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Japan Tries to Clear the Air : Coalition's deputy leader issues a surprising call for candor on war crimes

August 05, 1993

It may be that Japan at long last is coming to terms with World War II.

It has long whitewashed its wartime atrocities in China and elsewhere in Asia, passing on a disturbing revisionist history to those born after the war. But now comes an extraordinary call from a Japanese official for Tokyo to clearly apologize for World War II.

"We must inform our children of what their forefathers did in the past," said Tsutomu Hata, who is expected to become the next deputy prime minister of the new eight-party coalition that is taking power. Hata, who heads the Renewal Party, made up of rebels from the Liberal Democratic Party, suggested that Japanese should start using the word haisen (defeat in the war) instead of shusen (end of the war) "because that was what it was."

Japan's role in World War II often becomes an issue when the emperor travels abroad. At most, the emperor has conveyed expressions of regret for Japan's behavior during the war. In its 38 years of rule the LDP has consistently resisted recognizing Japan's war responsibility.

In one of its last acts, the outgoing LDP government Wednesday finally apologized to the thousands of women--from Korea, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines and Dutch colonies--who were forced to be sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.

Such a governmental gesture of national conscience goes far toward clearing the air of mistrust of Japan by its Asian neighbors. Germany long ago admitted its war guilt and atrocities, but Tokyo's ongoing reluctance, despite its expanding global economic clout, had spawned suspicions about the nation's intentions. Forty-eight years after the end of World War II is a long delay in setting the record straight--but it is better than never.

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