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Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009
'It is time to discuss this more frankly'
Kazuhiko Togo, Professor of International Politics at Kyoto Sangyo University, is a former Ambassador to the Netherlands and the author of 2005's "Japan's Foreign Policy 1945-2003" and 2008's "Rekishi to Gaiko" ("History and Diplomacy"). He is also a grandson of Shigenori Togo (1882-1950), who, after serving as Ambassador to Germany and then to the Soviet Union, was appointed Foreign Minister from 1941-42 and again from April to August 1945. After the war, he was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for war crimes, and died in prison.
What do you think are the critical issues concerning the atomic bombs in contemporary Japan?
Ambassador Togo's written response is as follows: Surprisingly, there has been little serious debate in Japan about the Hiroshima-Nagasaki atomic bombs (of Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945) in the context of Japan-U.S. relations. Conservative opinion leaders tended to look at the issue in the context of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, while liberal opinion leaders tended to look at this issue as an object of universal evil that requires global abandonment. But Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma's statement in June 2007 that "the dropping of atomic bombs could not be helped" provoked anger among Japanese people, and his ensuing resignation shows that something is changing.
The government has no intention to politicize this issue with the U.S. government, and I concur that clearly this is a wise policy. But at the level of academics and opinion leaders, the time has come to discuss the issue more frankly. Here are four points that in my view come to the mind of many Japanese:
First, are the Americans truly aware about the nature of atrocities committed? People who were subjected to the bomb are still suffering from physical pain, and they are literally dying because of the radioactive aftereffects. The apocalyptic description of the massacre is shocking enough, but how many Americans are aware that the bombs continue to have such a lingering fatal impact? Japanese victims of the bombs in general have accepted the postwar settlement and are suing only the Japanese government requesting more adequate compensation. But does this postwar settlement justify U.S. disinterest in this unprecedented human suffering caused by the U.S. during World War II?
Second, in accordance with the existing norms of international law and the simple logic of fairness and human rights today, how can one justify the killing of Japanese women, children and elderly people for the sheer sake of protecting the life of American soldiers, whose destiny was to fight and die for their country? It is axiomatic to say that indiscriminate bombing of noncombatants and cities was a common practice during World War II, including by Japan. But does this "relativization" justify the catastrophic level of atrocities inflicted on Japanese civilians by the atomic bombs?
Third, were the atomic bombs really necessary to end the war? Efforts made by American scholars to question this point are commendable.
Two key questions remain. First, from April 1945 the Japanese government was engaged in serious efforts to end the war. Their efforts culminated in the dispatch of a formal instruction to the Japanese Ambassador in Moscow on July 13 that the Emperor wanted to terminate the war, and asking (Soviet premier Joseph) Stalin to receive his special envoy (former Prime Minister Fumimaro) Konoe to negotiate the terms of surrender. Stalin and (U.S. President Harry S.) Truman agreed on July 18 at Potsdam (in Germany) to remain evasive in responding to the Japanese request. Stalin was determined to attack Japan before it capitulated. But why did Truman stay evasive?
The second key question concerns the final order to drop two bombs in early August that was issued on July 25 by (U.S. Secretary of War Henry L.) Stimson and (U.S. Secretary of State George) Marshall, with, no doubt, Truman's approval although a written record was not found, and the Potsdam Declaration was issued on July 26. The key clause that might have facilitated a Japanese surrender, i.e., preservation of the Imperial household, was not included in the Potsdam Declaration despite experts' recommendation. It gives an impression that Truman reserved sufficient time for the two bombs to be dropped before Japan's capitulation. Is this perception correct, and if so, why did he do so?
Fourth, are the Americans aware that it is not the conservatives who are now most vocal in condemning the dropping of the two bombs as violating international law, but rather that it is the best of Japanese liberals who have condemned the U.S. actions as crimes against humanity? Saburo Ienaga (a prominent historian), who sued the Japanese government for 30 years for not allowing more detailed descriptions in school textbooks of atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers, made it clear that "the three major atrocities committed during World War II are Auschwitz, Unit 731 (the Imperial Japanese Army's germ-warfare unit) and Hiroshima." Another example is (Hiroshima Peace Institute professor) Yuki Tanaka, known as a strong advocate of comfort women's rights, who helped organize an international people's tribunal in 2006 that found U.S. leaders guilty of war crimes for dropping the atomic bombs.
It is difficult for me to propose some definite solution on this controversial, political and emotional issue. In general, I support the proposal by veteran journalist Fumio Matsuo for a reciprocal wreath presentation by the U.S. president at Hiroshima and the Japanese prime minister at the (USS) Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor as an initial gesture of reconciliation. But more important may be the expansion of exchanges among citizens' groups for the sheer purpose of improving mutual understanding during this initial stage of reconsidering this historical memory.