On the landmark 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to end World War II, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chose to highlight his own views of history and national security, rather than show remorse for the past.
Missing from Abe’s address at a government memorial service in Tokyo for the war dead on Aug. 15 was “taking the lessons of history deeply into our hearts,” which he used during last year’s ceremony to describe Japan’s efforts for world peace and prosperity.
He replaced it with the reference that Japan has worked tirelessly to make the world a better place, dropping the word “history.”
After the Abe administration was formed in December 2012, the prime minister had consistently included “history” in his addresses through 2019 to show that Japan is facing up to its militaristic past.
Also new in Abe’s address this year was his first mention of “proactive contribution to peace,” the catchphrase he uses in mapping out the nation’s foreign and national security policy.
What has remained unchanged in his speeches since his second term as prime minister is an absence of recognizing Japan’s role as an aggressor in neighboring countries in the war.
“The prime minister sought to express his political beliefs as he has only about a year left” as the president of his Liberal Democratic Party, a ranking official with a government ministry said of Abe’s address.
The same day, former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, 96, denounced in his statement that the historical denial of Japan’s wartime aggression is “utterly unacceptable.”
Murayama, as prime minister, expressed “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology” over Japan’s colonial rule and aggression, which he said “caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.” He expressed those monumental sentiments in his 1995 statement to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Japan’s defeat.
The statement has since become the government’s official position on Japan’s wartime actions as the succeeding Cabinets, including the Abe Cabinet, have maintained it.
In his statement this year, Murayama said it is “only natural” for the succeeding cabinets to adhere to his 1995 statement.
He added: “It is axiomatic that historical perceptions such as it was not a war of aggression, or it was a war of justice or it was a war to liberate colonies are utterly unacceptable.”
Murayama criticized the movement to attack those who make conscientious efforts to examine and repent for Japan’s wartime history as a “masochistic view of history,” calling it “completely wrong.”
“Efforts to sincerely reflect on Japan’s past will pave the way for the country to gain honor,” he said. “In contrast, I believe that an attitude that would not recognize Japan’s aggression and colonial rule will give the country a bad name.”
Yukio Edano, who heads the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said in his statement released to coincide with the anniversary of the war’s end that his party cannot tolerate Abe’s push to derail Japan’s peaceful path in the postwar years.
“The Abe administration led by the coalition of the LDP and Komeito has intensified a move to threaten the constitutionalism and pacifism that Japan has nurtured since the war’s end,” the statement read. “We cannot tolerate such a move at all.”
Proactive contribution to peace is the phrase that emerged during the discussion by an expert panel on national security strategy after Abe in autumn 2013 showed eagerness to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, a sweeping shift in the nation’s defense policy.
The proactive contribution to peace became the basic philosophy for Japan’s national security strategy, which was approved by the Cabinet in December 2013.
In explaining the concept, Abe said, “Japan will contribute even more aggressively than in the past to achieve peace, stability and prosperity of the international community.”
He also said proactive contribution to peace includes Japan’s efforts in the world to reduce poverty and improve public health.
The government is now discussing a review of the national security strategy based on the proposal by the prime minister in June.
One option that Japan might pursue is the self-defensive capability to pre-emptively strike missile and other military bases of an enemy country.
(This article was compiled from reports by Amane Sugawara and Go Kobayashi.)