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Japan and its war-time past

Politics of Memory or historical whitewash?

Seminararbeit 2009 10 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Region: Ferner Osten


Table of contents


Japan and the Second World War

The International Military Trial for the Far East

The comfort women

The history textbook issue

The Japanese society and its dealings with the war time past




“Remembering is never a quiet act of introspection or retrospection. It is a painful remembering, a putting together of the dismembered past to make sense of the trauma of the present.” Homi K. Bhabba (Y. Igarashi 3 2000)

When we observe Japan and how it deals with its history, the question occurs if Japan tries to whitewash its wartime past or if there are any other reasons behind is. The aim of this essay is to discuss this question. In the first part of it I will try to outline the known fact of the Japanese contribution on the World War II as a kind of approach to this sensitive topic. The second part will be dedicated to the role of the “International Military trial for the Far East” in the accounting of the wartime past within the Japanese society. The third part will deal with the sensitive issue of the so-called comfort women and how official Japan deals with this topic. The controversial topic of historical textbooks and how they try to show the role of Japan during the war will be the subject of the fourth part and in the last part I will discuss how the Japanese society in general sees the Second World War and the fact that executed war criminals are still worshiped by the Japanese community.

Japan and the Second World War

Because of its expansion-policy, Japan was more and more isolated from the countries of the League of Nations. This isolation led to a rapprochement with Germany. In November 1936 the Empire of Japan and Nazi-Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact. With this pact the two countries took position against the Communist International and in particular against the Soviet Union. Nazi-Germany and the Empire became official allies with the Anti Comintern Pact. The Tripartite-Pact, signed in Berlin 1940, was a second agreement on cooperation and due to this pact the countries of Nazi-Germany, Japan and Italy formed a military alliance. The way towards the Second World War was now open.

During the World War II and also during the expansion attacks, which took place earlier, Japanese troops committed criminal wars in all areas, which were occupied or in which they fought. A well known example is the Massacre of Nanjing in 1937. After this Chinese city felt in Japanese hands approximately 300.000 people were killed and more than 20.000 women were raped. (BBC News 2005) An estimate number of 200.000 women from all over Asia were forced to work as sex-slaves for the Japanese troops during the Second World War. ( 2008)

After the two atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet declaration of war against Japan and their invasion in the Manchuria, Japan surrendered on August 1945. In the late 1945 the US-occupation of Japan began. The goal of the US was to transform Japan into a “democratic” and “peace-loving” country. Japan should never again be a threat to the international security. When the US left the country again in 1952 it has politically, economically and socially changed but the majority didn’t regret their participation on the war on the side of Nazi-Germany and the gruesome behaviour of the Japanese troops in the occupied areas all over Japan. They were more likely to feel angry and upset that Japan was not able to win the war. As the censorship was very strict during the war time, most people did not realize how bad the war had been going for the Japanese. (P. Duus 1998 231 – 261)

The International Military Trial for the Far East

In May 1946 the International Military Trial for the Far East was established in Tokyo. It was founded as a counterpart to the Nuremburg Tribunal. The former military leaders of Japan were divided in 3 classes of war criminals. Class A was crimes against peace; Class B was war crimes and Class C crimes against humanity. Twenty-eight people were convicted as Class A criminals and approximately 5,700 were rated in Class B or Class C. The trial ended in November 1948. (The IMTF Charter)

While the Nuremberg Tribunal had strength competences the Tokyo trial was quite weak and heavy footed. One reasons for its weakness could be the emerging Cold War between the former allies US and the USSR. They had different imaginations of how the Tokyo Tribunal should work. Lots of Japanese people formed the opinion that the only purpose of this trial was to find guilty men who just had done their task to defend their motherland and served their government. The Chinese on the other hand thought that the tribunal didn’t go far enough for finding justice. Despite the above mentioned opinion of many Japanese also other attitudes appeared among the population. One thing they all have in common was the not really high reputation, which the Tokyo trial had and still has. To put it simply, two different parties can be distinguished. The first one tried to find or better said tries to find proof that this trial was just a “Show-trial” that was established to humiliate Japan. The second one had the opinion that the trial has neglected several proofs for the Japan’s criminal actions and criminal intend. They also claim that the trial wasn’t eager to communicate those proofs to the Japanese people. In this context it has to be said that the vast majority in Japan just don’t really care and is not interested at all. During the 80ies in all political spectrums the opinion occurred that the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was racially prejudiced in favour of the west. They also claimed that the West didn’t want to acknowledge to itself their crimes against the Asians, for example the use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (T. Brook, 2008)



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
534 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Loughborough University – Politics, International Relations and European Studies
Japan Asia-Pacific Second World War War Crime



Titel: Japan and its war-time past