Seventy-eight years ago today, World War II began when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Three days later, it declared war on England and France. Then, two years later, on Dec. 7, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. When the war finally ended both Japan and Germany were called to account for their war crimes. Each took and continues to take a very different path in responding to those brutal events.
During the last weeks of 1937 (and into the first weeks of 1938), Japanese troops butchered almost 300,000 unarmed civilians in conquered Nanjing, China, after raping thousands of them in systematic rape camps. Scholars worldwide confirmed these sordid facts of history. Yet the Japanese government has never formally acknowledged the horrific “Rape of Nanjing” and continues to blur or deny the facts of history with their revisionist schemes.
Every Aug. 15 — official date of Japan’s surrender — open parades of sympathizers dressed in Imperial Japanese Army uniforms form at Yasukuni Shrine where a government-sponsored museum presents a revisionist version of Japanese aggressions in World War II. At this shrine, visited yearly by Japanese Prime Minister Shino Abe, one finds glorification of 14 world-class war criminals.
Right-wing Japanese real-estate magnate Toshio Motoya has only aggravated matters, publishing a book, “The Real History of Japan: Japan Pride,” in which he continues to emphatically deny events leading up to and including the Nanjing atrocities. Motoya makes his books available to all guests at his more than 400 hotels of the APA Group.
Motoya, who vows not to remove these books from hotel rooms even when Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games in 2020, has sparked fierce resistance. Earlier this year a couple hundred expat Chinese protesters marched on Motoya’s hotel chain in Tokyo, only to be met by nationalist counter-protesters waving the Rising Sun imperial flag and carrying banners critical of China.
In sharp contrast, the other primary aggressor of World War II has fully embraced the facts of its sordid history. Those who wear Nazi symbols or show sympathy for Nazi ideas face criminal charges. Only last year an 87-year-old German woman was sentenced to 10 months in jail for denying the horrific Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people.
Members of the German army have been investigated for expressions of sympathy to the Nazi cause and, in the last five years, 18 members of the German military have been dismissed for extreme views. Notably, the German government in the past three decades has spent millions of dollars on energetic public education programs. They fund research and museum exhibits detailing the crimes of Hitler and Nazism.
This summer, while visiting a war memorial in Berlin to the “murdered Jews of Europe,” I read the telling words of British historian Neil McGregor, former head of the British Museum and author of “Germany: Memories of a Nation,” regarding Germany’s commendable grappling with its own history: “I know of no other country in the world that at the heart of its national capital erects monuments to its own shame.”
The APA Group hotels of Japan should be boycotted and the Japanese government should be called to follow the example of Germany and fully confront the unspeakable inhumanities of World War II. And, yes, lessons for we Americans loom as well.