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Historians call for honest accounting of Japan’s war crimes

By Mao Li | 2015-06-01 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The Japanese prime minister,
Hides historical crimes most sinister.
He and others brazenly lied,
Saying past aggression was justified.
Despite falsehoods taught in classes,
Truth does not stay buried in graves.
History demands justice,
For the massacred masses
And the multitudes of sexual slaves.
The evidence cannot be denied,
Although Abe surely tried.
As long as textbooks,
Continue to be revised,
History’s demons,
Are never exorcised.
70 years after the war’s end,
Is a time for healing,
For the world to mend.
Japan must recognize its crimes,
And honestly atone,
Or continue its denial,
And stand alone.


(Cartoon by Gou Ben;Poem by Long Yuan)


Recently an open letter signed by 187 scholars from America, Britain, Australia and many other countries urged the Japanese government to acknowledge its colonial and wartime atrocities on the occasion of the 70thanniversary of World War II (WWII).

The letter argued that Japan has been pushing a false historical narrative that has compromised Japan’s moral standing in the international arena.

Bruce Cummings, professor of history at University of Chicago, was a signatory of that open letter. He stated that Shinzo Abe, the current Japanese prime minister, needs to reflect upon and apologize for Japan’s imperial past in his speech at the imminent commemoration of the 70th anniversary of  WWII. “We published the letter because we are concerned about the Abe government’s prevarication about Japan’s crimes in the Pacific War, and because honest historians and journalists in Japan are being intimidated and attacked by conservatives,” he said.  

Cummings said he was seriously disappointed by Abe’s speech at Capitol Hill this April, calling it nothing more than historical revisionism. Many in the international community, including long-time supporters of the country, have been upset by Japan’s shift to the right during Abe’s term.

All of the 187 signatories are experts of Japanese Studies. For many of them, Japan is not only a research topic but also like a second home. “I would guess that most of those who signed the letter are rather appalled by Mr. Abe’s actions to suppress truthful historical inquiry, ” Cummings said.

Among the crimes committed by Japanese forces, Cummings has been particularly preoccupied with sexual slavery for decades. As a historian, he learned about the issue through The Pacific War authored by Lenaga Saburo in 1975. He later came across relevant information in his own research on the origins of the Korean War. Sexual slavery was underlined in the open letter. The letter states that it is scandalous for Japanese conservatives to attempt to justify or ignore such well-organized crimes inflicted upon young females kidnapped from occupied areas and colonies during WWII. Although the precise number of sexual slaves is still subject to debates, the historical fact of their existence and unbearable suffering cannot and should not be challenged, according to the letter.

The letter repeatedly hammered home the message that Japan’s democracy and foreign relations will definitely be strengthened if the country acknowledges its past transgressions.

Many Japanese authorities and media outlets have dismissed critics as being hung up on the past and losing sight of the future. “Japanese officials and journalists have been saying this same thing for years, yet no one ‘looks to the future’ because Japan has not dealt properly with the problems of the past,” Cummings said.

“In human relationships,” he continued, “when you have done something wrong it is always best to admit it, and to try to atone for it. That’s what postwar Germany has done and what postwar Japan has never done. But it is never too late, and this year might be a very good time for Japan to begin acknowledging its crimes in a sincere manner.”