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Editorial: 80 years on from Pearl Harbor, active efforts to avoid war still needed

It has been 80 years since the start of the Pacific War. The Imperial Japanese military’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii sparked the conflict which, four years later, would end with the U.S. military dropping atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


The flames of war burned across Asia, with 3.1 million Japanese people and over 20 million others in the continent losing their lives.


On the eve of the conflict, there were reportedly several analyses showing a clear difference between power the U.S. wielded and the level that Japan had, and that Japan could not afford to endure a protracted conflict.


Why did this country rush into a reckless war? Factors included a rampant military, dysfunctional politics, failed diplomacy and media incitement. The truth seems to be that a number of factors converged to lead the country into a chain of disastrous events. The lessons from the country’s loss in the war must be learned and put to use today.


In his 1909 book “Nihon no Kaki,” (roughly translating to “Japan’s ill omens”) historian Kan’ichi Asakawa maintained that Japan’s policy of territorial expansion adopted following the Russo-Japanese War would isolate the country. He wrote that the U.S. was wary of Japan, which had enjoyed friendly relations with the country for half a century, and said that Japan was at a juncture where the two were destined to become adversaries.


But in defeating Russia, Japan became overconfident of its own power. The Japanese military staged the Mukden Incident starting with a false flag bombing, and rushed headlong into the second Sino-Japanese War. In a bid to maintain the order of the great powers, the U.S. and U.K. supported China, affirming opposition between the sides.


The start of war with the U.S. was an attempt to break out from the economic issues brought by the Great Depression, and major powers’ “encirclement” via embargoes. The people’s appetite for war was stoked by the Pearl Harbor attack, and the country was dragged into a quagmire of war from which it could not return.


The circumstances of that time can be seen elsewhere today. Economically and militarily emergent China is challenging the postwar global order, while the U.S. is laying a global net around China, stressing that a “battle between democracy and autocracy” is being waged.


Economies have been exhausted by the coronavirus crisis, and disparity is widening across the world. In many countries, people are being radicalized by xenophobic views, and emotional political positions are being amplified via social media.


It is important to secure rational diplomacy that prevents conflict, and to prioritize cooperation and aim for peaceful solutions. Japan should be the flagbearer of this approach.


Just five years ago, the leaders of Japan and the U.S. came together to commemorate the war dead in Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor. Financial aid for people in Hiroshima affected by radioactive “Black Rain” has finally been decided on, and in Hawaii, DNA identification of unidentified remains finished this year.


A tremendous amount of time is needed to heal the scars of war. The vow not to wage war cannot be allowed to fade.

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