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What does Japan think about World War II today?

Recently, the topic of Japan's participation in the Second World War has been actively discussed and its various aspects related not only to history but also to the present day have been analyzed.

There are many questions. For example, how does Japan feel about the history of World War II? What is the assessment of the outcome of the Tokyo process, where Japanese war criminals were convicted of committing crimes against civilians in China, Korea and other occupied countries? Is the use of nuclear weapons by the US in August 1945 considered justified in Japan? Was the use of nuclear weapons a decisive factor in Japan's decision to surrender from the perspective of Japanese historians? What role did the USSR's entry into the war play in this event?

We asked our permanent expert, Professor Petr Podalko of Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, who teaches various disciplines in the Faculty of International Politics, Economics and Communications, to share his opinion.

- First of all, it should be noted that there is no single school curriculum in Japan, and consequently, there is no single school textbook for any subject. While there is, of course, a common "general" line that provides the total amount of knowledge a student has in the main subjects, specific topics and specific interpretations of individual events may differ significantly from one another.

Added to this is the regional specificity: for example, in the atomic bombed areas and their neighbors, the subject is covered in more detail - just as Aboriginal history is studied in schools in Hokkaido more than in the southern islands of Okinawa, et al.

All schools in Japan are divided into public, municipal (locally funded) and private schools, and it is believed that private schools provide better training, i.e. higher levels of teaching there. Graduates from these schools usually enrol in private universities; often private schools are somehow affiliated with certain universities (or are directly linked to them legally), in which case graduates do not even have to take entrance exams, admission goes as transfer to the next level.

However, there are a number of good and very good public schools whose graduates enter the most prestigious public universities. If students from state and municipal schools use standard state textbooks of the same type, in case of private schools this requirement does not exist and they choose/form the textbooks themselves.

At present, world history and world geography are not compulsory subjects at Japanese high schools (grades 10-12). They are obligatory only for secondary school students (13-15 years old, i.e. grades 7-9 of a Russian school). At the same time, the program provides for the study of the whole world history within one year, from the primitive communal system to the present day. It is easy to imagine the volume and quality of learning with this approach.

Since compulsory education is limited to nine years, those who are going to enroll in higher education go to high school and there are courses of choice: World History, Japanese History, World Geography, Japanese Geography. It is supposed to choose two subjects out of four, but this does not mean that each school is able to provide a choice of all four subjects (you should take into account the staff capacity of teachers, school traditions, and so on). In practice, this means that the basic knowledge of Japanese school leavers can be very, very different.

It is very important for a Japanese to be buried in his homeland, and in case of death in a foreign country, when for some reason it is impossible to transport the body, as a "burial material" is suitable for any human substance: hair, pruning nails, and if we are talking about old burials - skeleton bones, etc. This, in particular, explains the unfailing interest of Japanese relatives of former POWs in finding their graves and subsequent exhumation in order to send the remains to their homeland.

With regard to the "POW problem". About 700 thousand Japanese soldiers and officers of the Kwantung Army turned out to be (according to various estimates) in Soviet captivity, of which about 10% did not return to Japan later (the bulk died in the first year). Since initially the Japanese did not fight with the Soviet Union, their status as prisoners of war itself had some legal inconsistencies; in addition, they were almost immediately sent to various construction sites in Siberia and other parts of the country, which clearly indicated the "economic interest" of the Soviet side. They were taken prisoner of war in August-September without warm clothes, and the main cause of death of POWs was colds and frostbite.

Of course, all this also had a negative impact on the image of the USSR in the eyes of the postwar leadership and part of Japanese society. However, no one has ever officially charged anyone with "intentional destruction" (marginal remarks of this kind, even if they were made somewhere, don't count - although I personally don't know them). On the contrary, the subject of "brainwashing" in the spirit of Marxist ideas was repeatedly raised in the 60s and later, which was arranged for captive Japanese soldiers by Soviet propagandists, resulting in the participation of many former prisoners of war in the left-wing and trade union movement after their return to Japan in the early and mid-1950s.

As for the conditions of the Japanese in the Soviet camps - yes, they were generally better than the conditions of the Americans and the British in Japanese captivity, but this comparison is inaccurate, for it is not: 1) the latter were taken prisoner under real warfare, while the Japanese were not in fact at war with us; 2) the Soviet people, including the camp administration, had no objective or personal reason to treat the Japanese harshly - especially when compared to the German POWs. Moreover, in general, the behaviour of Japanese prisoners of war was strikingly different from that of other POWs.

About Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It so happened that many details about the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were known to Soviet people much earlier than most ordinary Japanese. Much of the attention to this topic was influenced by the consequences of nuclear tests in the mid-50s at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, the contamination of Japanese fishermen who happened to be nearby and received a high dose of radiation, as well as the general information pressure of the cold war period.

However, in the early days following the bombing, the United States occupation administration had taken various measures to conceal the most frightening information; the movement of people around those towns had been strictly controlled, while the authorities had tried to prevent data leakage in the literal and figurative sense. Since Japan had been under American rule for seven years (until 1952), much had calmed down one way or another, and the economic upturn that began in the late 1950s had overshadowed many of the horrors of the past and put aside many "inconvenient" issues.

Subsequently, with the deployment of the Cold War, there was a widespread belief among part of the establishment and scientists that the bombing itself was certainly terrible, but had a deterrent effect on the spread of communism, prevented the occupation of the country by Soviet forces (like East Germany), and, so to speak, removed the threat of "Bolshevization and Sovietization" of Japan. At the same time, the tragic days of "carpet bombing" of Tokyo and other cities by American planes in the spring of 1945, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are officially celebrated in Japan every year. In general, we can say this: everything is remembered, nothing is forgotten, but the current official discourse does not allow a new assessment of what can somehow affect not the revision of allied relations and the perception in society of the importance of the U.S. role for the development of postwar Japan.

Returning to the views of young people (and not only) on the events of long and recent history, we should add the following: in Japan, as nowhere else in the world, there is a high level of public trust in information transmitted by official sources in the form of press, TV programs, etc. According to regular surveys, more than 80% of voters form their political preferences on the basis of the information they receive from reading daily newspapers and watching TV news.

Thus the position of Japanese media concerning Russia till recently was more likely moderately-unfriendly, rather than friendly, and only last years there is some "warming" in this question that has immediately caused and general improvement of perception of Russia and the Russian theme.

Speaking about perception of the Second World War by the Japanese, it is necessary to take into account a number of important points, and among them - its "liberating character" in relation to the neighboring Asian states, excluding Korea and China.

So far, Japan, along with the world, has used its local name dating back to the 1940s: "The Great Pacific (or "Great East Asian") War", thus emphasizing its local character, on the one hand, and the hidden emancipatory meaning (in the official interpretation of wartime), on the other.

We are talking about the liberation of Asia and the countries of the Pacific from the "white colonizers", first of all the USA and Great Britain. Until recently, this aspect was concealed from the mass Russian reader and was actively silenced in the West. To give one example: at the beginning of 1942, Singapore, Britain's largest naval base in the region, fell almost without resistance. Prime Minister Churchill called the surrender of the 100,000-strong army the greatest and most shameful defeat of the British military in all its history.

These are all known facts, but one little known: while half of the English corps went into Japanese captivity, the other half (over 50 thousand people) went over to the side of the Japanese army of General Yamashita. All of them were Indian and Burmese soldiers who saw in the Japanese their fellow Asians, long-awaited liberators from the oppression of the "white man". And there are many such examples.

Almost all future members of the liberation movement in various East Asian countries at one time studied, trained, worked in Japan, or used Japanese subsidies for their revolutionary activities. Particularly China and Korea, but even in this case, the current Japanese leadership believes that all the confessions of guilt for war crimes have been made more than once, all the words of apology have been said. In the case of China, whose relations were restored in 1968, the discussion of many details was postponed "for later", and in the case of Korea (we are talking about South Korea), the issue was finally resolved in 1965 by paying a very significant amount of compensation and compensation for the suffered damage, including moral damages.

It was with this money that the South Korean economy took off and turned into a modern industrial power. At the same time, in 1965, both sides signed official documents on closing mutual claims, etc. Therefore, all subsequent statements of the Korean leadership about the lack of compensation and the said apologies, which became especially mass in recent years, Japanese politicians perceive approximately the same way as the modern Russian leadership treats the Polish side's demands for a new penance for Katyn or Molotov's negotiations with Ribbentrop.

The Korean authorities feel much less free in this matter, for there is a great deal of right-wing influence in Korea, which sees its raison d'être in the permanent play of the "anti-Japanese card".

As for the Tokyo process, the attitude towards it is neutral and restrained, it is not a popular topic, but in general there is no call for a review or "new reading" of history in Japan at present. War criminals have been condemned and fairly condemned, and life goes on.

Viewed : 562   Commented: 0

Author: Vladimir Kuzmenkin

Publication date : 04 August 2020 14:46

Source: The world and we

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