Skip to comments.Ex-Soldier Fights To Make Japan Remember Its Past
Posted on 06/06/2006 5:50:07 PM PDT by blam
Ex-soldier fights to make Japan remember its past
By Colin Joyce in Tokyo
Japan's amnesia over its militarist past is being challenged by a compelling documentary film which suggests that the Japanese army breached the terms of surrender in 1945 by leaving soldiers to fight on in China.
The Ants, to be released next month, records the struggle of the Japanese veteran Waichi Okumura to put atrocities on record and to tell the story of the forgotten soldiers left behind in China. Now 81, Mr Okumura revisited Shanxi province where he fought, including a pilgrimage to the place where he and other recruits were "toughened up" by being made to kill Chinese prisoners with bayonets.
Waichi Okumura, 81, tells of Japanese atrocities in China
The story is remarkable because most Japanese veterans play down atrocities and romanticise the war whereas Mr Okumura asks openly: "What the hell were we fighting for?"
Veterans who speak out have typically been ostracised by their comrades but Mr Okumura is supported by a dwindling group of fellow soldiers. The documentary covers their long and unsuccessful legal battle against the Tokyo government to show that 2,600 Japanese troops were made to fight alongside the Chinese nationalist warlord Yan Xishan until 1948, in clear breach of Japan's unconditional surrender.
The Japanese government says that the men volunteered to join the Chinese nationalists, leaving their units without permission. But the men say that officers had quotas of volunteers to fill from each unit and that being told to volunteer by an officer was the same as an order to a Japanese soldier.
They say their mission was to maintain a Japanese military presence so that one day Japan could resume its territorial ambitions on the mainland. Mr Okumura, who was held in China until 1954, said that 550 of the men were killed and he was among more than 700 captured by communist troops.
Testimony from survivors of both sides supports the case that there was a secret deal between Yan and Japan's Gen Raishiro Sumida. Records show that the men continued to be bound by Japanese army regulations, suggesting that they fought as soldiers of Japan, not volunteers in a Chinese army.
Japanese society is famed for its avoidance of confrontation. Mr Okumura takes the opposite approach. He asks a Chinese victim of brutal gang rape by Japanese soldiers to retell her ordeal for the camera and recalls how he had kept lookout while fellow soldiers committed rape. At Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Japan's war dead are commemorated, Mr Okumura embarrasses young people by asking them why they don't know their history and why they are worshipping dead soldiers.
A crowd of unreformed nationalists at the shrine cheers a speech by one of their heroes, the soldier Hiroo Onoda, who hid in the Philippine jungles for 31 years unaware that Japan had lost. Mr Okumura confronts him by asking "Are you glorifying our war of aggression?" In perhaps the most shocking scene in the film, Mr Okumura shows his friend Den Kanekoc written testimony he found in China that records how he killed an innocent Chinese peasant by bludgeoning his head with a rock.
Mr Kaneko, a tiny man who cares for his paralysed wife at home, admits it must have happened but does not remember the incident. "It's strange that I don't remember but killing people happened every day back then. It was nothing to me. I really was a demon," he says.
They were a vicious enemy. The stories about Iwo Jima just make my skin crawl. Our society would do well to remember what the US went through to win WW II.
Good on Mr. Okumura.
The Chinese should remember this too when they rattle their sabers.
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He was right. Vietnam veterans came home to a denial that was nothing compared to the denial these men came home to. Many of them were truly monsters, most were only behaving within the unbelievably brutal context of the times. But even the evil must be remembered lest it recur.
Very interesting news about a very interesting subject; perhaps one reason why the Japanese government insisted on keeping troops in China after the war was that the United States forbade Japan to maintain a military presence at home. This way, the Japanese would have at least *some sort of army* to rely on in the event the opportunity came about to restore Japanese imperial power. After Japan became fully integrated with Western economies, this was no longer thought necessary - and old imperial ambitions were abandoned.
G. Stolyarov II