Tue, Aug 16, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Japan's apologies miss the mark

During a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II yesterday, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologized to neighboring countries for the suffering and destruction inflicted by Japan during the war. He also promised that Japan will never forget the terrible lesson of the war, and said that it will actively seek to build new relations with other nations in the region.

This was not the first time that Japan has apologized for its part in World War II. Ten years ago, then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama apologized at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, but Asian nations felt the Japanese government had shown insufficient sincerity on that occasion.

This is not the first time that Koizumi has apologized, either. To sooth anti-Japanese sentiment and protests in China and avoid an escalation of tensions between the two sides, he issued an apology couched in similar terms during a summit in Indonesia in April. Japan's ruling and opposition camps must feel very hard done by, for despite repeated apologies, their neighbors have not accepted their words.

Asian nations still cannot forget the atrocities committed by Japan during the war. Although Japan's rapid rise since the war has complied with the spirit of its peace Constitution and it has been severely constrained militarily, its neighbors remain apprehensive about its growing power. Despite the apologies, Koizumi continues visit the Yasukuni shrine, which commemorates Japan's war dead, including a number of war criminals. This has drawn criticism from both China and South Korea. What's more, Japan's Ministry of Education continues to gloss over the nation's war-time brutalities in history textbooks, misleading the nation's youth about war-time history. This is why many doubt the sincerity of Japan's apologies.

Japan was not the only country to be defeated in World War II. Fellow Axis member Germany's apologies for the war have been accepted and there are no calls for further punishment. At this year's commemoration of the Normandy landings, leaders from France, Germany, the UK and the US stood side by side, putting the enmity of the past behind them.

Why has the treatment of Germany and Japan been so different? The reason is that Germany has shown true remorse and contrition over the war, and has incorporated antiwar sentiment and human rights into every aspect of its legal system and social life, teaching the following generations the lessons of the war. Germany's neighbors do not fear its rising power. Conversely, they rejoice at its increasingly important role in the EU.

It has been 60 years since the end of the war, and even the children born in the immediate postwar years are now elderly. There is no longer any reason to keep alive historical resentments. But while we can forgive, we should never forget, and those who acted in the past should show appropriate contrition. The Japanese government's actions and words have sent out mixed signals, causing doubts.

Although Taiwan no longer seeks to punish Japan for its responsibility for the war, it continues to demand an adequate response on the issues of compensation for comfort women, war bonds and Japanese textbooks. This, after all, would be a concrete expression of Japan's acceptance of responsibility. If these problems over its violation of human rights are not resolved, then the seeds of hatred will never be extirpated, and the specter of the war will continue to entangle Japan.

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