It has been 70 years since the ending of World War II (WWII) and the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese aggression. As for atrocities committed by certain countries in the war and the responsibilities they should undertake, the international community has reached a clear conclusion.
Germany, as a major Axis power and a defeated nation, admitted to its war crimes and took a responsible stance on history. Moreover, the German Government has committed itself to preventing a resurgence of the ghost of war through legislation. In contrast, Japan consistently attempts to whitewash its wartime past. Some radical political forces in Japan even express wishes to reverse historical verdicts on WWII.
Differing interpretations of history show that Germany and Japan chose different paths, and the two countries have differing international reputations. Germany has not only achieved reconciliation with its rivals in the past, but also played an important role in European integration. By refusing to acknowledge history, Japan jeopardizes regional stability and fails to build mutual trust with its Asian neighbors.
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the victory of WWII, the historical issue cannot be avoided. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, ahead of his upcoming commemoration speech, must make a choice between two different paths. Will he be courageous enough to admit the atrocities of Japan during WWII and lay a solid foundation for peaceful development in the future? Or will he fall short of living up to the responsibility of reflecting on history? Various political forces in Japan have been fighting over these issues, which are also of concern to the international community.
Many insightful Japanese people have stood up, warning if key words of apology for colonial rule and aggression are removed from Abe's commemoration speech, it will have a negative effect on bilateral relations with China and South Korea, and Japan-U.S. ties will also be affected.
As for Abe's upcoming statement, Japan's leading newspaper The Sankei Shimbun recently published an article entitled "Who Was the Victor of the Cold War?" The author suggested an "alternative perspective" in the article, which downplays the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat. Moreover, the author claimed that Japan was actually the victor of the Cold War, which could be regarded as "World War III." Although the article seems ambiguous and veiled, its viewpoint is clear--Japan is a victor. Thus, the author believes there is no reason for a victor to reflect on history and apologize.
This "alternative perspective" might be somewhat radical, but it offers a footnote for understanding why some Japanese people have resisted abandoning their historical bias. They want to relieve the historical burden but refuse to take an honest view of that history. Instead of reflecting on their nation's mistakes, they resort to sophistry with untenable evidence. Much worse, they even shift the responsibility for disrupting regional trust and security to neighbors that suffered from Japan's aggression in WWII, accusing neighbors of using the historical issue as a tool to tarnish Japan's international reputation.
During her visit to Japan on March 9, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave Abe a reminder by discussing her country's way of facing up to the crimes carried out under Nazi rule. She added that this was a precondition for reconciliation with the countries and peoples that had suffered from German aggression.
Japan should first reflect on its historical mistakes if it wants to be forgiven by its Asian neighbors. Given the fact that it has constantly hurt the feelings of all Asian peoples and harmed international justice with provocative remarks and acts, Japan is hard-pressed to win its Asian neighbors' understanding and trust. How will Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors develop in 2015--will it move forward or backward? The world awaits Japan's answer.
Seventy years ago, Japan lost a war. Today, Japan should not lose another war of conscience.
The author is a research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies
Copyedited by Joseph Halvorson
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