The Ghosts of Nanking
Part two of a Special Multi-part series about the Forgotten Holocaust of WWII
Part three: Echoes of guilt
By Jesse Horn
Continued Exclusive with Yasuhisa Kawamura, Deputy Press Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, and Dr. Peter Stanek, President of the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WW II in Asia.
In December of 1937, the single worst atrocity during the World War II era occurred by the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army when they marched into China’s capital city of Nanking and inflicted relentless and unimaginable horror upon its people. Out of the 600,000 civilians and soldiers in the city, 300,000 would be murdered, tortured, and defiled during six weeks of unbelievable carnage. This was far more grievous and unspeakable than anything seen in either the European or Pacific theaters of war.
In our continuing special series we exploring the many aspects to this horrible event, what has come as a result, and how there can be reconciliation just a short few generations away. It has been 72 years since the city fell, and as we look for answers to the many questions that remain unsatisfactorily answered, we turn to those with authority. Last week we began an exclusive conversation with Deputy Press Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Yasuhisa Kawamura, and Dr. Peter Stanek, President of the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WW II in Asia to wade through the controversy.
The Japanese Government has historically been unclear as to a firm stance on the subject of Nanking and its responsibility, so we asked Mr. Kawamura for an official response.
“Japan chose the path toward a free democracy and peaceful development.” He began, “Japan is not at all hesitant to look honestly at the past and apologize to those who suffered tremendous damage and pain. In 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama expressed a clear apology”
“During a certain period in the not too distant past,” stated Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on August 15, 1995, “Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. Allow me also to express my feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of that history.”
“That position of the Government of Japan has not changed since then,” continued Mr. Kawamur, “ and the view has been reiterated consistently by Japanese Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada of the new Administration have also confirmed that the Administration succeed to and respect it. Foreign Minister Okada, underlined not to simply repeat the philosophies but to also ensure that Japan’s actions follow what to say in words.
“In regard to the people who suffered during the war,” stated Foreign Minister Katsuva Okada at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on October 7, 2009. “ people who were actually hurt or lost loved ones during the war, now it is very difficult to try to soothe their feelings. You cannot change the past, and you cannot necessarily resolve these feelings of bitterness that easily. We of course, have officially accepted the Murayama statement. We intend to continue to espouse the fundamental beliefs in that statement. We have been doing so in the past.”
“In spite of our efforts however, as you pointed out,” Mr. Kawamura continued, “there are a certain number of people, and we understand this, in some countries that still retain feelings of bitterness against us. We understand this very well. I think it is very important not simply to repeat the philosophies and the ideas that were presented in the Murayama statement, but to also ensure that our actions follow what we say in words.” Mr. Kawamura expressed that he believes there are some who have made this difficult.
“What has been unfortunate in the past is that although publicly and officially the successive Japanese administrations have said that they support the Murayama statement, in spite of this, there have been other public voices raised, often by Cabinet Ministers that suggested that they felt a different way. In other words, because there were these conflicting views expressed, some people did receive the feeling that perhaps the Japanese government was not sincere in what it was saying.
We want to make sure that this does not happen again.”
Dr. Peter Stanek notes that there are not only cabinet members whose statements raise concern, but also other dignitaries and broader social structures as well.
“Japan’s hesitancy to embrace the truth of history is amply demonstrated in textbook controversies of the 1980s and 1990s.” Dr. Stanek expressed. This controversy refers to content in government-approved history textbooks used in Japanese Junior high and high schools. There has been concern raised by some international observers that there has been a systematic distortion of history in the Japanese educational system, which appears to filter the actions of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.
“Japan has yet to come to grips with an honest account of its role in perpetrating the greatest human catastrophe of the twentieth century, and has yet certified history textbooks for the schools that accurately report the Pacific War.” Dr. Stanek went on to address Mr. Kawamura citation of Murayama’s statement in 1995.
“Why doesn’t he include the earlier 1993 statement of Prime Minister of Japan Morihiro Hosokawa? Hosokawa led the first non-LDP government since 1955 from 1993 to 1995. Hosokawa was highly critical of LDP corruption, and he is famous for his “apology” of 1993, in which he publicly acknowledged that World War II was a “war of aggression, a mistaken war” and expressed responsibility and condolences to the war victims and survivors, in Japan, its Asian neighbors, and the rest of the world. The far weaker 1995 statement of Tomiichi Murayama is one of personal feelings of remorse. That this does not extend to the government of Japan or Japan’s Imperial Armed Forces is shown by the Diet’s rejection of the Murayama statement upon his return to Japan. While Mr. Kawamura grandly extends the personal views of Murayama to the entire government of Japan, nothing could be farther from the truth.”
Dr. Stanek explained that Mr. Hosokawa did not last long in government. He was ousted in 1996, and went on to become one of the founders of the DPJ, the party that wrested control finally from the LDP and is the party of the current Prime Minister Hatoyama.
“The world awaits clarification from Hatoyama,” he continued, “And why does Mr. Kawamura fail to bring up the “apologies” of Koizumi or of Akihito? If he did, we might simply observe that after Koizumi’s expression of personal sorrow he, Koizumi, conducted yet another state visit to Yasukuni to worship the memory of 14 convicted and executed Japanese war criminals of the Pacific War, nullifying any good will toward Japan. Emperor Akihito chose a different style. Noting that Asians suffered horribly during the Pacific War, he, Akihito, expressed his personal sorrow over their plight, sidestepping responsibility for either himself or his country.”
In next weeks continuing coverage of the 72 Anniversary of the Massacre and Rape of Nanking we continue the conversation with Dr. Peter Stanek and Deputy Press Secretary Yasuhisa Kawamura in an attempt to understand the legal repercussions and actions taken place after this dark part of human history. Then we turn to examining not only why reconciliation between two different cultures and generations is challenging, but also how it is achievable in our exclusive conversation with renowned psychotherapist Armand Volkas, whose groundbreaking work Healing the Wounds of History has focused on helping groups who share a common legacy of historical trauma traverse the emotional terrain to reconciliation. It is important to note that as this six part series continues, from the release of the first in this series signifying the starting of the clock, those who had to live through this horror have at this point been under siege for two weeks. There have been thousands of rapes and murders, and unspeakable events that would create a traumatized city and nation, and the generations to follow.