• Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Won’t Apologize

    September 1, 2015

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    Posted in: Hooper's War

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    As part of the events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in the Pacific, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke in a nationally-televised event about the deep remorse his nation felt over the events of the war.

    While many in Japan seem satisfied that Abe appropriately helped put the past in its place, most outside Japan expressed disappointment in his well-chosen words.

    Did Abe accidentally miss the mark in his speech, or did he purposefully hit his target dead on?

    Abe’s speech emphasized remorse. “I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad. I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences.” He acknowledged Japan had inflicted “immeasurable damage and suffering” when it “took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war.”

    But in the same text, Abe also said “we must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize,” emphasizing that 80% of Japan’s population was born after 1945. He blamed the western colonial powers for entering Asia in the 19th century, and mentioned Japan’s civilian casualties in the specific — Hiroshima, Tokyo, Okinawa — without touching on events such as the infamous Nanjing Massacre, which took 300,000 Chinese lives, the importation of Koreans into Japan for forced labor and the sexual enslavement of 200,000 so-called “comfort women” throughout Asia.

    Criticism of Abe’s speech from abroad was sharp. China’s Xinhua news agency said the speech was insincere, and his “adulterated apology is far from being enough for Japan’s neighbors and the broader international community to lower their guard.” Abe, Xinhua said, sought to “close the page of history.” In South Korea, which calls August 15, the day of Japan agreed to surrender to the U.S., Liberation Day, President Park Geun-hye said Abe’s statement “left much to be desired.”

    The duality of Abe’s words was not by any accident, and he took great pains to ensure any explanations or condolences would not be confused for an apology. Why?

    Whenever a senior Japanese leader speaks of the war, he must parse out where he will create offense, because in the pattern that has evolved in East Asia, no Japanese leader can satisfy both his domestic and international audiences. He must decide where to spend his points.

    Abe’s choice fell solidly on the domestic side, not unexpected given his drive to remilitarize Japan. The word “apology” in the context of the war is seen by conservatives in Japan, which include many of the wealthy donors who support Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party party, as near-profanity. The same for specific mentions of events such as Nanjing or Japan’s system of sexual slavery; many in the far right-wing in Tokyo still deny those events took place. Abe referring to Japan’s own losses as he mentioned Japan’s victims, was a sop to his supporters and, by Asian sensibilities, a slap in the face to those who died under Japan’s hand.

    Some in Japan will respond by asking how many times must they apologize for events that most young people in Japan barely know about. The answer lies in comparing Japan’s post-war actions to Germany’s.

    Japanese textbooks still gloss over the war. Japan has a poor record of providing compensation to the sex slaves and care to the Korean victims of the atomic bombs.

    Abe appointed unapologetic revisionists to high-profile posts, and has made visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted of war crimes are enshrined along with millions of fallen soldiers and sailors. The Shrine also hosts a museum of World War II artifacts, including a locomotive from occupied Manchuria seen as an endorsement of Japanese colonial ambitions. Though with no connection to Abe, many in Asia are also acutely aware that World War II Emperor Hirohito’s son sits on the throne in Japan.

    Unlike in Germany, what happened was never kneaded into Japan’s national consciousness, something that underlies Abe’s recent speech, and actions as Prime Minister.

    Understanding Abe’s speech, and Japan’s actions, through Chinese or Korean eyes can be difficult. But imagine a German government beholden to Holocaust deniers, one that deletes its Nazi legacy from textbooks, one that never apologized and compensated its victims, and one where the Prime Minister made a yearly pilgrimage to a site holy to the National Socialists, perhaps with an attached museum featuring rail cars from Dachau. All with Hitler’s son as the symbolic head of state.

    So when a Japanese Prime Minister stands to speak of the Pacific War, he speaks in a type of code, including certain words he knows will please his domestic audience, and knowingly leaving out many others whose omissions offend and inflame much of his international listeners. Shinzo Abe choose his words with great care, and hit his target this time dead solid perfect.

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  • Recent Comments

    • John Poole said...


      I’m pretty certain Donald Rumsfeld could surpass Abe’s careful wording when speaking of America’s Vietnam and Iraqi Wars.

      09/1/15 8:16 AM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      @John..you took the words out of my mouth. 🙂

      In fact, of all the USG talking heads I can remember, I think Eisenhower was the last one to tell the truth…well..maybe JFK, but even then.

      Speaking of the “truth”, and the subject of one of Peters latest posts, here is exactly what were talking about, notwithstanding rewriting history…


      I wouldn’t trust USG talking heads if they told me the sky was blue. These bastards couldn’t tell the truth if their mother’s life depended on it. Except for whistle blowers of course. Indeed..if truth were the norm..there wouldn’t be whistle blowers.

      As for that Rumsfeld.. well..I think you know what I feel about that war criminal sonsabitch.

      09/1/15 10:09 AM | Comment Link

    • Avery said...


      Do you have an example of a textbook actually being used in Japan that “gloss[es] over the war”? Name one, literally a single one. If you can’t find one, you should probably stop making that claim.

      Note that the single revisionist textbook approved for use in 1996 or whatever is not currently being used anywhere in the country.

      09/1/15 11:32 AM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      I don’t have a lot of time to do your Googling for you. If you read Japanese, there are examples of the textbooks currently approved for use online. read them and judge for yourself.

      If you don’t, see http://www.wsj.com/articles/japanese-middle-school-textbook-changes-raise-irk-china-south-korea-1428402976, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21226068, and the notes at http://spice.fsi.stanford.edu/docs/examining_the_japanese_history_textbook_controversies#3

      09/1/15 11:54 AM | Comment Link

    • Bruce said...


      Inscrutable Abe ObamaSpeak; having drunk TPP!

      09/1/15 11:47 AM | Comment Link

    • Avery said...


      What are you even talking about? Google will not help me if you don’t even have a specific topic you’re speaking about.

      Link (1) is about removing inaccuracies from textbooks, as far as I can tell.
      (2) is about… what sort of stories people tell in history class, I guess. It doesn’t say there’s anything wrong with the textbooks. Can you clarify what’s wrong with Japanese textbooks according to this link?
      (3) is about that one specific revisionist textbook which is not being used anywhere.

      Which topic upsets you?

      09/2/15 8:51 AM | Comment Link

    • Avery said...


      Link (2) says, “When we did finally get there, it turned out only 19 of the book’s 357 pages dealt with events between 1931 and 1945.”

      I guess that “only” could be construed as a complaint. But I guarantee you that if American history was 2000 years long, its textbooks would have roughly the same percentage of its pages devoted to the period 1931 to 1945. And American history is taught in the same way that the author finds objectionable about Japan. In 12 years of American schooling I never got past the Civil War.

      09/2/15 8:54 AM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      I did suggest you look at the original texts in Japanese,but the eight seconds of Googling did produce something useful in English.

      To pick up on your point, omissions and “gloss over” have a lot in common; what is left out can be as important as what is left in. The war period shaped nearly every facet of life in Japan, and nearly destroyed the country in today’s students grandparents’ and parents’ lives. It is the root of much/most of Japan’s foreign relations problems in Asia. Worth studying, lessons of history for the young ones and all that.

      As for similar problems in American history, I agree, but my article is about Japan, not America or France or Egypt, and if America is also wrong that in no way speaks to Japan.

      09/2/15 9:04 AM | Comment Link

    • Avery said...


      Actually, it does. Because the common tack is that Japan is doing something “wrong” and America, Britain, and Germany are doing it “right” — I see this bias even in AP stories on the issue.

      In point of fact these nations are all in very different geopolitical situations and the official uses of historical memory found in these countries are appropriate to their given situations. Germany is not located next door to a country ten times its size that wants to exploit WW2 history to encourage present-day militarism.

      Out of the four I mentioned, I think America is by far the most historically clueless. The average Japanese will understand that Germany is not defined as a nation by WW2. Americans by and large do not understand that. The Japanese knee-jerk reaction to ISIS is to deny that they are enemies and to seek peace; the American reaction is to regard the lot of them as terrorists who need to be destroyed. America is far more reckless for the amount of power it has than Japan is. So, I don’t believe I’m resorting to whataboutism.

      09/2/15 9:43 AM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      “Because the common tack is that Japan is doing something ‘wrong’ and America, Britain, and Germany are doing it “right”

      Your words, not mine. I agree America whitewashes its own history, perhaps as much or more than most (we have a lot of things to hide.) But again, the article is to describe Japan, not make such comparisons.

      09/2/15 9:45 AM | Comment Link

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