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The Legacy of the Tokyo Trial

The preceding chapters have analyzed how East Asia’s history problem evolved through continuous struggles among relevant political actors competing for the legitimate commemoration of the Asia-Pacific War. These actors included the government, pol itical parties, and NGOs in Japan; the governments, NGOs, and victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings in South Korea and China; and historians and educators from the three countries. They defined their commemorative positions by drawing differently on nationalism and cosmopolitanism and tried to influence Japan’s official commemoration by exploiting available mobilizing structures and political opportunities. I argue that one of the most important findings of this field analysis is a striking commonality between proponents of nationalism and cosmopolitanism: both used the Tokyo Trial as a reference point to articulate their commemorative positions.

Conservative politicians in Japan consistently rejected the Tokyo Trial. In the immediate postwar period, Yoshida Shigeru, Hatoyama Ichiro, and other conservative leaders treated the trial as invalid on a variety of policy issues, including the release of war criminals and compensation for injured veterans. This rejection of the trial was perpetuated by LDP politicians, including Abe Shinzo, who labelled the Tokyo Judgment as “victor’s justice” and insisted that “Class A, B, and C war criminals were not really criminals.”1 Similarly, conservative NGOs that worked with the LDP, such as the Japan Bereaved Families Association and JSHTR, rejected the “Tokyo Trial historical view” that blamed Japan alone for the Asia-Pacific War. Nationalist commemoration in Japan was thus consistently based on the rejection of the Tokyo Judgment and, by the same token, the justification of Japan’s past aggression as a heroic act of self-defense.

Proponents of cosmopolitan commemoration, by contrast, accepted the Tokyo Judgment. Between the mid-1940s and the 1950s, the JSP and the JCP urged the conservative government to commemorate foreign victims of Japan’s past aggression by referring to war crimes that the Tokyo Trial had exposed. Left-leaning NGOs also pressed the government to compensate A-bomb victims based on the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which had accepted the judgment—since the Japanese government had started the war leading to the atomic bombings, it should take responsibility for A-bomb victims. Murayama Tomiichi’s official apology in 1995 was also consistent with the trial that had prosecuted Japan’s aggression.

Outside Japan, too, the governments and citizens of South Korea and China defined their commemorative positions in reference to the Tokyo Trial. They criticized Japanese prime ministers for visiting the Yasukuni Shrine where fourteen wartime leaders, prosecuted as Class A war criminals at the trial, were enshrined. South Korea and China also blamed the history problem squarely on Japan, consistent with the Tokyo Judgment that had defined Japan as solely and entirely guilty of the Asia-Pacific War.2

Thus, the relevant pol itical actors in the field of the history problem each defined their commemorative position, explicitly or implicitly, in relation to the Tokyo Trial. The possibility of resolving the history problem therefore depends on understanding why the trial became such a key reference point for the relevant pol itical actors and entangled multiple threads of controversy over Japan’s past wrongdoings. In this chapter, then, I first situate the debates among the political actors, illustrated in the preceding chapters, within the wider context of how ordinary citizens, intellectuals, and historians in Japan grappled with the problematic legacy of the trial. I then illuminate how that legacy came to fuel nationalist commemorations both inside and outside Japan, while preventing the full realization of cosmopolitan commemoration.

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