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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005

August 22, 2005

The 60th anniversary of the end of World War II has produced furious denunciations of Japan by its Asian neighbors.

So have visits by Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni war shrine to commemorate 1.5 million soldiers killed in that war.

While anti-Japanese protests have become something of an regional routine, this latest firestorm was unusually intense and filled with invective.

Though Japan's prime minister, Junicihiro Koizumi, issued a sincere apology for Japan's aggressions and the often brutal behavior of its troops, Chinese, Koreans, and Filipinos intensified their war of words against Japan.

They rightly accused Japan of glossing over war crimes in school books, ignoring the Nanjing massacre, sexual enslavement of Asian women, and horrible biological tests on Chinese civilians.

It's also true right-wing Japanese still believe their nation a victims, not aggressor, in WWII. This view holds that Japan was denied its rightful role in Asia by the western imperial powers and forced into war by President Franklin Roosevelt's embargo on Japan of scrap metal and oil.

At the time, the US was Japan's primary source of both commodities. One should recall that President George Bush senior clearly stated his war against Iraq in 1991 was over oil.

One should also recall, that Imperial Japan went to war not against the western democracies, as historical propaganda still claims, but against the British, French, and Dutch colonial Empires, and America's colonial holdings in the Pacific.

But claims by Asians that Japan is falling prey to dangerous, reborn militarism are untrue — at least so far.

Both Japan and Germany still suffer from the mentality of defeat and foreign occupation. Post-war Germany accepted total blame for the war, groveled in profound self-abasement and, until recently, and was quick to follow Washington's commands. Any Germans that dared dispute the victor's version of history were branded pro-Nazis.

Japan bowed its head to the American conquerors, obeyed US orders, but refused to accept total guilt for the Pacific War. Beneath the surface of Japanese acquiescence ran a deep current of national pride and refusal to eat humble pie. Other Asians saw this clearly, and thus keep lambasting Japan.

The tendency of many Japanese to look down on Chinese, Koreans and Filipinos as inferiors lacking in hygiene and self control has not helped the cause of inter-Asian brotherhood. Japanese still consider themselves superior to all other Asians, even to Chinese, whose rich culture forms part of the intellectual fabric of Japan.

While a columnist for a leading Japanese newspaper, `Mainchi Shimbun', I realized many Japanese bore their total defeat in WWII as a badge of shame, a dishonor to be suffered in silence. Some Japanese still view the conflict as a legitimate struggle to liberate Asia from western imperialism, though they ignore the bestial behavior of the Imperial Army in Asian nations and against enemy prisoners.

When in Tokyo, I often visit the graves of the fabled 47 Ronin — loyal samurai who fought and died to avenge their wronged master, Lord Asano. Their grave is the very heart of the old warrior Japan whose creed was loyalty, courage, and honor.

I also sometimes visit Yasukuni shrine, where the souls of millions of fallen Japanese soldiers are said to repose, simply to pay my respects to the brave warriors who took the 203 meter hill at Port Arthur and captured Singapore.

My late father fought in the glory-covered US 5th Marine Amphibious Division against the Japanese Army at Iwo Jima. Yet he, too, had the deepest respect for his old enemy.

All sides commit crimes in wartime. Chinese textbooks say little about Mao's lunatic experiments that killed tens of millions or China's murderous civil wars. US Gen. Curtis LeMay, who led the fire-bombing of Tokyo that burned 100,000 civilians to death on one night alone, said if the US had lost the war he would have been tried as a war criminal. So would Britain's leaders for fire-bombing Dresden.

A 100% effective US submarine blockade had decisively defeated Japan by June 1944; it could have been starved into submission, a staple tactic of siege warfare. Japan was unable to grow enough rice to feed its large population. Once Japan's food ran perilously low, hunger would have forced to surrender. Instead, the US chose to carpet bomb Japan, killing over 500,000 civilians.

Dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was unnecessary and criminal. The notorious bombing was aimed more at cowing the rest of the world and the Soviet Union than crushing already defeated Japan, which had already put out numerous peace feelers.

Today, for the first time in memory, China and Japan are both major powers. A lot of anti-Japanese invective from China is part of a strategic test of wills between the two growing rivals in which Beijing's is trying to make the Japanese lose face, and thus lose power status.

For this reason, Japan is reluctant to keep apologizing for the war. Imperial China has historically exerted its power not by conquest but by making neighboring states kow-tow and acknowledge its supremacy.

The proud Japanese can only be pushed so far. Today's younger generation of Japanese has no memory of mass suffering from the war years. But they are acutely sensitive to the invective poured on them from their Asian neighbors.

Unless China and the Koreas let up, they risk igniting what they claim to fear: the rebirth of irredentist Japanese nationalism and militarism.

To ensue this does not happen, it's time for Asians to embrace Japan, forgive its past offenses, and forget the war years. Otherwise, the dragon seeds of new wars will flower.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2005


  • I've written two columns in recent years in which I asserted that four-engine airliners were far safer than twin-engine ones for long, over-the-water crossings. My preference is for the Airbus A-340 or Boeing 747-400 over their respective twin-engine A-330 and 777 models.

    I received storm of angry letters from airline people insisting that twin engine aircraft were totally safe for trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flights and that the risk of just one of the engines shutting down was something like .00078.

    That's fine, unless you happen to be on a plane that loses an engine over mid-Pacific. Recently, a Colombian twin-engine, MD-82 at 35,000 ft lost both engines over Venezuela and crashed, killing all 160 aboard. Initial reports say there was ample fuel on board. So do we have a case of multiple engine failure? What about those comforting statistics?

    Published at since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

    To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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