Japan’s War Guilt Revisited

“It is our obligation as Japan’s most influential newspaper to tell our readers who was responsible for starting the Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War.” So writes Tsuneo Watanabe, Editor-in-Chief of Japan’s (and the world’s) most widely circulated newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun , in the introduction to the book From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Ha rbor: Who Was Responsible .

Watanabe, who is now in his eighties and served in the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII, was bothered by the way unfinished business concerning the war continued to hinder Japan’s progress. As a remedy, he set up a War Responsibility Re-Examination Committee at his newspaper to undertake a 14-month investigation into the causes of Japan’s Pacific War.

Watanabe tells us that the Committee concluded that, “not only high-ranking government leaders, general, and admirals should shoulder the blame.” According to the Committee, “field officers were often more influential than even the Emperor, war ministers, and chiefs-of-staffs in making decisions to go to and escalate the wars, and were responsible for many atrocities.”

It has never been easy for a nation to face up honestly to the bitter fact of having committed war crimes, genocide, unjustified foreign aggression, or having mistreated and killed its own people. Japan is no exception. Although there have been numerous initiatives to investigate its war guilt, especially its occupation of China, there has not yet been an official effort comparable to what the Germans undertook to take collective responsibility for their war crimes.