Nov 1, 2008

World - Japan General fired for war views

Norimitsu Onishi

TOKYO: A high-ranking Japanese military official was dismissed Friday for writing an essay stating that the United States had ensnared Japan into World War II, denying that Japan had waged wars of aggression in Asia and justifying Japanese colonialism.

The Defense Ministry fired General Toshio Tamogami, chief of staff of Japan's air force, late Friday night, only hours after his essay was posted on a private company's Web site. The quick dismissal seemed intended to head off criticism from China, South Korea and other Asian nations that have reacted angrily to previous Japanese denials of its militarist past.

The Defense Minister, Yasukazu Hamada, said the essay included an "inappropriate" assessment of the war, adding: "It was improper for a person in his capacity as air force chief of staff to publicly state a view clearly different from the government's."

In the essay, Tamogami, 60, elaborated a rightist view of Japan's wartime history shared by many nationalist politicians. But it was a rare formulation from inside Japan's military, which, as Japan has been shedding its postwar pacifism in recent years, has gained a more prominent role.

Japan's military — whose operations are restricted by the nation's war-renouncing Constitution — should be allowed to possess "offensive weaponry" and widen its defense activities with allies, the general also wrote.

The article was posted on the Web site of a real estate developer called Apa Group after taking the $30,000 first prize in an essay-writing contest sponsored by the company.

General Tamogami wrote that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 and thereby drew the United States into World War II after being caught in "a trap" set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"Roosevelt had become president on his public pledge not to go to war, so in order to start a war between the United States and Japan, it had to appear that Japan took the first shot," he wrote.

He denied that Japan had invaded China and the Korean Peninsula, arguing that Japanese forces became embroiled in domestic conflicts on the Asian continent.

"Even now, there are many people who think that our country's aggression caused unbearable suffering to the countries of Asia during the Greater East Asia War," he wrote, using the term favored by Japan's right to refer to World War II. "But we need to realize that many Asian countries take a positive view of the Greater East Asia War. It is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation."

Since the mid-1990's, the Japanese government has officially apologized for its wartime past and acknowledged its aggression in Asia. But in recent years, nationalist politicians belonging to the rightist of the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party have waged a campaign to revise Japan's wartime history.

Few politicians have spoken as comprehensively as General Tamogami did, telegraphing instead their sympathies with the rightist view of history. The current prime minister, Taro Aso, in the past publicly praised Japanese colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula. Aso, whose family's mining business used forced laborers during World War II, also said Koreans gladly adopted Japanese names.

Hours before the general's dismissal, Aso said, "Even though he published it in a private capacity, given his position, it is not appropriate."

Last year, Shinzo Abe, the prime minister at the time, caused anger in Asia and the United States by denying the Japanese military's involvement in recruiting wartime sex slaves known euphemistically as "comfort women."

His comments led the House of Representatives to adopt a non-binding resolution calling on Japan to acknowledge and apologize for its wartime sex slavery. Japan has yet to respond.

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