On this landmark 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, I would like to express my heartfelt condolences for all the victims of the war, both at home and abroad.
Although it is now 70 years since the war ended, Japan’s politics, economy and society remain completely trapped in a post-war mentality. I believe that the reason for this is that we have still not, even today, succeeded in any way in scrutinizing and understanding the “pre-war” period upon which all the assumptions of “post-war” Japan are based. This applies particularly to the history of the Showa period (1926-1989).
It is my belief that Japan should take a calm look at the facts of our pre-war history, apologize where apologies are called for, and correct what needs to be corrected. Having done so, we should call for the nations of Asia to work together for the future of our region. If we do not face up squarely to our past, other countries around the world, in particular our neighbors China and the Republic of Korea, will continue to bring up the issue of historical perception.
I would describe myself as a patriot, but setting aside the issue of whether it was appropriate to have dealt with matters by issuing punishments via a military tribunal, there is no escaping the fact that Japan’s wartime leadership caused great suffering and damage to the peoples of neighboring Asian countries, as well as causing many of their fellow Japanese to lose their lives and a great quantity of possessions. It should have been a matter of course for the political and military leaders who had involved Japan in such an unwise conflict to take responsibility for it themselves, without needing to be punished by the Allies.
Those in positions of leadership should bravely take responsibility when their orders are mistaken. Japan has continued to describe August 15 as the anniversary of the end of WWII, but in reality this day commemorates our defeat. Rather than engaging in a phony nationalism where no one is prepared to take responsibility, Japan must fully accept our defeat of 70 years ago before starting the post-war era afresh, and going on to build a new nation. Until we do so we will only end up repeating our past mistakes.
Following the war, the trappings of democracy were introduced to Japan under the U.S. military occupation. We have continued for 70 years with the framework bequeathed by the U.S., leaving everything ambiguous from force of habit.
Individual Japanese have not perceived WWII as being any particular concern of theirs, and we have lacked a process under which we choose of our own free will to face up to pre-war Japan, to scrutinize, to ponder and finally reach a conclusion about the real meaning of democracy. As a result, even now, as we reach the 70th anniversary of the war’s end, Japan still has not become a nation that truly understands democracy.
Near the beginning of the Showa period, during the early 1930s, Japan suffered from a terrible famine, and families across the nation were forced to sell themselves in order to survive. Furthermore, people from poor farming communities had to serve as soldiers under a conscription system.
It was amid such circumstances that the Showa Restoration Song, which sang of “the zaibatsu who boast of their wealth and have no regard for their country and people,” was composed. This sentiment that “There’s something strange going on in Japan. No one is thinking about our nation” led to the rise of the Young Officers’ Movement and the attempted military coups d’état of May 15 1932 and February 26 1936 (the 5.15 Incident and 2.26 Incident).
Japan’s economic hardship was further accelerated by the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the ensuing Great Depression. Japan eventually became unable to cope with this situation, and had no alternative but to stimulate a war-time economic boom by engaging in military expansion. This ultimately led to our nation being catapulted into an even greater tragedy.
I have absolutely no intention of expressing sympathy for the politics behind the 5.15 Incident and 2.26 Incident, but I do believe that the social structure of present-day Japan strongly resembles that at the time of these events. Currently, even those in irregular employment are still managing to make ends meet, but if we were once more to be enveloped by a global economic depression, the Japanese people would likely be thrown into complete disarray.
At such a time, if the Japanese people have become self-reliant, and real democracy has taken root in Japan, we will be able pool our collective knowledge and manage to think of the means to resolve such a difficult situation. However, if no such democratic foundations exist, then the Japanese people might conclude that “present day party politics are totally useless” and “democracy is powerless” and rush headlong into intemperate actions, just as they did at the time of the 5.15 Incident and the 2.26 Incident. I believe that this year, the landmark 70th anniversary of WWII’s end, should be the year in which each individual Japanese works to acquire true democracy.
This means that we should ensure parliamentary democracy takes root in Japan, with each citizen thinking for themselves, casting their vote and creating a government of the people. Should the government they themselves have chosen not work, they can simply choose a different one. If political parties and ordinary people are able to work together in establishing such a framework, I believe that Japan will be able to overcome whatever happens next.
Particularly in recent years, I have had a strong sense of crisis, a sense that we must create such a Japan as soon as possible. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the war’s end, I will do my utmost to work together with the Japanese people to ensure that true democracy takes root in Japan, and that our nation becomes a country that can serve as an example to other Asian nations.
Ichiro Ozawa is a Japanese politician and president of the People’s Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends.