Coalition parties can't agree on Japanese apology

June 04, 1995|By New York Times News Service

TOKYO -- An effort by Japan's governing coalition to express remorse for World War II has collapsed, at least temporarily.

Its parties failed to agree on whether Japan had done anything in the war for which it needed to apologize.

Unless leaders of the parties reach some compromise in the coming weeks and pass a resolution expressing remorse, the Asian countries that Japan invaded and occupied during the war are sure to respond in a wave of anger.

The coalition's three parties agreed when joining forces a year ago that they would pass a resolution apologizing for Japanese conduct in the war.

The problem is that the biggest party, the Liberal Democratic Party, argues that Japan has little or nothing to apologize for.

Some hard-line members of the party say that Japan's aim in World War II was to liberate Asia from Western colonial rule -- and they argue that one eventual consequence of the war was indeed the end of colonialism in Asia.

Some say that if any country owes an apology for World War II, it is the United States, for dropping the atomic bomb.

The most penitent language that the Liberal Democrats offered for the parliamentary resolution was this: "In a period when major powers were competing in aggressive acts and colonial rule over other countries, Japan thought about its own safety and eventually fought wars with many countries."

Even this was considered a major concession because the Liberal Democrats agreed to include references to "aggressive acts" and "colonial rule" -- although the wording was carefully left ambiguous on whether Japan was among the countries engaging in such behavior.

In any case, the Liberal Democrats refused to allow the resolution to include an apology.

The issue of Japanese contrition is extremely sensitive in Asia, far more so than in the United States.

Asian countries suffered many more casualties in the war than the United States did -- China alone suffered millions of deaths at the hands of the Japanese, although perhaps not the 35 million that it contends.

While some Japanese leaders have apologized for the war, the statements often seem to come not from the heart but from committees in the Foreign Ministry.

And Japan tends to skim over its atrocities in school textbooks, ++ while also refusing to compensate wartime victims for their injuries.

Shinto priests have even elevated Japanese leaders who were executed as war criminals to be kami, or deities. Japanese politicians regularly visit the shrine where these deities are worshiped.

The current dispute could lead to the collapse of the government of Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who supports an apology for Japanese wartime behavior.

Mr. Murayama has hinted that his Socialist Party may even withdraw from the coalition if the other parties do not go along with the resolution.

But the prime minister has abandoned so many of his positions since taking office that nobody knows whether he is to be taken seriously this time.

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