Decennial war-end statements

How Japan has accounted for the "lost war"

By William Wetherall

First posted 15 August 2015
Last updated 26 August 2015

Postwar decennial statements von Weizsacker speech 1985 | Murayama statement 1995 | Koizumi statement 2005 | Abe statement 2015
Listening 101 16 August Korea Herald | 18 August Morris-Suzuki | 23 August Kingston


Abe Shinzō's much awaited statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia and the Pacific, on 14 August 2015, delighted some, disgusted others, and probably bored more than entertained most of the few people who happened to catch it live and uncut. I watched it fully, and rewatched some parts multiple times as they were featured on news and issue programs, with my usual cynical detachment -- and found very little to get especially excited about. It was just another ritualistic gesture to mark another ritualistic occasion in what is becoming an increasing ritualized reflection on events of the past that the vast majority of people living today, including Abe himself, neither seeded nor harvested, but are left to chew and swallow, and to digest and assimilate, with whatever political teeth or ideological enzymes are available to them.


Postwar decennial statements

The following statements by Japan's prime ministers, on decennial anniversaries of the day Japan formally ceased hostilities to end the Asia-Pacific War of World War II, refer to the war as "the previous Great War" (saki no Taisen 先の大戦). This pronominal reference to the war is intended to avoid the use of more specific proper names for the war, which include different conflicts and otherwise reflect different national histories or historiographic ideologies.

All three statements are strikingly weak in contrast with the speech made in 1985 by Richard von Weizsäcker as the president of the Republic of Germany to Germany's parliament. Of interest, though, is how especially Abe's 2015 statement borrows from von Weizsäcker's speech.

  1. Great East Asia War (大東亜戦争 1941-1945) is the name Japan gave the war shortly after Pearl Harbor. it is essential Japan's equivalent of the Pacific War.
  2. Pacific war (太平洋戦争 1941-1945) is the name commonly used by the Allied Powers in reference to the Pacific Theater of World War II, which included European and other theaters.
  3. Asia-Pacific War (アジア太平洋戦争) is increasingly used as a "neutral" term but does not define itself. Undefined, it would be a synonym for "Pacific War" and refer to the "Pacific and Far East (East Asian)" theater of World War II.
  4. Second Sino-Japanese War (Dai-ni-ji Nit-Chū sensō 第二次日中戦争 1937-1945) alludes to the First Sino-Japanese War (第一次, usually called simply the Sino-Japanese War (Nis-Shin sensō 日清践祚). The latter refers to China when still the Ching (Qing) Dynasty (Shindai 清代) China, whereas the former refers to the Republic of China (中華人民共和国) or China (Chōgoku 中国). The use of this term implies that the 1937 "China Incident" (Shina jihen 支那事変) an act of "aggression" (shinryaku 侵略) rather than a police action or other such incursion which would constitute only an "incident" (事変).
  5. Eight-Year War of Resistance (八年抗戰1937-1945) or just War of Resistance (抗戰) is a synonym for the Second Sino-Japanese War. It stresses opposition to Japanese forces, both from parts of China which had not been occupied by Japan, and from within parts that from Japan's point of view were under the control of the National Government of Wang Ching-wei.
    1. Resistance operations were mounted by both Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist (ROC) forces and Mao Tse-tung's communist forces, which had been fighting each other before Japan's incursions in 1937 and resumed the civil war after Japan's defeat in 1945. The resistance operations left communist forces larger and tougher, and better prepared to combat the nationalist forces, which they ultimately defeated, partly with the help of Japanese weapons and even some training from Japanese cadres who had remained for a while in China.
  6. Fifteen-Year War (1931-1945), which implies that the "Manchurian Incident" (満州事変) was actually an act of "aggression" that could be taken as equivalent to an act of war.

Taiwan, Karafuto, Chōsen, Korea, China

References to polities -- states or territories -- are extremely delicate matters. None of the statements presented here refer to any entity that had been a colonial territory of Japan -- namely Taiwan (as a territory), Karafuto, and Chōsen.

Murayama in 1995 refers to "neighboring countries" but does not mention any Asian country, or any country other than Japan for that matter, by name.

Koizumi in 2005 mentions the "Republic of Korea" (Kankoku 韓国) and "China" (中国) once each.

Abe in 2015 mentions "China" (Chūgoku 中国) several times in reference to the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of Korea and "Taiwan" once in reference to ROC, and the "Republic of Korea" (Kankoku 韓国) once, and "Taiwan" (Taiwan 台湾) once -- not in reference to the former territory of Japan, but meaning the Republic of China (ROC), which had he referred to as such would have ired PRC.

Abe, unlike his predecessors, also specially mentions "Chinese people".

Also unlike his predecessors, Abe mentions Okinawa, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia

Abe's statement is 3.1 times as long as Murayama's, and 2.9 times as long as Koizumi's, which is 8 percent longer than Murayama's. But the reason he mentions countries and even "Chinese people" by name is that he wants them to feel specifically included -- as opposed to wondering if they might be included among the "others" he mentions.


1985 Speech by President Richard von Weizsacker

Richard von Weizsäcker (1920-2015), the late former president of the Republic of Germany, is best remembered for the speech he made before the German parliament in Bonn on 8 May 1985, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Third Reich's surrender to the Allied Powers, ending World War II in Europe. Until then, German leaders had seen the capitulation as being a traumatic event for the country. Von Weizsäcker opened his speech by referring to the defeat as a liberation.


The following translation of Weizsacker's speech is reproduced from a pdf file copyrighted by Media Culture Online (

The pdf file begins with the following description of its content.

Author: Weizsacker, Richard von.
Titel: Speech in the Bundestag on 8 May 1985 during the Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the End of War in Europe and of National-Socialist Tyranny.
Source: Office of the Bundesprasident (ret.) Richard von Weizsacker.
Translation: Auswartiges Amt Germany.
In the public domain.

The file ends with the following copyright statement (highlighted box as in original).

This work, and any part of it, is copyright. Putting any part of this work to any unauthorised use is a punishable offence and liable to prosecution. This applies in particular to reproduction, translation, copying, micro-filming, electronic storage or any other electronic re-working.

The "In the public domain" statement seems to conflict with -- and I take it to nullify -- the copyright statement.

Note that the received translation omits the heading for section "VI" in the speech.

Richard von Weizsacker's speech in the Bundestag on 8 May 1985
Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the End of War in Europe

Richard von Weizsacker

Speech in the Bundestag on 8 May 1985
during the Ceremony Commemorating the
40th Anniversary of the End of War in Europe
and of National-Socialist Tyranny


Many nations are today commemorating the date on which World War II ended in Europe. Every nation is doing so with different feelings, depending on its fate. Be it victory or defeat, liberation from injustice and alien rule or transition to new dependence, division, new alliances, vast shifts of power - 8 May 1945 is a date of decisive historical importance for Europe.

We Germans are commemorating that date amongst ourselves, as is indeed necessary. We must find our own standards. We are not assisted in this task if we or others spare our feelings. We need and we have the strength to look truth straight in the eye . without embellishment and without distortion.

For us, the 8th of May is above all a date to remember what people had to suffer. It is also a date to reflect on the course taken by our history. The greater honesty we show in commemorating this day, the freer we are to face the consequences with due responsibility. For us Germans, 8 May is not a day of celebration. Those who actually witnessed that day in 1945 think back on highly personal and hence highly different experiences. Some returned home, others lost their homes. Some were liberated, whilst for others it was the start of captivity. Many were simply grateful that the bombing at night and fear had passed and that they had survived. Others felt first and foremost grief at the complete defeat suffered by their country. Some Germans felt bitterness about their shattered illusions, whilst others were grateful for the gift of a new start.

It was difficult to find one's bearings straight away. Uncertainty prevailed throughout the country. The military capitulation was unconditional, placing our destiny in the hands of our enemies. The past had been terrible, especially for many of those enemies, too. Would they not make us pay many times over for what we had done to them? Most Germans had believed that they were fighting and suffering for the good of their country. And now it turned out that their efforts were not only in vain and futile, but had served the inhuman goals of a criminal regime. The feelings of most people were those of exhaustion, despair and new anxiety. Had one's next of kin survived? Did a new start from those ruins make sense at all? Looking back, they saw the dark abyss of the past and, looking forward, they saw an uncertain, dark future.

Yet with every day something became clearer, and this must be stated on behalf of all of us today: the 8th of May was a day of liberation. It liberated all of us from the inhumanity and tyranny of the National-Socialist regime.

Nobody will, because of that liberation, forget the grave suffering that only started for many people on 8 May. But we must not regard the end of the war as the cause of flight, expulsion and deprivation of freedom. The cause goes back to the start of the tyranny that brought about war. We must not separate 8 May 1945 from 30 January 1933.

There is truly no reason for us today to participate in victory celebrations. But there is every reason for us to perceive 8 May 1945 as the end of an aberration in German history, an end bearing seeds of hope for a better future.


8 May is a day of remembrance. Remembering means recalling an occurrence honestly and undistortedly so that it becomes a part of our very beings. This places high demands on our truthfulness.

Today we mourn all the dead of the war and the tyranny. In particular we commemorate the six million Jews who were murdered in German concentration camps. We commemorate all nations who suffered in the war, especially the countless citizens of the Soviet Union and Poland who lost their lives. As Germans, we mourn our own compatriots who perished as soldiers, during air raids at home, in captivity or during expulsion. We commemorate the Sinti and Romany gypsies, the homosexuals and the mentally ill who were killed, as well as the people who had to die for their religious or political beliefs. We commemorate the hostages who were executed. We recall the victims of the resistance movements in all the countries occupied by us. As Germans, we pay homage to the victims of the German resistance . among the public, the military, the churches, the workers and trade unions, and the communists. We commemorate those who did not actively resist, but preferred to die instead of violating their consciences.

Alongside the endless army of the dead mountains of human suffering arise . grief at the dead, suffering from injury or crippling or barbarous compulsory sterilization, suffering during the air raids, during flight and expulsion, suffering because of rape and pillage, forced labour, injustice and torture, hunger and hardship, suffering because of fear of arrest and death, grief at the loss of everything which one had wrongly believed in and worked for. Today we sorrowfully recall all this human suffering.

Perhaps the greatest burden was borne by the women of all nations. Their suffering, renunciation and silent strength are all too easily forgotten by history. Filled with fear, they worked, bore human life and protected it. They mourned their fallen fathers and sons, husbands, brothers and friends. In the years of darkness, they ensured that the light of humanity was not extinguished. After the war, with no prospect of a secure future, women everywhere were the first to set about building homes again, the "rubble women" in Berlin and elsewhere. When the men who had survived returned, women had to take a back seat again. Because of the war, many women were left alone and spent their lives in solitude. Yet it is first and foremost thanks to the women that nations did not disintegrate spiritually on account of the destruction, devastation, atrocities and inhumanity and that they gradually regained their foothold after the war.


At the root of the tyranny was Hitler's immeasurable hatred against our Jewish compatriots. Hitler had never concealed this hatred from the public, but made the entire nation a tool of it. Only a day before his death, on 30 April 1945, he concluded his so- called will with the words: "Above all, I call upon the leaders of the nation and their followers to observe painstakingly the race laws and to oppose ruthlessly the poisoners of all nations: international Jewry." Hardly any country has in its history always remained free from blame for war or violence. The genocide of the Jews is, however, unparalleled in history.

The perpetration of this crime was in the hands of a few people. It was concealed from the eyes of the public, but every German was able to experience what his Jewish compatriots had to suffer, ranging from plain apathy and hidden intolerance to outright hatred. Who could remain unsuspecting after the burning of the synagogues, the plundering, the stigmatization with the Star of David, the deprivation of rights, the ceaseless violation of human dignity? Whoever opened his eyes and ears and sought information could not fail to notice that Jews were being deported. The nature and scope of the destruction may have exceeded human imagination, but in reality there was, apart from the crime itself, the attempt by too many people, including those of my generation, who were young and were not involved in planning the events and carrying them out, not to take note of what was happening. There were many ways of not burdening one's conscience, of shunning responsibility, looking away, keeping mum. When the unspeakable truth of the Holocaust then became known at the end of the war, all too many of us claimed that they had not known anything about it or even suspected anything.

There is no such thing as the guilt or innocence of an entire nation. Guilt is, like innocence, not collective, but personal. There is discovered or concealed individual guilt. There is guilt which people acknowledge or deny. Everyone who directly experienced that era should today quietly ask himself about his involvement then.

The vast majority of today's population were either children then or had not been born. They cannot profess a guilt of their own for crimes that they did not commit. No discerning person can expect them to wear a penitential robe simply because they are Germans. But their forefathers have left them a grave legacy. All of us, whether guilty or not, whether old or young, must accept the past. We are all affected by its consequences and liable for it. The young and old generations must and can help each other to understand why it is vital to keep alive the memories. It is not a case of coming to terms with the past. That is not possible. It cannot be subsequently modified or made undone. However, anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present. Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risks of infection.

Compare the following phrases from Murayama's 1995, Koizumi's 2005, and Abe's 2015 statements with the above phrases in Weizsacker's 1985 speech.

Murayama 1995 ● Our task is to convey to younger generations the horrors of war, so that we never repeat the errors in our history.

Koizumi 2005 ● The post war generations now exceed 70% of Japan's population.

Abe 2015 ● In Japan, the postwar generations now exceed eighty per cent of its population. 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. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.

The Jewish nation remembers and will always remember. We seek reconciliation. Precisely for this reason we must understand that there can be no reconciliation without remembrance. The experience of millionfold death is part of the very being of every Jew in the world, not only because people cannot forget such atrocities, but also because remembrance is part of the Jewish faith.

"Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer; the secret of redemption lies in remembrance." This oft quoted Jewish adage surely expresses the idea that faith in God is faith in the work of God in history. Remembrance is experience of the work of God in history. It is the source of faith in redemption. This experience creates hope, creates faith in redemption, in reunification of the divided, in reconciliation. Whoever forgets this experience loses his faith.

If we for our part sought to forget what has occurred, instead of remembering it, this would not only be inhuman. We would also impinge upon the faith of the Jews who survived and destroy the basis of reconciliation. We must erect a memorial to thoughts and feelings in our own hearts.


The 8th of May marks a deep cut not only in ,German history but in the history of Europe as a whole. The European civil war had come to an end, the old world of Europe lay in ruins. "Europe had fought itself to a standstill" (M. Sturmer). The meeting of American and Soviet Russian soldiers on the Elbe became a symbol for the temporary end of a European era.

True, all this was deeply rooted in history. For a century Europe had suffered under the clash of extreme nationalistic aspirations. At the end of the First World War peace treaties were signed but they lacked the power to foster peace. Once more nationalistic passions flared up and were fanned by the distress of the people at that time.

Along the road to disaster Hitler became the driving force. He wipped up and exploited mass hysteria. A weak democracy was incapable of stopping him. And even the powers of Western Europe . in Churchill's judgement unsuspecting but not without guilt . contributed through their weakness to this fateful trend. After the First World War America had withdrawn and in the thirties had no influence on Europe.

Hitler wanted to dominate Europe and to do so through war. He looked for and found an excuse in Poland. On 23 May 1939 he told the German generals: "No further successes can be gained without bloodshed... Danzig is not the objective. Our aim is to extend our Lebensraum in the East and safeguard food supplies... So there is no question of sparing Poland; and there remains the decision to attack Poland at the first suitable opportunity... The object is to deliver the enemy a blow, or the annihilating blow, at the start. In this, law, injustice or treaties do not matter."

On 23 August 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact. The secret supplementary protocol made provision for the impending partition of Poland. That pact was made to give Hitler an opportunity to invade Poland. The Soviet leaders at the time were fully aware of this. And all who understood politics realized that the implications of the German-Soviet pact were Hitler's invasion of Poland and hence the Second World War.

That does not mitigate Germany's responsibility for the outbreak of the Second World War. The Soviet Union was prepared to allow other nations to fight one another so that it could have a share of the spoils. The initiative for the war, however, came from Germany, not from the Soviet Union. It was Hitler who resorted to the use of force. The outbreak of the Second World War remains linked with the name of Germany.

In the course of that war the Nazi regime tormented and defiled many nations. At the end of it all only one nation remained to be tormented, enslaved and defiled: the German nation. Time and again Hitler had declared that if the German nation was not capable of winning the war it should be left to perish. The other nations first became victims of a war started by Germany before we became the victims of our own war.

The division of Germany into zones began on the 8th of May. In the meantime the Soviet Union had taken control in all countries of Eastern and South-eastern Europe that had been occupied by Germany during the war. All of them, with the exception of Greece, became socialist states. The division of Europe into two different political systems took its course. True, it was the post-war developments which cemented that division, but without the war started by Hitler it would not have happened at all. That is what first comes to the minds of the nations concerned when they recall the war unleashed by the German leaders. And we think of that too when we ponder the division of our own country and the loss of huge sections of German territory. In a sermon in East Berlin commemorating the 8th of May, Cardinal Meisner said: "The pathetic result of sin is always division."


The arbitrariness of destruction continued to be felt in the arbitrary distribution of burdens. There were innocent people who were persecuted and guilty ones who got away. Some were lucky to be able to begin life all over again at home in familiar surroundings. Others were expelled from the lands of their fathers. We in what was to become the Federal Republic of Germany were given the priceless opportunity to live in freedom. Many millions of our countrymen have been denied that opportunity to this day.

Learning to accept mentally this arbitrary allocation of fate was the first task, alongside the material task of rebuilding the country. That had to be the test of the human strength to recognize the burdens of others, to help bear them over time, not to forget them. It had to be the test of our ability to work for peace, of our willingness to foster the spirit of reconciliation both at home and in our external relations, an ability and a readiness which not only others expected of us but which we most of all demanded of ourselves.

We cannot commemorate the 8th of May without being conscious of the great effort required on the part of our former enemies to set out on the road of reconciliation with us. Can we really place ourselves in the position of relatives of the victims of the Warsaw ghetto or of the Lidice massacre? And how hard must it have been for the citizens of Rotterdam or London to support the rebuilding of our country from where the bombs came which not long before had been dropped on their cities? To be able to do so they had gradually to gain the assurance that the Germans would not again try to make good their defeat by use of force.

In our country the biggest sacrifice was demanded of those who had been driven out of their homeland. They were to experience suffering and injustice long after the 8th of May. Those of us who were born here often do not have the imagination or the open heart with which to grasp the real meaning of their harsh fate.

But soon there were great signs of readiness to help. Many millions of refugees and expellees were taken in who over the years were able to strike new roots. Their children and grandchildren have in many different ways formed a loving attachment to the culture and the homeland of their ancestors. That is a great treasure in their lives. But they themselves have found a new home where they are growing up and integrating with the local people of the same age, sharing their dialect and their customs. Their young life is proof of their ability to be at peace with themselves. Their grandparents or parents were once driven out; they themselves, however, are now at home.

Very soon and in exemplary fashion the expellees identified themselves with the renunciation of force. That was no passing declaration in the early stages of helplessness but a commitment which has retained its validity. Renouncing the use of force means allowing trust to grow on all sides; it means that a Germany that has regained its strength remains bound by it. The expellees' own homeland has meanwhile become a homeland for others. In many of the old cemeteries in Eastern Europe you will today find more Polish than German graves. The compulsory migration of millions of Germans to the West was followed by the migration of millions of Poles and, in their wake, millions of Russians. These are all people who were not asked, people who suffered injustice, people who became defenceless objects of political events and to whom no compensation for those injustices and no offsetting of claims can make up for what has been done to them.

Renouncing force today means giving them lasting security, unchallenged on political grounds, for their future in the place where fate drove them after the 8th of May and were they have been living in the decades since. It means placing the dictate of understanding above conflicting legal claims. That is the true, the human contribution to a peaceful order in Europe which we can provide.

The new beginning in Europe after 1945 has brought both victory and defeat for the notion of freedom and self-determination. Our aim is to seize the opportunity to draw a line under a long period of European history in which to every country peace seemed conceivable and safe only as a result of its own supremacy, and in which peace meant a period of preparation for the next war.

The nations of Europe love their homeland. The Germans are no different. Who could trust in a nation's love of peace if it were capable of forgetting its homeland? No, love of peace manifests itself precisely in the fact that one does not forget one's homeland and is for that very reason resolved to do everything in one's power to live together with others in lasting peace. An expellee's love for his homeland is in no way revanchism.

The last war has aroused a stronger desire for peace in the hearts of men than in times past. The work of the churches in promoting reconciliation met with a tremendous response. The "Aktion Suhnezeichen", a campaign in which young people carry out atonement activity in Poland and Israel, is one example of such practical efforts to promote understanding. Recently, the town of Kleve on the lower Rhine received loaves of bread from Polish towns as a token of reconciliation and fellowship. The town council sent one of those loaves to a teacher in England because he had discarded his anonymity and written to say that as member of a bomber crew during the war he had destroyed the church and houses in Kleve and wanted to take part in some gesture of reconciliation. In seeking peace it is a tremendous help if, instead of waiting for the other to come to us, we go towards him, as this man did.


In the wake of the war, old enemies were brought closer together. As early as 1946, the American Secretary of State, James F. Byrnes, called in his memorable Stuttgart address for understanding in Europe and for assistance to the German nation on its way to a free and peaceable future. Innumerable Americans assisted us Germans, who had lost the war, with their own private means so as to heal the wounds of war. Thanks to the vision of the Frenchmen Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman and their co-operation with Konrad Adenauer, the traditional enmity between the French and Germans was buried forever.

A new will and energy to reconstruct Germany surged through the country.. Many an old trench was filled in, religious differences and social strains were defused. People set to work in a spirit of partnership.

There was no "zero hour", but we had the opportunity to make a fresh start. We have used this opportunity as well as we could.

We have put democratic freedom in the place of oppression. Four years after the end of the war, on this 8th of May in 1949, the Parliamentary Council adopted our Basic Law. Transcending party differences, the democrats on the Council gave their answer to war and tyranny in Article 1 of our Constitution: "The German people acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of any community, of peace and of justice in the world." This further significance of 8 May should also be remembered today.

The Federal Republic of Germany has become an internationally respected State. It is one of the most highly developed industrial countries in the world. It knows that its economic strength commits it to share responsibility for the struggle against hunger and need in the world and for social adjustment between nations. For 40 years we have been living in peace and freedom, to which we, through our policy in union with the free nations of the Atlantic Alliance and the European Community, have ourselves rendered a major contribution. The freedom of the individual has never received better protection in Germany than it does today. A comprehensive system of social welfare that can stand comparison with any other ensures the subsistence of the population. Whereas at the end of the war many Germans tried to hide their passports or to exchange them for another one, German nationality today is highly valued.

We certainly have no reason to be arrogant and self-righteous. But we may look back with gratitude on our development over these 40 years, if we use the memory of our own history as a guideline for our future behaviour.

-- If we remember that mentally disturbed persons were put to death in the Third Reich, we will see care of people with psychiatric disorders as our own responsibility.

-- If we remember how people persecuted on grounds of race, religion and politics and threatened with certain death often stood before the closed borders with other countries, we shall not close the door today on those who are genuinely persecuted and seek protection with us.

-- If we reflect on the penalties for free thinking under the dictatorship, we will protect the freedom of every idea and every criticism, however much it may be directed against ourselves.

-- Whoever criticizes the situation in the Middle East should think of the fate to which Germans condemned their Jewish fellow human beings, a fate that led to the establishment of the State of Israel under conditions which continue to burden people in that region even today.

-- If we think of what our Eastern neighbours had to suffer during the war, we will find it easier to understand that accommodation and peaceful neighbourly relations with these countries remain central tasks of German foreign policy. It is important that both sides remember and that both sides respect each other. Mikhail Gorbachov, General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, declared that it was not the intention of the Soviet leaders at the 40th anniversary of the end of the war to stir up anti-German feelings. The Soviet Union, he said, was committed to friendship between nations. Particularly if we have doubts about Soviet contributions to understanding between East and West and about respect for human rights in all parts of Europe, we must not ignore this signal from Moscow. We seek friendship with the peoples of the Soviet Union.


Forty years after the end of the war, the German nation remains divided.

At a commemorative service in the Church of the Holy Cross in Dresden held in February of this year, Bishop Hempel said: "It is a burden and a scourge that two German States have emerged with their harsh border. The very multitude of borders is a burden and a scourge. Weapons are a burden."

Recently in Baltimore in the United States, an exhibition on "Jews in Germany" was oopened. The Ambassadors of both German States accepted the invitation to attend. The hhost, the President of the Johns Hopkins University, welcomed them together. He stated that all Germans share the same historical development. Their joint past is a bond that links them. Such a bond, he said, could be a blessing or a problem, but was always a source of hope.

We Germans are one people and one nation. We feel that we belong together because we have lived through the same past. We also experienced the 8th of May 1945 as part of the common fate of our nation, which unites us. We feel bound together in our desire for peace. Peace and good neighbourly relations with all countries should radiate from the German soil in both States. And no other states should let that soil become a source of danger to peace either. The people of Germany are united in desiring a peace that encompasses justice and human rights for all peoples, including our own. Reconciliation that transcends boundaries cannot be provided by a walled Europe but only by a continent that removes the divisive elements from its borders. That is the exhortation given us by the end of the Second World War. We are confident that the 8th of May is not the last date in the common history of all Germans.


Many young people have in recent months asked themselves and us why such animated discussions about the past have arisen 40 years after the end of the war. Why are they more animated than after 25 or 30 years? What is the inherent necessity of this development?

It is not easy to answer such questions. But we should not seek the reasons primarily in external influences. In the life-span of men and in the destiny. of nations, 40 years play a great role. Permit me at this point to return again to the Old Testament, which contains deep insights for every person, irrespective of his own faith. There, 40 years frequently play a vital part. The Israelites were to remain in the desert for 40 years before a new stage in their history began with their arrival in the promised land. 40 years were required for a complete transfer of responsibility from the generation of the fathers.

Elsewhere, too (in the Book of Judges), it is described how often the memory of experienced assistance and rescue lasted only for 40 years. When thar memory faded, tranquillity was at an end. 40 years invariably constitute a significant time-span. Man perceives them as the end of a dark age bringing hope for a new and prosperous future, or as the onset of danger that the past might be forgotten and a warning of the consequences. It is worth reflecting on both of these perceptions.

In our country, a new generation has grown up to assume political responsibility. Our young people are not responsible for what happened over forty years ago. But they are responsible for the historical consequences.

We in the older generation owe to young people not the fulfilment of dreams but honesty. We must help younger people to understand why it is vital to keep memories alive. We want to help them to accept historical truth soberly, not one-sidedly, without taking refuge in utopian doctrines, but also without moral arrogance. From our own history we learn what man is capable of. For that reason we must not imagine that we are quite different and have become better. There is no ultimately achievable moral perfection. We have learned as human beings, and as human beings we remain in danger. But we have the strength to overcome such danger again and again.

Hitler's constant approach was to stir up prejudices, enmity and hatred. What is asked of young people today is this: do not let yourselves be forced into enmity and hatred of other people, of Russians or Americans, Jews or Turks, of alternatives or conservatives, blacks or whites. Let us honour freedom. Let us work for peace. Let us respect the rule of law. Let us be true to our own conception of justice. On this 8th of May, let us face up as well as we can to the truth.


1995 Statement by Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi

Murayama Tomiichi speaks of "haisen" (敗戦 "lost war, defeat in war") twice and "shūsen" (終戦 "war end, end of war") once. However, one of the "defeats" becomes "end" in the English version.

Murayama makes no reference to any country other than Japan by name.

Murayama specifically cites Japan's "colonial rule and aggression" (shokuminchi shihai to shinryaku 植民地支配と侵略) as causes of suffering.


On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war's end
Statement by Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi
15 August 1995








The world has seen fifty years elapse since the war came to an end. Now, when I remember the many people both at home and abroad who fell victim to war, my heart is overwhelmed by a flood of emotions.

The peace and prosperity of today were built as Japan overcame great difficulty to arise from a devastated land after defeat in the war. That achievement is something of which we are proud, and let me herein express my heartfelt admiration for the wisdom and untiring effort of each and every one of our citizens. Let me also express once again my profound gratitude for the indispensable support and assistance extended to Japan by the countries of the world, beginning with the United States of America. I am also delighted that we have been able to build the friendly relations which we enjoy today with the neighboring countries of the Asia-Pacific region, the United States and the countries of Europe.

Now that Japan has come to enjoy peace and abundance, we tend to overlook the pricelessness and blessings of peace. Our task is to convey to younger generations the horrors of war, so that we never repeat the errors in our history. I believe that, as we join hands, especially with the peoples of neighboring countries, to ensure true peace in the Asia-Pacific region -indeed, in the entire world- it is necessary, more than anything else, that we foster relations with all countries based on deep understanding and trust. Guided by this conviction, the Government has launched the Peace, Friendship and Exchange Initiative, which consists of two parts promoting: support for historical research into relations in the modern era between Japan and the neighboring countries of Asia and elsewhere; and rapid expansion of exchanges with those countries. Furthermore, I will continue in all sincerity to do my utmost in efforts being made on the issues arisen from the war, in order to further strengthen the relations of trust between Japan and those countries.

Now, upon this historic occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war's end, we should bear in mind that we must look into the past to learn from the lessons of history, and ensure that we do not stray from the path to the peace and prosperity of human society in the future.

During a certain period in the not too distant past, 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.

Building from our deep remorse on this occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, Japan must eliminate self-righteous nationalism, promote international coordination as a responsible member of the international community and, thereby, advance the principles of peace and democracy. At the same time, as the only country to have experienced the devastation of atomic bombing, Japan, with a view to the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, must actively strive to further global disarmament in areas such as the strengthening of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It is my conviction that in this way alone can Japan atone for its past and lay to rest the spirits of those who perished.

It is said that one can rely on good faith. And so, at this time of remembrance, I declare to the people of Japan and abroad my intention to make good faith the foundation of our Government policy, and this is my vow.


2005 Statement by Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō

Koizumi Jun'ichirō (Junichiro) speaks once of "shūsen" (終戦 "war end, end of war") and never of "haisen" (敗戦 "lost war, defeat in war").

Koizumi mentions "China and the Republic of Korea" once.

Koizumi repeats verbatim Murayama's reference to Japan's "colonial rule and aggression" (shokuminchi shihai to shinryaku 植民地支配と侵略) as causes of suffering.


Statement on the 60th anniversary of war's end
Statement by Prime Minister Koizumi Junichirō
15 August 2015









内閣総理大臣 小泉 純一郎

On the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, I reaffirm my determination that Japan must never again take the path to war, reflecting that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today are founded on the ultimate sacrifices of those who lost their lives for the war against their will.

More than three million compatriots died in the war -- in the battle field thinking about their homeland and worrying about their families, while others perished amidst the destruction of war, or after the war in remote foreign countries.

In the past, Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. Sincerely facing these facts of history, I once again express my feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology, and also express the feelings of mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, in the war. I am determined not to allow the lessons of that horrible war to erode, and to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world without ever again waging a war.

After the war, Japan rebuilt itself from a devastated land owing to the ceaseless efforts of its people and the assistance extended by many countries, and accepted the San Francisco Peace Treaty, being the first step of its reversion to the international community. Japan has resolutely maintained its principle of resolving all matters by peaceful means and not by force, and proactively extended material and personnel assistance for the sake of the peace and prosperity of the world through official development assistance (ODA) and United Nations peace keeping operations.

Japan's post war history has indeed been six decades of manifesting its remorse on the war through actions.

The post war generations now exceed 70% of Japan's population. Each and every Japanese, through his or her own experience and peace-oriented education, sincerely seeks international peace. Today, many Japanese are actively engaged in activities for peace and humanitarian assistance around the world, through such organizations as the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, and have been receiving much trust and high appreciation from the local people. Exchange with Asian countries in a wide variety of areas, such as economy and culture, has also increased on an unprecedented scale. I believe it is necessary to work hand in hand with other Asian countries, especially with China and the Republic of Korea, which are Japan's neighboring countries separated only by a strip of water, to maintain peace and pursue the development of the region. Through squarely facing the past and rightly recognizing the history, I intend to build a future-oriented cooperative relationship based on mutual understanding and trust with Asian countries.

The international community is now faced with more complex and difficult challenges than ever imagined before: progress of the developing counties, alleviation of poverty, conservation of the global environment, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the prevention and eradication of terrorism. In order to contribute to world peace, Japan will proactively fulfill its role as a responsible member of the international community, upholding its pledge not to engage in war and based on its experience as the only nation to have suffered from the atomic bombings and the path it has followed over the 60 years after war.

On this occasion marking the 60th anniversary of the war's end, Japan, as a peace-loving nation, expresses here again that it will work to achieve peace and prosperity of all humankind with all its resources, together with all the nations of shared aspiration.


1970 Statement by Prime Minister Abe Shinzō

How does Abe's statement compare with Murayama's and Koizumi's statements?

"feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology"

Abe not only repeated verbatim this expression from both Murayama's and Koizumi's statements, but reiterated this expression in different ways.

He also stated "I deeply bow my head before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad" -- dramatizing his own actions. This remark, too, he later repeated in somewhat rephrased version.

"colonial rule" and "aggression"

Prime Minister Abe Shinzō was at the podium by 6:00 pm, began speaking around 6:02, finished around 6:24, and then fielded a few polite questions. Why, for example, had he decided to include the word "shinryaku" (侵略 "aggression") in his statement? Because, he said, he had been advised by knowledgable people that it was an appropriate expression.

Abe was asked a couple of tougher questions when appearing in an exclusive interview on NHK's evening Newswatch 9. One of the newscasters pointed out that, though Abe had used the term "shinryaku", he had strung it together with "jihen" (事変 "incident") and "sensō" (戦争 "war") without a grammatical subject (shugo 主語).

Abe's response was to the effect that "incident, aggression, war" represented the escalation of events along the road to "the previous Great War" (saki no Taisen 先の大戦) -- as he and his predecessors vaguely referred to the events that are controversially known by more specific names depending on which incidents, aggressions, or wars one wishes to clump together into a single event.

However, both Murayama and Koizumi used "aggression" -- and so Abe's use was not at all unprecedented. Morever, whereas both Murayama and Koizumi expressly attributing the suffering of people to Japan's "colonial rule and aggression" (shokuminchi shihai to shinryaku 植民地支配と侵略), Abe did not link the two terms, nor did he associate "colonial rule" with "suffering, which makes it possible credit colonial rule with positive achievements.

More importantly, Abe goes to greath lengths to establish that, in the past, Japan had faced a world in which colonial rule -- mostly by "Western powers [sic = countries]" (Seiyō shokoku) -- was rampant.

"More than one hundred years ago . . ."
". . . the centennial anniversary of the end of the war"

Benchmarking the 2nd paragraph of the statement as pertaining to conditions before 1915 a century ago, was intended to set up the remark in the last paragraph looking to 2045 a century after the end of the war. However, it was to a mistake to prefer the arbitrary artifice of "100 years" to historical accuracy.

"By the 19th century" (Jūkyū seiki made ni wa 十九世紀までには) would have been a better way to kick off the statement. And as a historical comment, it would have been more truthful to expressly acknowledge that, by the 1st decade of the 20th century, Japan had become the most powerful expansionist colonial power in Asia and the Pacific, closely followed by the United States of America.

Japan first encountered conditions similar to those it faced in the middle of the 19th century, from the middle of the 16th century. By the end of the 16th century, Japan was attempting to rival European powers in China through aggressions directed against China through Chosŏ (Chōsen). From the middle of the 19th century, Japan faced the prospects of being consumed by hungry European powers and the United States, and accepted extraterritoriality to buy time for it to achieve recognition as a power unto itself.

By the end of the 19th century, Japan had won a war with China and acquired Taiwan. By 1915 -- Abe's "one hundred years ago" -- Japan had exceeded all other powers in acquiring significant territories in Northeast and East Asia and the Pacific. In 1905 it acquired Karafuto as a territorial concession following its victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). In 1910 it annexed Korea, which had became a protectorate of Japan during this war, as Chōsen. And in 1914, aligning itself with the Allied Powers against Germany in what later would be called the Great War and yet later World War I, Japan occupied Germany's Pacific islands and its Tsingtao concession in China, all of which remained under Japanese control following the war.

So Abe was being a disingenuous speaking of "vast colonies possessed mainly by the Western powers stretched out across the world" without specifically acknowledging that Japan had then become the main colonial power in East and Northeast Asia.

Taiwan, Kankoku, Chōgoku

Abe, in this reference to "Taiwan, the Republic fo Korea and China", is speaking of present-day polities, not to historical polities or territories.

Abe's statement is designed mainly to assuage the feelings of what he calls "Chōgoku" (中国 "China"). Keep in mind that, while officially Japan had not been at war with China, under the terms of its surrender to the Allied Powers in 1945, Japan had to recognize the Republic of China (ROC) as one of the Allied Powers which had declared war on Japan, and hence Japan had to make a peace treay with ROC, which it signed in 1952 the day the terms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect. In 1972, however, Japan changed its recognition to the People's Republic of China (PRC), a 1949 postwar upstart.

"Taiwan" (台湾 "Taiwan") in Abe's statement refers to the Republic of China, the government of which had been forced to flee to Taiwan in exile in 1949 by the People's Liberation Army. Taiwan, formerly part of China, had been a part of Japan since 1895. ROC, as an Allied Power, had accepted Japan's surrender of Taiwan in 1945 and then made the territory a province of China, meaning ROC. As the victor in the revolutionary war, PRC claimed that Taiwan was a part of PRC and continues to claim that ROC is a renegade state. Because Japan recognizes PRC and not ROC, Japan cannot formally regard ROC as a state. However, Japan's relations with ROC remain cordial, and Japan continues to respect ROC's status as "Taiwan". Hence the "Taiwan" in Abe's statement.

"Kankoku" (韓国) or "the Republic of Korea" is another postwar upstart. It and its northern rival, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), were established in the southern US and northern Soviet occupation zones of Chōsen, which had been part of Japan. CHōsen had been "Korea" Japan annexed the Empire of Korea in 1910 and renamed the peninsular territory "Chōsen".

Abe is not referring to entities as they existed when parts of Japan, or during the colonial period, or during the war. As parts of Japan, both Taiwan and Chōsen were parts of enemy territory from the viewpoint of the Allied Powers, and they were treated as such after the war. The inhabitants of both territories participated in Japan's war as Japanese subjects and nationals. These are matters which, of course, will never be highlighted in a public statement of the kind Abe and other prime ministers have made.

Women and war

Abe makes two references to women whose honor if not also dignity was injured during the war. The first reference includes all wars everywhere during the 20th century. In other words, all countries bear some responsibility for the way some women have been treated during all wars.

The second reference is to the women "behind the battlefields" (senjō no kage ni wa 戦場の影には "in the shadows of the battlegrounds") in China, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands during "the previous Great War" which Abe is particularly addressing in his statement. He means of course all women -- and neither their national status, nor how they happened to be behind the front lines, or the specific indignities that they sufferred, do not matter. All are equally recipients of his expressions of remorese.

English version

On the whole, the English version is not an especially close translation. It studiously avoids expressing in English some of the metaphors that give the Japanese statement both its flavor and power.

"saki no Taisen"

Abe's key word is "saki no Taisen" (先の大戦) meaning "the previous Great War". This follows usage esablished in statements by previous prime ministers.


He refers to Japan's "defeat" only once. "Nihon wa, haisen shimashita" (日本は、敗戦しました) was represented in English as "Japan was defeated" but "Japan lost the war" would have better captured the active voice of the Japanese expression.

"minzoku (no) jiketsu"

Other terms in Japanese -- such as "minzoku" (民族) -- are unsystematically rendered or, in some cases, left untranslated. Both of Abe's references to "minzoku" are made in the context of what was called "national self-determination" (minzoku jiketsu 民族自決, minzoku no jiketsu 民族の自決) after World War I.

The first reference is rendered just "self-determination". The second is translated "self-determination of . . . peoples". The term "peoples" reflects the standards used by the United Nations in reference to a "racioethnic people" or "nation" in the racioethnic sense of this word. Conventionally, "minzoku" represents "nation" in its racial or ethnic (racioethnic) sense, or "race" in its broader anthropological or ethnological "volk" sense.

Weak translation

A number of phrases are very loosely translated in ways that mostly simply failure to caputre the elegance of the Japanese, but at other times arguably distort or depart from the intent of the original.

In the following example, the official English version is simply awkward. The tempo and harmonics of the Japanese original are not at all diffult to capture in English.

Official Japanese


Official English

Upon the innocent people did our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering. History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone.

Closer English

The fact is that [we, our country, Japan] inflicted immeasurable damage and suffering on innocent people. History is something harsh, which simply cannot be undone.

The official English version of the following passage entirely alters the pitch of the Japanese version.

Official Japanese

事変、侵略、戦争。 いかなる武力の威嚇や行使も、国際紛争を解決する手段としては、もう二度と用いてはならない。植民地支配から永遠に訣別し、すべての民族の自決の権利が尊重される世界にしなければならない。

Official English

Incident, aggression, war -- we shall never again resort to any form of the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. We shall abandon colonial rule forever and respect the right of self-determination of all peoples throughout the world.

Closer English

Incident, aggression, war. [We] must not a second time [We must never again] use any threat or exercise of armed force as means of resolving [settling] international disputes. [We] must forever separate [ourselves] from [part company with] colonial control, and make a world in which the rights of self-determination of all peoples [(racioethnic) nations] are respected.

You would think that the government's in-house or hired wordsmiths would strive to better capture and represent the nuances and cadences of the Japanese phrases in English.


Statement on the 70th anniversary of war's end
Statement by Prime Minister Abe Shinzō
14 August 2015













  事変、侵略、戦争。 いかなる武力の威嚇や行使も、国際紛争を解決する手段としては、もう二度と用いてはならない。植民地支配から永遠に訣別し、すべての民族の自決の権利が尊重される世界にしなければならない。


















安倍 晋三

On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, we must calmly reflect upon the road to war, the path we have taken since it ended, and the era of the 20th century. We must learn from the lessons of history the wisdom for our future.

More than one hundred years ago, vast colonies possessed mainly by the Western powers stretched out across the world. With their overwhelming supremacy in technology, waves of colonial rule surged toward Asia in the 19th century. There is no doubt that the resultant sense of crisis drove Japan forward to achieve modernization. Japan built a constitutional government earlier than any other nation in Asia. The country preserved its independence throughout. The Japan-Russia War gave encouragement to many people under colonial rule from Asia to Africa.

After World War I, which embroiled the world, the movement for self-determination gained momentum and put brakes on colonization that had been underway. It was a horrible war that claimed as many as ten million lives. With a strong desire for peace stirred in them, people founded the League of Nations and brought forth the General Treaty for Renunciation of War. There emerged in the international community a new tide of outlawing war itself.

At the beginning, Japan, too, kept steps with other nations. However, with the Great Depression setting in and the Western countries launching economic blocs by involving colonial economies, Japan's economy suffered a major blow. In such circumstances, Japan's sense of isolation deepened and it attempted to overcome its diplomatic and economic deadlock through the use of force. Its domestic political system could not serve as a brake to stop such attempts. In this way, Japan lost sight of the overall trends in the world.

With the Manchurian Incident, followed by the withdrawal from the League of Nations, Japan gradually transformed itself into a challenger to the new international order that the international community sought to establish after tremendous sacrifices. Japan took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war.

And, seventy years ago, Japan was defeated.

On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, 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.

More than three million of our compatriots lost their lives during the war: on the battlefields worrying about the future of their homeland and wishing for the happiness of their families; in remote foreign countries after the war, in extreme cold or heat, suffering from starvation and disease. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the air raids on Tokyo and other cities, and the ground battles in Okinawa, among others, took a heavy toll among ordinary citizens without mercy.

Also in countries that fought against Japan, countless lives were lost among young people with promising futures. In China, Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and elsewhere that became the battlefields, numerous innocent citizens suffered and fell victim to battles as well as hardships such as severe deprivation of food. We must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured.

Upon the innocent people did our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering. History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone. Each and every one of them had his or her life, dream, and beloved family. When I squarely contemplate this obvious fact, even now, I find myself speechless and my heart is rent with the utmost grief.

The peace we enjoy today exists only upon such precious sacrifices. And therein lies the origin of postwar Japan.

We must never again repeat the devastation of war.

Incident, aggression, war -- we shall never again resort to any form of the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. We shall abandon colonial rule forever and respect the right of self-determination of all peoples throughout the world.

With deep repentance for the war, Japan made that pledge. Upon it, we have created a free and democratic country, abided by the rule of law, and consistently upheld that pledge never to wage a war again. While taking silent pride in the path we have walked as a peace-loving nation for as long as seventy years, we remain determined never to deviate from this steadfast course.

Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war. In order to manifest such feelings through concrete actions, we have engraved in our hearts the histories of suffering of the people in Asia as our neighbours: those in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, and Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and China, among others; and we have consistently devoted ourselves to the peace and prosperity of the region since the end of the war.

Such position articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future.

However, no matter what kind of efforts we may make, the sorrows of those who lost their family members and the painful memories of those who underwent immense sufferings by the destruction of war will never be healed.

Thus, we must take to heart the following.

The fact that more than six million Japanese repatriates managed to come home safely after the war from various parts of the Asia-Pacific and became the driving force behind Japan's postwar reconstruction; the fact that nearly three thousand Japanese children left behind in China were able to grow up there and set foot on the soil of their homeland again; and the fact that former POWs of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia and other nations have visited Japan for many years to continue praying for the souls of the war dead on both sides.

How much emotional struggle must have existed and what great efforts must have been necessary for the Chinese people who underwent all the sufferings of the war and for the former POWs who experienced unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military in order for them to be so tolerant nevertheless?

That is what we must turn our thoughts to reflect upon.

Thanks to such manifestation of tolerance, Japan was able to return to the international community in the postwar era. Taking this opportunity of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, Japan would like to express its heartfelt gratitude to all the nations and all the people who made every effort for reconciliation.

In Japan, the postwar generations now exceed eighty per cent of its population. 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. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.

Our parents' and grandparents' generations were able to survive in a devastated land in sheer poverty after the war. The future they brought about is the one our current generation inherited and the one we will hand down to the next generation. Together with the tireless efforts of our predecessors, this has only been possible through the goodwill and assistance extended to us that transcended hatred by a truly large number of countries, such as the United States, Australia, and European nations, which Japan had fiercely fought against as enemies.

We must pass this down from generation to generation into the future. We have the great responsibility to take the lessons of history deeply into our hearts, to carve out a better future, and to make all possible efforts for the peace and prosperity of Asia and the world.

We will engrave in our hearts the past, when Japan attempted to break its deadlock with force. Upon this reflection, Japan will continue to firmly uphold the principle that any disputes must be settled peacefully and diplomatically based on the respect for the rule of law and not through the use of force, and to reach out to other countries in the world to do the same. As the only country to have ever suffered the devastation of atomic bombings during war, Japan will fulfil its responsibility in the international community, aiming at the non-proliferation and ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons.

We will engrave in our hearts the past, when the dignity and honour of many women were severely injured during wars in the 20th century. Upon this reflection, Japan wishes to be a country always at the side of such women's injured hearts. Japan will lead the world in making the 21st century an era in which women's human rights are not infringed upon.

We will engrave in our hearts the past, when forming economic blocs made the seeds of conflict thrive. Upon this reflection, Japan will continue to develop a free, fair and open international economic system that will not be influenced by the arbitrary intentions of any nation. We will strengthen assistance for developing countries, and lead the world toward further prosperity. Prosperity is the very foundation for peace. Japan will make even greater efforts to fight against poverty, which also serves as a hotbed of violence, and to provide opportunities for medical services, education, and self-reliance to all the people in the world.

We will engrave in our hearts the past, when Japan ended up becoming a challenger to the international order. Upon this reflection, Japan will firmly uphold basic values such as freedom, democracy, and human rights as unyielding values and, by working hand in hand with countries that share such values, hoist the flag of "Proactive Contribution to Peace," and contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world more than ever before.

Heading toward the 80th, the 90th and the centennial anniversary of the end of the war, we are determined to create such a Japan together with the Japanese people.

August 14, 2015
Shinzo Abe
Prime Minister of Japan


Listening 101

Predictably, Abe Shinzō's statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia and the Pacific, on 14 August 2015, failed to satisfy critics who need to believe that Abe is incapable of feeling deep remorse about Japan's actions in the past and expressing sincere apologies for these actions -- or that he would justify the lost war as a sacred mission.

The following analyses of Abe's statement exemplify the most critical comments. None are without some merit, but all are flawed by their shared failure to listen to what he actually said.


Korea Herald, 16 August 2015

The Korea Herald editorial "Leaders' words: Speeches of Park, Abe lack appeal, vision" expressed its general discontent with Abe's speech, often in ways that suggest that the writer failed to listen or read what Abe said. For example, the Korea Herald makes this claim. (SourceKorea Herald,16 August 2015. The Japan Times On Sunday printed the Korea Herald editorial under the headline "Disappointing speeches: Neither President Park Geun-hye nor Japanese Prime Minister Sinzo Abe can be called good communicators" (23 August 2015, page 11).

Some could say that Abe did not choose the worst scenario in that he included words like colonial rule, aggression, remorse and apology. But when you hear him say that "Japan has repeatedly expressed feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war," you can see the adroit nationalist did not want to say it in his own words.

Yet Abe expressed his feelings multiple time. In the following remark, for example, he expressed his feelings -- very much in his own words, and in the present, not the past tense.

On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, 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.


Tessa Morris-Suzuki

Tessa Morris-Suzuki, a professor of history at Australian National University, is one of the more prominent -- and probably the most productive and widely quoted -- critics in foreign academia of Japan's conservative governments, beginning with those of Imperial Japan. She has devoted a lot of her writing to the continuing effects and manifestations of the history of empire, colonialism, migration, and wars in Northeast Asia. Korea and Koreans in Japan rank among her favorite topics. Like most historians of the region, she has expressed her concerns about how Japanese prime ministers and other leaders view Japan's recent history.

On 18 August 2015, four days after Prime Minister Abe Shinzō's statement observing the 70th anniversary of the "end" of the "great war" in 1945, the East Asia Form -- a "platform" for the analysis and research on "Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific" based at ANU -- posted a critique by Morris-Suzuki titled Abe's WWII statement fails history 101.

Morris-Suzuki's broadside is one of the better appraisals of the quality of Abe's understanding of history that I have seen, though perhaps some of the thoughts she reads between the lines in his statement are more in her mind than in his.

The narrative of war that Abe presents leads naturally to the lessons that he derives from history. Nations should avoid the use of force to break 'deadlock'. They should promote free trade so that economic blocs will never again become a cause of war. And they should avoid challenging the international order.

The problem with Abe's new narrative is that it is historically wrong. This is perhaps not surprising, since the committee of experts on whom he relied included only four historians in its 16 members. And its report, running to some 31 pages, contains less than a page about the causes and events of the Asia Pacific War.

In effect, the Abe narrative of history looks like an exam script where the student has accidentally misread the question. He has answered the question about the reasons for Japan's invasion of Manchuria with an answer that should go with the question about the reasons for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Morris-Suzuki is right. Abe's understanding of not just economic history but of history generally is sophomoric. But his acknowledgement of Japan's mistake in resorting to force to solve whatever problems it may have had at the time -- whether due to international or domestic problems, including problems of Japan's own making -- is far more important than the quality of his knowledge of economic history. As for economic history, it is not quite as cut-and-dry on the question of which country fired the first shots of "protectionism" as Morris-Suzuki would seem to be arguing. Again, though, such questions are moot, for Abe said that Japan's actions on the Asian continent, beginning with its "invasion" of Manchuria, were wrong -- which means wrong, even if his paranoid belief that Japan was a passive victim of tariffs and trade blocs created by other countries is wrong.

Morris-Suzuki ended her assessment of Abe's statement with this observation.

Engraving a factually flawed story of the past in people's hearts is not going to solve East Asia's problems, and risks making them worse. Worse still, the Abe statement is generating deeply divergent responses in the countries where East Asian history is not widely taught (most notably the United States) and those where it is (South Korea, China and Japan itself), thus creating even deeper divisions in our already too divided world.

It is difficult to see how a couple of more flaws in the already deeply flawed "story of the past in people's hearts" is going to significantly increase the harm that mainstream academia itself has done in promoting the most radical versions of the stories of, say, "the rape of Nanking" or "sex slaves".

In any event, I do not see evidence of deeper divisions anywhere. Abe's statement has already joined those of his predecessors, which were all but forgotten within a days after they were made. Its significance, like theirs, will be measured by how much it effects the statements that will be made on the 80th, 90th, and 100th anniversaries of the war's end. Maybe by then "History 101" will have better textbooks. But unless my heart holds up better than I expect it to, I won't be holding my breath that long.


Jeff Kingston, 23 August 2015

Abe's words did not require especially careful listening or reading to "hear" or "see" his thoughts. Yet others similarly faulted his statement in ways that reflect their deafness to what he said at the podium, and their blindness and what published transcriptions of what he said confirmed what he said.

Take, for example, the following passage from Jeff Kingston's criticism "Counterpoint: Abe's revisionism and Japan's divided war memories" (The Japan Times On Sunday, 23 August 2015, page 18).

Citing the deaths of more than 3 million Japanese during World War II, and the deprivation that prevailed, Abe asserted: "The peace we enjoy today exists only upon such precious sacrifices. And therein lies the origin of postwar Japan."

Whatever Kingston means by "deprivation that prevailed" he's not telling. He makes it seem as though Abe felt especially sorry for "the deaths of more than 3 million Japanese", and is mainly attributing peace today to "such precious sacrifices".

However -- Abe made the remark about "precious sacrifices" and "the origin of postwar Japan" in the context of citing the extense damage and suffering and loss of life and the hardships and deprivation that Imperial Japan caused throughout Greater East Asia and the Pacific, as follows.

More than three million of our compatriots lost their lives during the war: on the battlefields worrying about the future of their homeland and wishing for the happiness of their families; in remote foreign countries after the war, in extreme cold or heat, suffering from starvation and disease. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the air raids on Tokyo and other cities, and the ground battles in Okinawa, among others, took a heavy toll among ordinary citizens without mercy.

Also in countries that fought against Japan, countless lives were lost among young people with promising futures. In China, Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and elsewhere that became the battlefields, numerous innocent citizens suffered and fell victim to battles as well as hardships such as severe deprivation of food. We must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured.

Upon the innocent people did our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering. History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone. Each and every one of them had his or her life, dream, and beloved family. When I squarely contemplate this obvious fact, even now, I find myself speechless and my heart is rent with the utmost grief.

Upon the innocent people did our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering. History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone. is an awkward translation of what more felicitously translates The fact is that [we, our country, (Imperial) Japan] inflicted immeasurable damage and suffering on innocent people. History is something harsh, which simply cannot be undone.

The peace we enjoy today exists only upon such precious sacrifices. And therein lies the origin of postwar Japan.

Kingston has misrepresented Abe's words. And so far as can be discerned from Abe's words here and elsewhere in his statement, Kingston also misrepresented Abe's intentions to attribute Japan's very existence today -- and its postcolonial and postwar achievements -- not only to all the victims of the harsh realities of history, but also to the present attitudes of the countries and nations which in the past had harsh encounters with Imperial Japan.

Kingston has every critic's license to attempt to read something nefarious between the words of someone he ideologically dislikes. But his conclusion that Abe's statement represents an "underhanded justification of war" and a "deplorable deceit" obliges him to show that Abe said something that clearly constitutes an attempt to legitimize Japan's decision to resort to war as "a means of settling international disputes" (as Abe put it) -- or that Abe otherwise views the war as the "noble mission" in Kingston's remark at the end of his article, in which he writes that "[The deaths of all the victims] were in vain because Japan's regional rampage . . . was not in the service of a noble mission."

Nowhere in his statement does Abe argue that the war was a "noble mission". He says precisely the opposite -- that it was a tragic mistake -- that "Japan took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war" (進むべき針路を誤り、戦争への道を進んで行きました) -- reminiscent of Murayama Tomiichi's remark, in his 50th anniversary statement in 1995, that "Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war" (国策を誤り、戦争への道を歩んで).