Tony Abbott caused outrage by lauding the war honour of the Japanese military when Shinzō Abe was in Australia last week. Noel Wauchope takes a close look at Abe's honour.
While in Canberra, Australia’s Senate was in turmoil last Wednesday
over Tony Abbott’s second attempt to carry out his central policy of
“axing the carbon tax”, where was Tony Abbott?
Tony was at an iron ore mine in the Pilbara, Western Australia, fawning over visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe:
"You can indeed see that Japan and Australia is in a mutually idealistic, complementary relationship."
I had already been feeling more than a little nauseated by the
reception given by the Abbott government, with Abe starring at a joint
sitting of Parliament, being feted by both sides of politics. That
couldn’t have happened in America, nor in South Korea — nor, of course,
in China, or in several Asian nations.
Tony Abbott and the Australian parliament seem to be oblivious of
this. Is there some kind of collective amnesia in Australia? Though it
is a long time ago, the facts remain about Japanese atrocities in World War 2
and of Japan's inadequate or non-existent apologies for these, as well
as lack of reparations. What has made this situation worse, has been the
record of Shinzō Abe's attempts to minimise or deny these atrocities.
America and Korea are still very much aware of the issue of Japan's
wartime sex slaves — the "comfort women" They are still waiting for the
actions demanded by the USA government in 2007: the United States House of Representatives House Resolution 121, which
demands that the Japanese government apologise to former comfort women
and include curriculum about them in Japanese schools, citing the 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children.
Japan has never properly acknowledged its abduction, rape and sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of women during World War II, but Prime Minister Shinzō Abe
has gone further than this. Abe – a hard rightwing conservative and
direct descendent of former suspected war criminal and war-time Cabinet
minister Nobusuke Kishi – has led moves to keep this out of history books, in the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform.
In 2007, Abe provoked fury when he publicly questioned whether the Comfort Women were, in fact, coerced. Japan did make a partial apology in 1993, but Abe has been re-examining the study
that was the basis of the apology. He is continuing his efforts to deny
Japan's wartime government and military established and ran the brothel
system, and that the women were forced into the system against their
All this at the same time as hundreds of newly revealed official documents provide clear evidence of the war crimes.
From 1932 until 1945, up to 200,000 women, from Korea, Japan and the Dutch East Indies, were enslaved by the The Japanese Imperial Army.
These women and girls, some only 12 years old, were abducted – in some
cases, bought from their impoverished parents – and taken to ‘comfort
stations’ throughout the Pacific and kept for months on end as sex
The war crimes of the Japanese Imperial Army occurred in many Asian countries during the 1930s and 1940s, but
predominantly in China. The Japanese slaughtered as many as 30 million
Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians and Burmese, at
least 23 million of them ethnic Chinese.
Confessions released of Japanese war criminals captured by the Chinese sets out a grim picture:
"The crimes include killing, arresting, enslaving and poisoning
the Chinese people, raping Chinese women, manufacturing biological
weapons, releasing poison gas, destroying towns and villages and
expelling peaceful inhabitants."
Since the 1950s, the Japanese Government has made a number of apologies.
Abe has been criticised recently in a report, Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress, for downplaying the seriousness of this history.
The report pointed out that
'... comments and actions on controversial historical issues by
Prime Minister Abe and his Cabinet have raised concern that Tokyo could
upset regional relations in ways that hurt U.S. interests.'
Shinzō Abe recently and very publicly visited the Yasukuni shrine, which honours Japan's dead war soldiers and includes the graves of 14 class A war criminals.
The U.S. State Department was not pleased:
'The United States is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has
taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbours.'
Of course, China, Korea and several Asian neighbouring countries were also unhappy.
As the would be, since Japan's treatment of prisoners of war was utterly barbaric.
The largest and worst treated group was the Chinese. Their soldiers
were killed literally by the thousands — by shooting, buried alive
bayonetting, beheading, medical experimentation and other ways. Chinese
civilians were murdered in even greater numbers.
And, of course, American, Australian, British, Canadian, Dutch, Indian and Filipino POWs were starved, brutalized and used for forced labour.
For decades, U.S. soldiers who were held captive by Imperial Japan during World War 2 have sought official apologies and compensation from the Japanese government for their treatment.
It is, therefore, understandable that Shinzō Abe is not welcomed,
like he was by the Australian Parliament last week, by the U.S.
Congress or the National Assembly of South Korea.
But what of the 20,000 Australian soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1942?
Many were taken from Singapore and Java to various locations in Burma and Thailand.
More than 12,000 slaved on the Burma Railway, in horrendous conditions — close to 3,000 of them to their deaths.
Australian soldiers were forced to move two cubic metres of
earth, regardless of their level of health, size, or physical
capabilities. They were given no tools and were usually without shoes or
clothes, other than underpants, swimming trunks or handmade loin
As well as enduring the dreadful living conditions, poor food,
diseases, tropical ulcers, and the relentless 24 hour work shifts, they
were cruelly treated ....
[They] were hit anywhere and everywhere - in the groin, on ulcers and wounds, broken bones, faces, necks, backs ....
The Japanese guards often punished the sick and injured as a deterrent to falling ill in the first place....
2,646 died of starvation, disease, exhaustion, and brutality.
Many Australians are not happy with Tony Abbott's government's sycophantic attitude towards Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.
Addressing the Parliament on the visit of Abe, Tony Abbott admired the skill, and the "sense of honour" of Japanese submariners.
RSL president Rear Admiral Ken Doolan said that many RSL soldiers would not agree and would state vociferously that some Japanese forces in WW2 did not at all behave with honour.
I am appalled that the Abbott Government is apparently oblivious to
the international reputation of Shinzō Abe, as one who would
conveniently sweep history under the carpet.
His attitude is in contrast to that of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has very publicly recognised German war atrocities:
"We have an everlasting responsibility for the crimes of
national-socialism, for the victims of World War II, and above all, for
Australia's international relations are not well served by the way that Abbott has cosied up to Shinzo Abe.
For a start, we might consider Australia's largest trading partner, China.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb, speaking on Sky News’s Australian Agenda
on July 14, assured viewers that Australia's new special relationship
with Japan is not affecting our relationship with China. This whitewash
was definitely sullied on 9 July by China's official newsagency, which described Abbott's praise of Japanese forces in World War 2 as 'appalling' and 'insensible' and 'under a moral bottom line'.
After signing a Free Trade Agreement with Japan, the address to our Parliament about a strategic defence alliance, and
with Australia gearing up to buy Japanese defence equipment and
technology, we might just wonder not only about the wisdom of aligning
Australia militarily with a newly non-pacifist Japan, but also with a historical revisionist, far rightwing firebrand such as Shinzō Abe.
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