems bad enough, however, even worse to them was that in past addresses, such as one he made Monday at Harvard Kennedy school, rather than use the word “apologize, the prime minister resorted to the phrase “deeply pained.” This led many to believe that he simply fudged an important issue, as he did not even attempt to associate it with the Japanese wartime leadership. Abe had also reportedly stated that it was time to end Japan’s “masochistic” war guilt.
In defense to the criticism under which he has come, and amid the immense pressure on him to reaffirm the wartime apologies, Abe commented that he upheld the statement made 20 years ago. However, as recently his speech on the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender this past summer, the prime minister hinted that he did not recognize Japan’s war to be one of aggression, and did not feel an apology was in order. For this reason, Abe’s speech before Congress, the first one since WWII made by a Japanese prime minister, will draw much attention not only from the U.S., but other countries worldwide. China and South Korea, will especially be tuning in as relationships between Japan and the two countries have already been strained since a visit by Abe to the controversial war shrine of Yasukuni, which to many represented Japan’s militaristic policies of WWII.
U.S. critics have also weighed in on the upcoming visit by the Japanese prime minister, and have put immense pressure on Abe to reaffirm the wartime apologies, as well as assuage Americans of any suspicion of approval for his country’s past wartime actions. Other groups, including an organization for American World War II prisoners of war, appealed to Congress not to invite Abe to speak until he would reassure them that he would properly express his regrets for any wrongdoing of Japan. And in a letter signed by 25 members of the House, and sent to the ambassador of Japan, the representatives urged Abe to confirm the feelings of regret at his upcoming speech before Congress, which he made prior to his visit to the U.S.. At Dartmouth College, an associate professor of government, Jennifer Lind, who also holds a fellowship at Tokyo’s Peace Foundation, commented that Abe’s way of addressing the past has been inconsistent. While at times, the prime minister acknowledges his country’s wrongdoing, other times he seems to brush it off. She further challenged Abe to use this visit as an opportunity to set the record straight.
By Bill Ades