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Suga borrows from Abe’s playbook in war memorial speech

  • August 16, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 3:00 p.m.
  • English Press

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga failed to send a strong message in his own words during an annual ceremony to commemorate the nation’s war dead on Aug. 15 by largely repeating what his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, said last year.


In his address, Suga mentioned “proactive pacifism.” The term was used by Abe for the first time during his speech at the 2020 memorial in reference to Japan’s readiness to play a larger role in resolving challenges to the global community.


Like Abe, Suga did not refer to “lessons” learned from World War II, nor Japan’s responsibility for its wartime aggression in other Asian countries.


As prime minister, it was Suga’s first attendance in the government ceremony held in the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward.


The annual event is held on Aug. 15, the anniversary of the country’s surrender, with the emperor and empress as well as bereaved families of the war dead also attending.


After Emperor Naruhito’s address, the prime minister took the podium to give his speech.


After paying respects to the deceased, Suga said, “We will dedicate all our strength to resolve various problems in the world under the banner of proactive pacifism, working with the international community.”


“Proactive pacifism” is a vision Abe laid out at a meeting with defense experts over the country’s national security strategy in autumn 2013.


Abe used the expression to pitch Japan’s expanded role overseas by exercising the right to collective defense through a reinterpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution.


Since then, Abe has referred to proactive pacifism repeatedly in discussing diplomacy and national security strategy.


In that sense, Suga’s use of proactive pacifism suggested that he simply took over Abe’s signature line.


But there are some differences between the two leaders in their addresses for the war dead.


In last year’s speech, Abe dropped the expression “the lessons of history” for the first time in the context of Japan striving to make all possible efforts for world peace and prosperity. He used the words in his previous speeches since taking office as prime minister in December 2012 through 2019.


But Suga put “history” back in the prime minister’s speech by saying, “the peace and prosperity Japanese enjoy today was built on the precious lives lost in the war and history of sufferings.”


Like Abe, Suga did not touch on Japan’s responsibility for its wartime aggression in neighboring countries. Abe made no mention of it while in office, in sharp contrast with his predecessors.


Speaking of Japan’ past military aggression, Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa said in his speech for the Aug. 15 ceremony in 1993, “I would like to take this opportunity to express deep condolences to victims of the war and their relatives in neighboring countries in Asia and those around the world.”


Ever since, succeeding prime ministers toed the line on expressing Japan’s remorse over its aggression by using varied wording.


Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto said Japan’s wartime actions caused suffering and grief among people in many countries, particularly in Asia, during his addresses in the late 1990s.

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