The day marking the 76th anniversary of the end of World War II has arrived, with a government-sponsored national memorial service for the war dead held at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.
In order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the number of participants in the ceremony has been scaled down for the second year in a row.
The significance of mourning the 3.1 million war dead and reflecting on the peace and prosperity of the postwar period remains unchanged. As the security environment around Japan deteriorates, the event should serve as an opportunity to rethink how to respond to crises and how to avoid contingencies.
■ Learn from horrors of war
It is not only wars between nations that threaten the safety of the people’s livelihoods.
The “war against the virus” of this pandemic has lasted about a year and a half. Even now, there are no signs that the pandemic is abating. The government’s response during this period can be said to have highlighted the structural problems facing Japan in the postwar era.
The government has failed to properly manage to secure hospital beds and accommodation facilities for recuperation, and whenever the number of COVID-19 patients surges, the medical system is said to be in a tight situation. Vaccine development and procurement, even vaccination itself, have also lagged behind other countries.
There have been many proposals so far for measures against infections and to increase hospital beds. Necessary measures should have been taken, but haven’t they been neglected through the holding of all these discussions to come up with these proposals?
The lack of cooperation between the central government and local governments and the delay in digitization have also been conspicuous.
Confusion arose over the special cash benefit of ¥100,000 per person and compensation for leave from work, and many benefits have not swiftly been delivered to those in need.
A glitch in the smartphone app that alerts people to possible contact with infected people has been left unattended for four months and its use has not spread at all.
In crisis responses, it is important to have an accurate grasp on frontline developments and to flexibly respond to an ever-changing situation. Japan should have learned this lesson from the Showa era (1926-89) war.
Writer Kazutoshi Hando, who passed away in January, noted in his book “Showashi” (Showa History) that among the political leaders and senior military officials of the time they were “overly self-confident” and there was “immeasurable irresponsibility.”
The famed book “Shippai no Honshitsu” (The Essence of Failure) by Ryoichi Tobe and others, analyzing the organizational problems of the wartime Japanese military, also cited the “piecemeal commitment of troops” and “groundless optimism” as factors in the defeat.
In order to ensure national security, it is even more important to take into account the lessons of the past and at the same time calmly assess the changes in the international situation.
■ Be ready for China threat
Japan has been a member of the Western bloc since the end of World War II, based on the Japan-U.S. alliance, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was touted as a victory for liberalism, but the situation surrounding Japan is increasingly severe 30 years later.
The largest factor is China’s increasing hegemonic behavior. It is attempting to unilaterally change the status quo around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture and in the South China Sea, and is making its “one country, two systems” Hong Kong principle a mere formality.
Of particular concern is the fact that China has indicated its stance that it will not hesitate to unify Taiwan by coercion.
A contingency in the Taiwan Strait would have a tremendous impact on Japan as well.
The United States has shown its stance to confront China in cooperation with its friends and allies. Japan needs to strengthen its alliance with the United States and build a solid deterrent capability so that China will not misunderstand that an invasion of Taiwan is possible.
Russia is also increasing its unilateral actions regarding the northern territories. “Change of status quo by coercion,” an action seen in the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine, should never be tolerated.
Japan is also being asked to deal with the nuclear and missile threats posed by North Korea.
The “unexpected” is not allowed in national security. Japan must face up to the threats and deepen discussions on the development of a system that can respond appropriately to contingencies. Such efforts will ultimately lead to the prevention of contingencies.
The Tokyo Olympics have ended and the Paralympics will start on Aug. 24. Holding the Games despite the hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic will likely help to enhance international trust in Japan.
■ Communicate Japan’s position
Including the Winter Games, the fact that Japan has hosted the Olympics Games four times can be said to symbolize the country’s postwar path of democracy and peace.
It is extremely regrettable that some of Japan’s neighbors dare to turn a blind eye to this fact and continue anti-Japan propaganda on issues related to historical perception.
Relations between Japan and South Korea have remained cold due to the issues over former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula and former so-called comfort women.
This year, UNESCO realized reforms to curb the political use of the Memory of the World program, which aims to preserve and utilize historical documents. The reform movement was led by Japan, and the room for South Korea and China to abuse the Memory of the World program for anti-Japan propaganda has been greatly reduced.
It is important to appropriately refute self-serving words and actions over history and territory, and proactively communicate Japan’s position to the international community.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 15, 2021.