In the wake of the 70th Anniversary of Hiroshima being bombed, and the 70th Anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing coming in two days time, it is appropriate to examine why 70 years later Japan is struggling with its relations with overseas nations. When the war ended Japan was not subject to the same degree of punishment that Germany was – the latter was systematically disarmed. Germany’s key political and military figures were tried and punished. With the exception of a couple bit players who were made to quit by Hitler before the major crimes were committed, very few escaped punishment. Those that did were either killed in the course of conflict or committed suicide to escape being tried.
Whilst it is true that the Tokyo trials tried several figures such as Generals Hideki Tojo, who was Prime Minister until 1944, and General Tomoyuki Yamashita who was in charge of the Malaysia and Singapore campaign in 1941-1942, many escaped by killing themselves on the battlefield or were killed in conflict such as Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet. Japans politicians and military figures otherwise escaped. So did the imperialist political ideology that they promoted and advanced. And the fact that to this day, whereas a sustained effort has been made to round up all of those involved in the Holocaust, almost none of the people responsible for the many Japanese atrocities, have been tried. And those few still alive, are now in their 80’s and 90’s.
But it is more than just that. There are Japanese politicians who to this day insist that Japan has adequately apologized for its wartime past. Some even go so far as to deny that Japan conducted offensive warfare, even though a book the thickness of a Britannica encyclopaedia could be compiled on the subject. Significant atrocities occurred in the Philippines, Singapore, Burma, China and Korea, among other locations. Some of the atrocities were as bad as anything committed by Nazi-era Germany. Japanese politicians have varied in their treatment of the subject. Conservatives such as the current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believe that it is something Japan should not apologize any further for. Others from the more left-leaning parties believe that fuller apologies should be made, and that compensation should be considered.
I think the remaining figures should be made to answer for their crimes. However jailing quite elderly, probably senile people does not really sit well with me, and there is a real possibility that they would die or mentally deteriorate so far during their trials that they would be aborted. Rather I believe that they should be officially censured and perhaps made to pay compensation. Japan as a nation should own up to the atrocities in their entirety, particularly those that are causing harm to their relations with China, Korea and any other country struggling with the legacy of Japanese wartime atrocities.