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JAPAN AND THE PAST IT DENIES



Published: Wed, July 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: The movie "Pearl Harbor" has revived attention in America on the Japanese surprise attack Dec. 7, 1941, in Hawaii. That "date which will live in infamy," as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously memorialized it, officially drew the United States into World War II and changed the course of history.

In Asia, though, America was considered a latecomer to the war and, more important, a late victim of Japanese aggression. By the time the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, it already had been brutally colonizing Korea for more than 30 years and had savaged parts of China.

Japan has been a peaceful democracy for years. But to this day, Japan has never confronted the extent of the atrocities it perpetrated on its neighbors. It is a topic that continues to fester, and recent actions by Japan's new prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, have painfully reopened the scabs of war.

Japan's brutality: Koizumi said the Japanese government would not order further revisions in middle-school history textbooks despite vociferous protests from the Chinese and North and South Koreans that those books do not fully deal with Japan's brutality. The prime minister also has reiterated his intentions to visit a Shinto shrine to Japan's war dead Aug. 15 -- the anniversary of Japan's surrender ending World War II -- that may contain the remains of executed war criminals.

Koizumi has attempted to downplay both controversies, but they are fueling growing anti-Japanese sentiment in Asia. On Thursday, South Korea froze all military exchanges with Japan and reversed plans to open its markets to Japanese cultural products.

Koizumi insists his visit to the war memorial is not "meant to justify or glorify war," and he insists the government doesn't have the authority to meddle in what goes into school textbooks unless there are "clear mistakes."

What's missing: Barely mentioning the 150,000 Chinese who were raped and massacred by the Japanese after they seized Nanjing in 1937, and omitting the fact that Japan sexually enslaved tens of thousand of Korean women to service its troops -- yes, those sound like clear mistakes. The Japanese government should insist on changes that set the record straight -- and honor those who suffered at Japanese hands. It chooses not to do so because this is a sensitive topic in Japan, particularly among some revisionist historians.

It is disturbing that Koizumi, who has otherwise displayed a promising willingness to confront the nation's decade-long economic malaise, is so tone-deaf to the grievances of Japan's neighbors and the realities of its brutal past.




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