The Asahi Shimbun has received numerous letters and suggestions from members of war-bereaved families and other readers concerning its opposition to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine.
One line of thought has repeatedly appeared in these messages: What is wrong with grieving for those who gave their lives for their country in the past war? What could possibly be more natural than visits by the prime minister to pay reverence to such persons?
We wish to address the issues raised by such opinions.
Grieving for husbands, fathers and sons who perished after being sent out to the battlefield is indeed natural behavior. It is crucial, in fact, for those of us who live in the peaceful postwar era to share in this sentiment and action.
Each of the several million Japanese who died in war had families and futures. When we consider that, we are painfully aware of the cruelty and tragedy of war. The feelings of grief harbored by war-bereaved families and Japanese people for fallen family and friends are certainly the most natural of human sentiments.
However, it is a mistake to combine the mourning and display of respect for those who lost their lives in war with assessments of the war itself, or with the issue of leaders who have a responsibility for the war. There is a need to draw clear lines between soldiers who had no choice but to obey the orders handed to them by superiors and the responsibilities of military leaders, politicians and others who planned and carried out the war.
In 1978, Yasukuni enshrined the souls of 14 Class-A war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo who was convicted and executed for war crimes. This action compounded the complexity of the issue of mourning for Japan's war dead.
Yasukuni Shrine, previously attached to the defunct ministries of the army and navy, in the past served the purpose of providing a site to publicly manifest both grief and admiration for those who perished in conflict. In this sense, it functioned to enhance the will to fight and mobilize the populace for war. After World War II, the shrine became a religious corporation. But there has been no change in its basic message of justification for the past war.
The Yasukuni stance is that World War II was an unavoidable battle fought in self-defense. It also claims that the Class-A war criminals blamed for the war at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East were falsely accused by the Allied powers.
Some readers have also accused The Asahi Shimbun of accommodating the recent flare-up of anti-Japanese sentiment in China.
We would like to point out, however, that the Chinese are not making an issue over mourning for general soldiers. Rather, they oppose mourning for the officers who championed the war. Beijing says it cannot condone visits by the prime minister, the representative of the Japanese nation, to a shrine that honors the souls of the Class-A war criminals.
This criticism, voiced by a nation that was invaded and victimized by Japanese forces in the past, cannot be casually dismissed as anti-Japan in content.
Koizumi says he goes to Yasukuni to pray for future peace. However, we wonder if the victims of war enshrined there would really be pleased to see him engage in practices that undermine the peaceful relations Japan has built up with China and South Korea.
We would like to see a place of mourning established that a truly broad segment of the Japanese people will accept, where overseas guests of honor can also visit without hesitation to show their respect.
In 2002, a private advisory panel headed by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda proposed constructing a new nonreligious national facility as a site for mourning the war dead.
In view of recent events, we feel even more strongly that such a facility would be a far more suitable venue for the prime minister, as the representative of the Japanese people, to articulate the sincerity of our sorrow.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 5(IHT/Asahi: June 6,2005)