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Home arrow History arrow The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia

Cross-National Fragmentation, 1945-1964

The focus of the history problem, the Asia-Pacific War, was not a single, clearly bounded event. Instead, it evolved through a series of armed conflicts between Japan and China that began with the Mukden Incident in September 1931 and eventually led to the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in July 1937- Japan then proceeded to war with the United States and other Allied powers in December 1941 and quickly advanced to the Pacific and Southeast Asia. But the tide of war began to turn at the Battle of Midway in June 1942, and Japan was increasingly overwhelmed by the Allied powers. By the end of June 1945, the Allied powers had defeated Japanese troops on the Okinawa Islands; the Potsdam Declaration was issued on July 26, demanding that the Japanese government “proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces.”1 The Japanese government rejected the ultimatum, and the Allied powers responded with further military actions. The United States dropped atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, respectively. On August 8, the Soviet Union also broke the Soviet- Japanese Neutrality Pact to attack Manchukuo, the Kuril Islands, and South Sakhalin. These military actions finally led the Japanese government to accept the Potsdam Declaration on August 14. The next day, Emperor Hirohito read the Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War in a radio broadcast, officially surrendering to the Allied powers.2

The Japanese government immediately ordered civilian bureaucrats and military officers to destroy classified documents. The Army Ministry followed the order most thoroughly. They destroyed not only classified documents at the ministry but also army-related documents at the municipal level. The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also destroyed a large number of classified documents.3 The destruction of war- related documents continued until the Allied powers arrived at Atsugi Naval Air Base on August 28.

After the Allied powers occupied Tokyo on September 8, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) Douglas MacArthur ordered the arrest of forty-three Japanese civilian and military leaders for crimes against peace, commonly known as Class A war crimes. The Allied powers also arrested people suspected of conventional war crimes and crimes against humanity, Class B and Class C war crimes, respectively. During the Occupation, more than ten thousand Japanese were either arrested or indicted for these three types of war crimes.4 In January 1946, SCAP proceeded to enact the Charter of the International Military Tribunal in preparation for prosecuting Class A war crime suspects.

In the meantime, SCAP implemented policies to demilitarize and democratize Japan. In October, SCAP released communists and other activists who had been imprisoned by the Japanese government, purged militaristic teachers from schools, and encouraged women’s pol itical participation and the formation of voluntary associations. In December, SCAP terminated government sponsorship of Shintoism and ordered the Japanese government to suspend from school curricula moral education (shUshin), Japanese history, and geography—three subjects that had played a central role in inculcating nationalism in Japanese citizens.5 SCAP also purged from public office, corporations, and universities war crimes suspects, militarists, and those who had collaborated with the wartime government.6

Concurrently, SCAP pressed the Japanese government to create a new constitution. Since the Japanese government, headed by Prime Minister Shi- dehara Kijuro, was hesitant to make a significant departure from the prewar Imperial Constitution, SCAP intervened and handed out its own draft to the Japanese government in February 1946. The Japanese government used the SCAP version to draft a new constitution and presented it to the public in April. The new draft constitution included many important changes from its prewar counterpart: the emperor was divested of political power, basic human rights and equality of the sexes were guaranteed, and war as a sovereign right was renounced, to name but a few. In the midst of these profound transformations under the Occupation, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo Trial, opened on May 3, 1946.

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