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

Ramifications of Compromised Apologies and Compensation

When the LDP, the JSP, and the New Party Sakigake formed a coalition government in June 1994, they agreed to adopt a resolution on the fiftieth anniversary of the war’s end. But the three parties had very different ideas about the resolution. The JSP wanted to frame the resolution in terms of apology for Japan’s past wrongdoings, whereas the LDP wanted a more forward-looking resolution to emphasize Japan’s determination to strive for peace while minimizing references to the past.66

To promote their own version of resolution, LDP members created the Association of Diet Members for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the War’s End (Shusen Gojunen Kokkai Giin Renmei) in December 1994. In its statement of purpose, the association emphasized the importance of remembering that “peace and prosperity that our country enjoys today is built on two million war dead who sacrificed their precious lives for defending Japan and peace of Asia in the time of the national crisis.”67 Association president Okuno Seiryo also stated that it was senseless for Japan alone to apologize when the United States and Russia did not apologize for the atomic bombings and the invasion of Manchukuo, respectively.68 The association included two LDP members of Murayama Tomiichi’s cabinet, Hashimoto Ryutaro (minister of international trade and industry) and Tamazawa Tokuichiro (director general of defense). Nearly half of the LDP Diet members had joined the association by March 1995.

Concurrently, the Japan Bereaved Families Association lobbied pre- fectural councils to adopt resolutions to honor and thank war dead rather than to apologize for Japan’s past wrongdoings. By March 1995, eighteen prefectural councils adopted such resolutions.69 The association also launched the Citizen Committee on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the War’s End (Shusen Gojushunen Kokumin Iinkai) with other NGOs to collect signatures supporting the LDP version of resolution to emphasize Japan’s determination to strive for peace.

Given the dominance of the LDP within Murayama’s coalition government, the LDP’s position was favored in the Resolution to Renew the Determination for Peace on the Basis of Lessons Learned from History (Rekishi wo Kyokun ni Heiwa eno Ketsui wo Aratanisuru Ketsugi) submitted to the House of Representatives in early June 1995. The proposed resolution stopped short of offering an “apology,” though it incorporated the JSP’s position commemorating Japan’s past wrongdoings. Specifically, the resolution stated,

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, this House offers its sincere condolences to those who fell in action and victims of wars and similar actions all over the world. Solemnly reflecting upon many instances of colonial rule and acts of aggression in the modern history of the world, and recognizing that Japan carried out those acts in the past, inflicting pain and suffering upon the peoples of other countries, especially in Asia, the Members of this House express a sense of deep remorse. . . . This House expresses its resolve, under the banner of eternal peace enshrined in the Constitution of Japan, to join hands with other nations of the world and to pave the way to a future that allows all human beings to live together.70

The resolution passed the House of Representatives in June, but 241 out of 502 House members boycotted the vote, including fifty LDP members and fourteen JSP members.71 LDP members boycotted the vote because they were opposed to any resolution regarding the Asia-Pacific War, whereas JSP members did so because they felt the resolution did not go far enough in acknowledging Japan’s past wrongdoings.

Since the Diet resolution only expressed “deep remorse,” Murayama decided to offer his own official apology as Japan’s prime minister. He consulted with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in drafting his statement and persuaded LDP members in his cabinet to approve it.72 Given the unan i- mous approval by his cabinet members, Murayama issued the following apology as Japan’s official position on August 15, 1995:

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.73

In response to Murayama’s apology, government officials across the Asia- Pacific issued generally positive statements. Australian prime minister Paul Keating, Philippine president Fidel Ramos, and White House press secretary Mike McCurry, among others, welcomed Murayama’s apology and stated that it would improve Japan’s relations with former enemy countries in the region.74 South Korea and China, however, expressed more cautious reactions. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry planned “to carefully observe whether Japan’s subsequent attitude will support Prime Minister Muraya- ma’s apology.”75 China’s Foreign Ministry pointed out that “there are still people in Japanese politics and society who do not adopt the correct attitude toward the history problem,” though it praised Murayama’s action for “expressing deep remorse for Japan’s past colonial rule and aggression and offering an apology to Asian peoples.”76

In addition to the official apology, Murayama and other JSP cabinet members planned to create a fund for a wide variety of victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings, whereby the government and the public would each take responsibility for a half of the fund. For the JSP members, this plan was meant not to evade the Japanese government’s war responsibility but to express genuinely nationwide atonement for foreign victims by enlisting Japa?nese citizens. In the end, however, they judged that their plan was infeasible both politically and financially. Instead, they decided to focus on former comfort women, since this issue had become the center of international controversies in the early 1990s.77

In December 1994, a subcommittee within Murayama’s coalition government released the “First Report on the So-called Wartime Comfort Women Issue,” recommending the establishment of a fund based on contributions from both the government and citizens to offer nationwide atonement for the suffering of former comfort women.78 But the report was strongly criticized by the Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs and the majority of LDP members. They insisted that all issues of compensation had been resolved upon normalization of diplomatic relations. Confronted with the strong opposition, the JSP again compromised with the LDP. Instead of mandating the government to contribute half of the fund as originally proposed, the JSP and the LDP decided to hold the government responsible for the expenses associated with managing the fund, such as staff salaries and advertising costs. Japanese citizens, in turn, would be responsible for making actual monetary contributions to be used as “atonement money” (tsugu- nai kin) for former comfort women.

In June 1995, Chief Cabinet Secretary Igarashi Kozo announced the government’s plan for the Asian Peace and Friendship Fund for Women (Josei no tameno Ajia Heiwa Yuko Kikin). Igarashi explained that the purpose of the fund was “to offer a heartfelt apology for our country’s act that inflicted incurable pains on many women and deeply wounded their honor and dignity.” He then summarized the main goals of the fund as follows: the fund was to collect donations from the public to offer nationwide atonement for former comfort women as well as to take responsibility for providing medical and welfare relief for them through government funding; when carrying out the fund’s activities, the government must clearly express remorse and apology for former comfort women and collect historical materials related to comfort women and use them for history education.79 The fund was officially renamed the Asian Women’s Fund (Ajia Josei Kikin) and launched in July. Promoters of the fund, including well-known university professors and former Diet members, published a call for monetary contributions from Japanese citizens in major national newspapers.

In their call, the promoters frankly admitted disagreements among themselves. Some insisted on government compensation, whereas others thought such compensation would be difficult from a l egal point of view.

Nevertheless, the promoters were “unanimous on one point: we have to act as soon as possible because little time is left for aging victims.” They continued:

We demand that the government should make every effort to uncover historical facts and offer a heartfelt apology, so that victims of the “comfort women” system can regain their honor and dignity. . . . But the most important thing, we believe, is that as many Japanese citizens as possible will face the suffering of the victims and express atonement from the bottom of their hearts. . . . Prewar Japan created “wartime comfort women.” But Japan is not a country owned solely by the government. Japan is a country created by every citizen who inherits the past, lives in the present, and envisions the future.

The promoters thus called for “atonement by the whole of Japanese citizenry” (zenkokuminteki tsugunai).80

Within a year, the Asian Women’s Fund collected about four hundred million yen from Japanese citizens. The fund then began negotiations with five governments that officially acknowledged the existence of former comfort women in their countries: the Netherlands, the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea, and Taiwan. The fund planned to offer two million yen for each former comfort woman, as well as different amounts of medical and welfare support according to living standards of different countries. In addition, members of the fund planned to deliver atonement money with a “letter of apology” (owabi no tegami) signed by Japan’s prime minister, which included the following statements: “I, Japan’s Prime Minister, offer a heartfelt apology and express remorse for all former military comfort women who suffered great pains and incurable physical and mental wounds. We shall not evade our responsibility for the past and the future. Our country must embrace moral responsibility, take our apology and remorse seriously, and confront our past and teach it to future generations.”81

From the very beginning, however, the Asian Women’s Fund received heavy criticism from both Japanese and foreign NGOs that supported former comfort women. The most intense criticism came from South Korea. All prominent women’s NGOs in South Korea, including the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan and the Korean Church Women United, rejected the fund. The Korean Council president Yun Jeong Ok criticized it as the Japanese govern?ment’s “attempt to evade its responsibility for the crime [the comfort women system] by asking Japanese citizens to contribute donations. . . . The fund will not resolve the victims’ resentment (han). It will not liberate Japan from the crime that its government committed, either.”82 Then, in December 1995, Japanese and foreign NGOs organized an international conference, where they rejected atonement money from Japanese citizens and demanded government compensation.83 In short, instead of resolving the controversy over former comfort women, the Asian Women’s Fund galvanized it.

 
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