Japan Is Wrestling with the Memory of WW II on the Eve of 60th Anniversary of Hiroshima

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The slender, bruised arm of Japanese dancer Nao Ohta -- injured in her nation's revived civil war over World War II history -- could be a symbol for modern Japan.

"We all have them," Ohta, 31, said of her fresh scab and bruises as she gestured toward three fellow dancers last week. They had just taken a battering in their intense Tokyo performance of "Silent Trace," an allegory about the brutal treatment suffered by "comfort women," the women forced to become sex slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army.

East Asia, unlike Europe and the United States, is still wrestling with the ghosts of World War II. The 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing on Saturday, of the Nagasaki bombing on Tuesday and of the war's end in Asia next weekend find Japan under renewed attack from activists who say the country never faced up to the atrocities its army committed before and during the war.

Japan's ruling conservatives in the Liberal Democratic Party are fighting back on multiple battlefronts: a war shrine that extols the World War II heroism of Japan's soldiers, including 14 found to be war criminals; a new middle school history textbook that critics accuse of whitewashing wartime atrocities; and proposed revision of Japan's "Peace Constitution." Imposed by the United States in 1947, the Constitution's Article 9 renounces war and prohibits Japan from maintaining forces for waging war.

Complaining that liberal war-guilt since 1945 has given the nation a masochistic self-image, conservatives are pushing to revise the nation's basic education law to instill more patriotism in the nation's youth. Education Minister Nariaki Nakayama said in a June speech that the curriculum under the nation's left-leaning teachers "has overemphasized that Japan is a bad country, " the Associated Press reported.

Last year, scores of teachers were reprimanded for disobeying a 1999 law mandating respect for the flag and singing of the national anthem in schools. Many teachers objected to what they viewed as symbols of Japanese imperialism.

Intensifying the conflict, the Chinese government frequently criticizes Japan, focusing especially on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine. Among the 2.5 million Japanese soldiers whose souls are believed enshrined there are Gen. Hideki Tojo and 13 others classified by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal as Class A war criminals.

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