Today marks the 71st anniversary of the end of World War II. This day offers an opportunity to mourn the 3.1 million people who died in the war and renew our vow for peace.
A government-sponsored memorial service for the war dead will be held at the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo’s Kitanomaru Park.
Aug. 15 has long been established as the anniversary of the war’s end, marking the same day in 1945 when Emperor Showa told the people of the war’s termination.
Strictly speaking, however, the end of all combative activities was formalized on Sept. 2 that year. Aboard the USS Missouri, which was anchored in Tokyo Bay, representatives of Japan and the Allied Powers signed an instrument of surrender on that day.
Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima
The Battleship Missouri, preserved at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, is open for public viewing. Located at the bottom of the sea nearby, the USS Arizona, the battleship that was sunk during the Japanese surprise attack on the harbor, is the resting place of more than 1,100 officers and sailors.
The cry of “No more Hiroshimas” can be answered with “Remember Pearl Harbor!” The atomic bombings and the Pearl Harbor attack are thorns in an unfortunate piece of Japan-U.S. history.
During a visit to Pearl Harbor in 1997, then Chinese President Jiang Zemin made a speech in which he said the Chinese and the Americans had “stood side by side in the fight against the fascist invasion.” His speech was intended to emphasize cooperation between the United States and China, and thereby drive a wedge into the Japan-U.S. alliance.
However, both Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima are being transformed into a theater of reconciliation.
Since 2013, a tiny folded paper crane has been displayed in a corner of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. The origami crane, produced by the late Sadako Sasaki, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, was donated by her bereaved family to the memorial. The Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is modeled on Sasaki.
The city government in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture — birthplace of Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the prewar Combined Fleet, who led the Pearl Harbor raid — has conducted exchange activities with Honolulu since the two cities established a sister-city relationship in 2012.
In a memorial ceremony held in August 2015, the 70th year of the postwar period, fireworks from Nagaoka were set off in Pearl Harbor’s night sky, accompanied by a prayer for peace.
A visit to Hiroshima by U.S. President Barack Obama in May was the result of a wise decision made despite persistent opinion in the United States that the atomic bombings were justified. His 17-minute remarks went right to the hearts of many people. Although the Japanese side has not accepted this inhumane action, it has not demanded an apology from the United States.
Obama’s historic visit symbolized the mature nature of Japan-U.S. relations. This has been founded on a relationship of trust built over the years by the two allies, which share such values as freedom, democracy and human rights.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement last August expressing anew “remorse and apology” for Japan’s wartime actions has been taken positively by the United States and many other countries.
The current stable bilateral relations between Japan and the United States should be developed further.
In contrast to the United States, China continues to use the historical perception issue as a diplomatic card. When Obama visited Hiroshima, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said bluntly that “Nanjing should not be forgotten and deserves even more attention.”
China against intl order
China has unilaterally asserted that 300,000 people were killed during the Nanjing Incident and has had “Documents of the Nanjing Massacre” added to the UNESCO’s Memory of the World list.
On the anniversary of the country’s “victory” in the “War of Resistance Against Japan” last September, China held a military parade in front of about 30 heads of state and leaders of the world, emphasizing China as a “victorious nation” in World War II.
Yet China’s foreign policies as a “victor country,” in which it proclaims that it backed the international order, while trying to change the international maritime order in the East and South China seas through force, has not won empathy from the international community.
South Korea, which had attempted to join hands with China in addressing issues related to historical perception, has shifted its stance to improve its relationship with Japan, following the bilateral deal Japan and South Korea reached late last year on the issue of the so-called comfort women. Japan will contribute ¥1 billion to a foundation set up by South Korea to support former comfort women as early as this month.
Yet a support group for former comfort women and others have not relaxed their stance of opposing the foundation. Also, a comfort woman statue was unveiled at a ceremony in Australia early this month, following similar ceremonies in the United States. The misperception that these women were forcibly taken by the now-defunct Imperial Japanese Army prevails in the world even today.
The Japanese government must continue to appropriately refute distortions of various historical facts related to the war. It is also important to urge China and other countries to abide by the rules of the international community.
Efforts must also be made to resolve the issue of the northern territories with Russia.
A more strategic approach is required for Japan to resolve pending postwar issues with Russia, which remain unsettled even after the passage of 71 years since the end of the war, and conclude a peace treaty.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, European countries and the United States continue to impose sanctions against that country. In the meantime, Abe has been exploring ways to resolve the territorial issues through repeated talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Abe will visit Russia’s Far East early next month at the soonest.
By pursuing constructive relations with other countries, the peace and prosperity that Japan has been building since the end of the war should be made more solid. Such efforts will also contribute to responding to hopes of those who lost their lives during the war.