Japanese war guilt
  • No one can accuse me of being soft when it comes to condemnation of Japan's wartime atrocities (against Chinese especially). But before we start criticising Japan for its lack of war guilt, towards China and Korea especially, it is important to see things how the Japanese see them.

    In a recent NBR debate (reproduced below) I try to raise the issue:

    On Oct 27, 2013, at 9:57 AM, Japan Forum Member wrote:

    From Michael Berger

    One reason why the Hull 'ultimatum' myth has currency in Japan and elsewhere is that few people seem to have read it. Its title line: 'Outline of Proposed Basis for Agreement Between the United States and Japan' ought to indicate even to a layman that this is a proposal, not a demand. The document includes incentives, including a new US-Japan trade agreement, following Japanese military withdrawal from Indochina and China proper. According to a thorough research of the Hull Note by Robert Butow, the document deliberately avoided direct reference to Manchuria. Butow's research of the Hull-Nomura talks revealed that months earlier, Hull had told Nomura that Manchuria was a separate topic for later negotiation.

    In November 1941, after Nomura and Kurusu read the Hull note, they cabled Tokyo that they saw hope for further talks. Moreover, Yoshida Shigeru, in his memoirs, writes of taking the document to his father-in-law, the aging genro Count Makino, who agreed with him that it was not an ultimatum, but a possible basis for further talks. Yoshida wrote that he expressed those views to Foreign Minister Togo, but was rebuffed.

    Out on the street, only one newspaper, the Nichi Nichi, published the Hull text, but when the authorities got wind of it, police were dispatched to confiscate all available copies. Little wonder that 72 years later, the fiction of Japan being forced to attack in 1941 lives on.

    Michael Berger

    from Gregory Clark

    Begins: With reference to Michael Berger's note, while the Hull Note itself is not an ultimatum, if lifting the economic embargo on Japan was contingent on Tokyo accepting the Hull Note, then the Hull Note can only be called an ultimatum.

    Certainly that is how the Note has become seen in Japan. When it was delivered the authorities were already calculating how much longer they could run their economy without needed raw materials, oil especially.

    I once saw a figure that said six months.

    The diplomats and politicians would have realised it should be taken seriously,if only to stave off economic disaster. But if the military were already planning to keep the US at bay and secure those needed resources with an attack into Southeast Asia then obviously they would have had a different attitude.

    They might even have welcomed the embargo, and the Note, because both gave them the excuse to push ahead with their own aggressive plans and force them on the civilians.

    May I add that this thread is supposed to be about Japanese apologies. The Hull Note question was introduced in the context of Japanese willingness or not today to make those apologies.

    While prewar few may have known about the Note, postwar it has received enormous attention in Japan in the context of whether Japan was forced into the Pacific War and whether Japan should have been punished. Dozens of books and articles have been written about it. If it can be argued that Japan was forced into war, and wrongly punished, then for many here, and not just the rightists, the arguments against apologies become important.

    Comparisons with Germany become irrelevant.

    And reluctance to apologise for that war then becomes the excuse not to apologise for atrocities (I have tried to point out that the two issues are very different).

    As for the other war - the 1937 advance into China - here much depends upon whom one sees as responsible for the Marco Polo Bridge incident. The rightists here blame it on the Red Army, which then excuses them for all the ugliness that followed. Earlier on NBR I tried to bring attention to reasonably balanced Japanese accounts that suggest it was accidental, that the Japanese military at the time wanted to attack north into Siberia.

    If they had, it is highly likely Moscow would have succumbed to Hitler's attack, Japan later would have prevailed in Asia (and Australia) and the US would have had to decide whether to rescue us all with nuclear weapons.

    Gregory Clark

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