Spoils of the past

April 22, 1991

If rigormortis can set in before a body is dead, that may be what's happening to the Soviet economy. Help is desperately needed. But on his shopping trip to Japan, Mikhail Gorbachev was unable to obtain any investing because he was unable to come to grips with the Soviet Union's past -- specifically, to return to Japan four tiny islands taken at the end of World War II.

How did the Soviets get these spoils? As Germany was collapsing, the Soviets agreed to join the Pacific combat within three months of the European peace. VE Day was May 8. The Soviets declared war on Japan as time expired, August 8, two days after the bombing of Hiroshima, one day before the bombing of Nagasaki and only a week before the war ended.

It would seem that something won so cheaply could be returned fairly easily. But even Boris Yeltsin, today's Soviet moderate, is opposed to giving the islands back. It's another instance of the past holding the future hostage.

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