ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Atomic Holocaust, Memory and the War

Mark Selden THE commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war and the dawn of the nuclear era in the US and Japan makes clear that neither the leaders nor public opinion in these nations have yet to come to terms' with the great moral-political issues posed by the conflict. In both nations, impressive bodies of scholarship have reinterpreted the war and the making of the postwar world. Their assessments of the human costs and crimes of war, the political and moral equations of victim and aggressor, the relationship between the end of the war and the subsequent structuring of global power relations in the nuclear era, and the responsibility for life and death that rests on the highest leaders of both nations, have nevertheless had little discernible influence on official statements and policy. Nor have they gained ascendancy in public opinion. That leaders and the dominant media in both nations prefer to emphasise the heroism of their acts and the suffering and the humanity of their own people under wartime conditions is hardly surprising or unique. Yet this unwillingness to accept responsibility for crimes against humanity committed in the search for victory casts a long shadow over contemporary international relations and the prospects for a just peace. The recent abortive efforts by prime minister Maruyama Tomiichi to gain support in the ruling coalition for a meaningful official apology for Japanese crimes against Asian peoples during the era of colonial rule and aggressive war speaks volumes about the continued refusal of the Japanese nation to come to terms with its past. It is a failure made all the more glaring in contrast with German actions to make amends in word and reparations to the victims of Nazi atrocities This leaves officially unresolved Japanese responsibility for a range of issues including crimes against thousands of military forced prostitutes (so-called Comfort Women) from Korea, Taiwan, China, the Netherlands and other nations, the Rape of Nanking, the conduct of vivisection experiments in perfecting chemical and biological weapons, and the use of such weapons in China, and more generally the slaughter of millions of Asians in the course of Japan's colonial wars in the first half of the 20th century, This official position may be contrasted with the unremitting efforts by numerous citizens, including peace activists and historians, to critically assess the historical record and prevent the recurrence of war and particularly crimes of war.

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