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Seventy Years On: The Abe Statement

A day ahead of the August 15, 2015, seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō issued his statement to mark the milestone date.

The statement spells out the Abe administration’s historical take on Japan’s role in the war and its seven decades as a pacifist nation since then, touching on the vocabulary many viewed as required in any statement released on this occasion—“colonial rule,” “aggression,” and, most importantly, “deep remorse” and “apology”—reiterating that the position expressed by previous administrations “will remain unshakable into the future.”

Previous administrations have also made statements to mark milestone anniversaries. In August 1995, Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi issued a statement 50 years after the end of the war admitting that Japan, “through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.” Ten years later, an August 2005 statement by Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō largely followed in the footsteps of the Murayama statement.

Prime Minister Abe, meanwhile, opened his speech by stressing its broader focus on the past, present, and future courses Japan has and will take: “we must calmly reflect upon the road to war, the path we have taken since it ended, and the era of the 20th century. We must learn from the lessons of history the wisdom for our future.”

In late February, the prime minister commissioned an advisory panel headed by Nishimuro Taizō, chairman of Japan Post, to help him craft his statement. On August 6 this group delivered its final report, which expanded on the “aggression” concept, noting that Japan “caused much harm to various countries, largely in Asia, through a reckless war.”

Abe’s seventieth anniversary statement drew on this report to an extent, seeking in particular to make use of the four key phrases that had appeared in the statements one and two decades earlier: “colonial rule,” “aggression,” “remorse,” and “apology.” Going a step further in the vocabulary department, the Abe statement also touched on 悔悟 (kaigo, “repentance” or “contrition”) to clarify Japan’s historical stance. It remains to be seen, though, how these terms will be evaluated in the less strenuously apologetic context in which they appeared.

Prime Minister Abe stressed Japan’s pacifist history since the war’s end and its peace-oriented diplomatic outlook for the future when he moved on from the historical portion of his speech. “We must never again repeat the devastation of war,” he spoke. “Incident, aggression, war—we shall never again resort to any form of the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” With this, he stressed the country’s intent to engage in forward-looking diplomacy aimed at its “proactive contribution to peace.”

Taking questions from the press after giving his statement, Abe commented on the lack of positive recent developments in Japan’s relations with China and Korea. He expressed his hope that the Chinese side would “accept the statement in the spirit in which it was offered,” looking forward to the chance for a third formal summit meeting with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping.

In the Korean connection, meanwhile, the prime minister touched obliquely on the “comfort women” issue, noting: “We must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured.”

Prime Minister Abe went on in words he no doubt hoped his listeners would take to heart: “Upon the innocent people did our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering. History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone. Each and every one of them had his or her life, dream, and beloved family. When I squarely contemplate this obvious fact, even now, I find myself speechless and my heart is rent with the utmost grief.”

Below we carry the full text of his statement.

  • [2015.08.15]
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