Reflecting on history ensures peaceful future

By Bu Ping Source:Global Times Published: 2015-3-24 19:18:01

In 2015, Asian countries that suffered under Japanese expansionism will call for international justice with one voice, demanding Japan take a responsible stance by acknowledging its historical militarism.

Early this year, US Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert and spokespersons of the US State Department stated publicly that they hope Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet will follow the example of former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.

The former Japanese leader gave a speech on the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII in 1995, in which he publicly apologized for the atrocities Japanese troops committed during the war.

Today, remembering Murayama's statement is of particular significance for understanding the lessons of WWII.

Since the end of WWII, holding Japan responsible for its aggression and colonial rule has been an important political issue in East Asia. Japan's complicated attitudes toward its history also have a deep influence on regional relations.

Through the International Military Tribunal of the Far East, Japanese people became aware of the atrocities committed by the nation's army on Asian battlefields, including the notorious Nanjing Massacre in 1937. The Japanese people denounced the crime of militarism, investigated the responsibility for aggression and ultimately decided to take the path of peaceful development.

However, political forces bent on denying historical realities persist in Japan.

In the 1980s, right-wing conservatives demanded the reversal of postwar politics amid the country's successful economic development since the end of WWII.

In the mid-1990s, the tendency became even more pronounced among Japanese politicians.

Over 100 parliamentary politicians established a committee devoted to discussing history. The committee denounced Morihiro Hosokawa, who was elected as Japanese prime minister in 1993, for his speech apologizing for Japan's aggression.

The committee attempted to cover up historical truth and whitewash the past. They attempted to block Japan's parliament from approving a resolution in 1995 that recognized the country's historical responsibility for aggression.

Moreover, they pushed politicians to pay respects to war criminals at the Yasukuni Shrine.

All this shows that there is a strong political force in Japan obstructing people from reflecting on history even 50 years after the end of WWII.

The historical legacy of the speech is clear. Murayama's statement promoted relations between Japan and its neighbors, in particular with China and South Korea, and helped Japan earn their trust. The statement also helped Japan mend bilateral ties that had been strained by the irresponsible words and deeds of some right-wing Japanese politicians. In short, the statement played an important role in maintaining the peace and stability of East Asia.

Murayama took a series of measures to promote Japan's relations with its neighbors during his tenure. For example, he announced the "Peace, Friendship, and Exchange Initiative" on August 31, 1994. Japan and China jointly supported historical research, and set up the Asian Historical Document Center, which later became known as the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records, as part of an effort to share historical records and official documents of the Japanese government.

Successive prime ministers after Murayama, despite representing different parties, all followed the principle of their predecessor. Some Japanese leaders have delivered additional speeches regarding historical issues. However, none have matched the weight of Murayama's powerful statement, and their deeds have not lived up to their words.

The lasting influence of Murayama's statement shows that Japanese leaders must thoroughly reflect on the history of Japanese militarism and admit historical responsibility, the only way open for them to lead the country beyond their reprehensible history.

By undertaking the responsibility of history, regional and world peace, Japan may finally be relieved of its historical burden and embrace a brighter future.

The author is director of the academic board of the Institute of Modern History at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The article was firstly published in the People's Daily.

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus