Abe needs to recognize universal values and confront Japan’s past
As the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II draws closer, international pressure is mounting on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over his stance on the country’s wartime wrongdoings. This rightful pressure should be kept up until he comes to his senses and does what he ought to do.
This past week saw a flurry of events regarding Abe’s plan to issue a statement commemorating Japan’s Aug. 15, 1945, surrender that ended the war.
In Seoul, a group of 524 intellectuals from Korea, Japan and Western countries — including historians, professors and writers — issued a joint statement, which reaffirmed the illegitimacy of Japan’s annexation of Korea and urged Tokyo to confront squarely its war- time atrocities like the operation of military sexual slavery.
The statement was in line with a similar statement issued by Korean and Japanese intellectuals in 2010 to mark the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of Korea. This time, 37 people from third countries like the U.S., UK, Germany, Switzerland and Australia joined forces.
They included U.S. linguist Noam Chomsky, professor Bruce Cummings of the University of Chicago, historian Alexis Dudden of Connecticut University and Wolfgang Seifert, a professor at the University of Heidelberg.
The statement urged Abe to uphold statements his predecessors made about historical issues and admit that Japan’s aggression and colonial rule of its Asian neighbors caused tremendous damage and pain to them.
The issue of Japan’s wartime past has also caught the attention of U.S. politicians in Washington, on the occasion of the eighth anniversary Tuesday of a landmark House resolution urging Japan to fully acknowledge and take full responsibility for its sexual enslavement of women during the war.
Rep. Mike Honda (Democrat, California), who authored the 2007 resolution, said that Abe has the historic opportunity to take leadership, do something and say, “You are right. We were wrong. We apologize.”
“Prime Minister Abe has to learn that to be a good leader in a democratic country, you have to accept historical responsibility. You have to do the hard things,” he said.
Also in the U.S. capital, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking with the visiting leader of the South Korean ruling party, Rep. Kim Moo-sung, called on Abe to make “a clearer statement” on the wartime sexual slavery, according to Kim’s aides.
Abe is facing increasing pressure against his revisionist and rightist policies domestically as well. His popularity hit a record-low 35 percent last week in the wake of the legislation of controversial security bills that would expand the role of the Japanese military. The group of intellectuals who signed up for the joint statement issued in Seoul included 105 people from Japan.
Abe seems ignorant of this domestic and international sentiment. Most recently, he said he agreed with the view of a committee of the Liberal Democratic Party which insisted that there had been no coercion in the military sexual slavery and that the 1993 Kono Statement be retracted.
According to a Yonhap News dispatch from Washington, Honda recalled that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had told Abe during her visit to Tokyo: “You know, we faced our past and we made our apologies. In fact, I think we even have a law in Germany that if you say that the death camps did not exist, you would be fined for the violation of a law there. That’s how serious they were.”
In two weeks’ time, the world will see how serious Abe is about facing Japan’s past, which is not an issue limited only to Japan’s relations with either Korea or China but a matter of universal values. This is an editorial published by The Korea Herald on Aug. 1.