NYT denounces Japan's foreign minister for misusing history

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People everywhere wish they could be proud of every bit of their countries' histories. But honest people understand that's impossible, and wise people appreciate the positive value of acknowledging and learning from painful truths about past misdeeds. Then there is Japan's new foreign minister, Taro Aso, who has been neither honest nor wise in the inflammatory statements he has been making about Japan's disastrous era of militarism, colonialism and war crimes that culminated in the Second World War.

Besides offending neighboring countries that Japan needs as allies and trading partners, he is disserving the people he has been pandering to. World War II ended before most of today's Japanese were born. Yet public discourse in Japan and modern history lessons in its schools have never properly come to terms with the country's responsibility for such terrible events as the mass kidnapping and sexual enslavement of Korean young women, the biological warfare experiments carried out on Chinese cities and helpless prisoners of war, and the sadistic slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians in the city of Nanjing.

That is why so many Asians have been angered by a string of appalling remarks Mr. Aso has made since being named foreign minister last fall. Two of the most recent were his suggestion that Japan's emperor ought to visit the militaristic Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 Japanese war criminals are among those honored, and his claim that Taiwan owes its high educational standards to enlightened Japanese policies during the 50-year occupation that began when Tokyo grabbed the island as war booty from China in 1895. Mr. Aso's later lame efforts to clarify his words left their effect unchanged.

Mr. Aso has also been going out of his way to inflame Japan's already difficult relations with Beijing by characterizing China's long-term military buildup as a "considerable threat" to Japan. China has no recent record of threatening Japan. As the rest of the world knows, it was the other way around. Mr. Aso's sense of diplomacy is as odd as his sense of history.

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Thomas Reimer - 2/15/2006

The article reads like written by a Red Chinese newspaper bureaucrat or his stooge. So effing what if 14 war criminals are among 2.5 million other soldiers? First, China (and the US) have their own murderous generals in history, and no one crows if one honors the US Army just because in the 19th century it had its share of genocidal butchers of Indians and Mexican civilians. Then, do Japanese mourners single the 14 war criminals out for special praise? No, they do not. China itself has, as country with a long imperialist tradition of its own, no right to accuse Japan. How honest are its history books about Tibet, for example, and Maoist murders? The whole brouhaha is not about truth, but the ham-handed misuse of individual Chinese suffering for blatant political blackmail by its Communist regime. Aso is right to try to end that.