Dealing with War Crimes: On Historical Narratives


The purpose of this research paper is to answer weather Japan should begin to work towards reconciliation with its offended neighbors by apologizing for the war crimes it perpetrated during WWII. Two competing hypotheses are tested, with one arguing that apology would reduce geopolitical tension while the other argues that it would be destabilizing. My research design is multi-methodological where I combine case research with a moderate application of comparative method. Three criteria are herein prerequisites for an apology to be a meaningful approach for Japan; proven responsibility for war crimes, a sense of guilt and the apology being accepted. I find in my research that even though Japan is responsible for war crimes, its domestic and geopolitical situation does not produce a sufficient sense of collective guilt for an apology to be accepted.

KEYWORDS: war crimes, apology, Japan, reconciliation, WWII, guilt, narrative, nationalism


A puzzle for political scientists to unravel is why Japan seems unable to sufficiently apologize for its militaristic past and reconcile with its neighbors. These “history issues” are exemplified (Ryu, 2007, p.705)[1] by Japans position on the “comfort women” (Caprio, 2012; Barkan, 2000, ch.3), content in history textbooks (Barkan, 2000, pp.60-61) and the Yasukuni Shrine controversy (Ryu 2007, p.711; Green, 2003, p.94). Japan is a highly developed, liberal and fully democratic country in a geopolitical region cluttered with undemocratic regimes, and this reluctance to reconcile severely limits the chances of Japan socializing and spreading its democratic cultural and political characteristics to them. The history issue concerns how it remembers WWII, and this is where strong nationalistic forces in Japan claim that it has nothing to apologize for (Caprio, 2012, p.163; Ku, 2008, p.11; Cunningham, 2004); nationalists remember its military efforts as the liberalization of Asia while the regional and international community subscribe to a very different account.

Germany is a highly respected and integrated member of the European community even though it has an imperialistic past during which it wanted to become a regional ruler by force. Its desire for integration is so strong that the symbols, names and ideas connected to Nazism have become taboo throughout Germany and Holocaust denial is prohibited. Something that will become apparent as this paper unfolds is that the case is radically different in east-Asia. Japan is despised and even feared throughout the region since its recollection of the war does not hitherto signal any strong wish to become a part of an east-Asian community. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center (2008) on how Asia-Pacific citizens view their neighbors reported that 69% of Chinese and 51% of South-Koreans have an overall unfavorable view on Japan, while 84% of Japanese have an unfavorable view on China and 40% have an unfavorable view on South-Korea.    

With its longtime supporter U.S. now preoccupied in other geopolitical regions like the middle-east, and its neighbors rising to power, Japan has to reconsider its relation with them and develop a foreign policy of its own (Green, 2003, pp.1-3). Michael Green argues (2003, pp.3-9) that the rise of its neighbors, especially China, and the emergence of an new generation of leaders unburdened by war guilt are some of the factors contributing to a trend with growing realism and frayed idealism “… Japan has less room for sentimentality, idealism, or guilt in its foreign policy in Asia.” (Green, 2003, p.6). Green further finds (2001, p.94-96) that there is a growing apology fatigue in Japan, and any realist would warn that the re-rise of China is bound to result in power struggle if not worse (Lyne, 2004, pp.78-79); so when it comes to apology, it is now or never.

            The research question and hypotheses will be presented forthwith, in order to establish the focus of this paper early on, and is succeeded by my research approach, method and challenges. My reasoning behind the decision of not presenting the theoretical framework first, from which my hypotheses are derived, pertains to the fact that one’s ontological position determines epistemological, methodological and theoretical framework.



The following research question was chosen because apology is far from being one of the hottest and most discussed topics in IR (International Relations), but that is a good thing since it increases the probability of originality in my research. It’s also a result of the research environment on NTNU since its Department of Sociology and Political Science has had a Japan program since 1998 and hence has developed an expertise on it unique to NTNU; this program offers 2 courses for undergraduates and 1 for post-graduates (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 2012).  

  1. RQ) Should Japan begin to work towards reconciliation with its offended neighbors by apologizing for the war crimes it perpetrated during WWII?




The two hypotheses below are competing in the sense that they both cannot simultaneously be true to the same extent, and are formulated as such in order to assure that the primary hypothesis is falsifiable and not a tautology. A further reason for using two hypotheses, instead of one, is connected to the formulation of the research question and the inherent polarization of this topic.

H1) Japan should apologize since acceptance of guilt is a necessary prerequisite for a shared historical narrative, politico-cultural homogenization, between it and its offended neighbors to develop.

H2) Apologizing for its war crimes would be counterproductive since Japanese nationalistic sentiment and historical remembrance is fused into its current politico-cultural identity. 

[1] I use the “Anglia Ruskin Harvard Style v4” reference system throughout this paper (Anglia Ruskin University, 2012). The reversed version of “International Standard ISO 8601” is used when specifying dates: [DD]-[MM]-{YYYY].

Research Approach, Method and Challenges


Often defined as the study of the nature of being (Oxford Reference, 2012e) ontology dissects the concepts of everyday life and seeks to discover their true nature. There are two polar ontological positions; realism (positivism) and relativism (subjectivity). Ontological realists contend that we can conduct scientific study with a high degree of objectivity, while relativists contend that what constitutes science is relative to e.g. culture or personal convictions. My ontological position strikes the middle-ground since my research topic concerns how conceptions of history are remembered and dealt with by opposing states. From the IR schools, I draw upon those who think assessing states intentions is of value in order to reduce uncertainty, i.e. defensive realists, social constructivists and liberalists (Tang 2008, p.453).    

Dealing with the nature of knowledge itself (Oxford Reference, 2012c) epistemology dissects the procedure through which knowledge is attained, and represents our beliefs about how one might discover knowledge about the world. My ontological and epistemological positions must by fiat be interconnected, which means that I subscribe to an epistemological rationalism (universal/permanent reason as source of knowledge) modified by constructivism (non-universal/changing mental constructs constitutes knowledge).




While ontology and epistemology is placed on the purely theoretical level, methodology is the study of the tools and techniques of inquiry within a given field (Oxford Reference, 2012d). I have to select which method(s) within the field of political science that´s most likely to give me a correct answer. I decided upon a multi-methodological research design where I combine case research with a moderate application of comparative method. Case research on apology in the context of Japan´s domestic and geopolitical situation is the primary methodological focus, while a comparative approach is used to show how Japans post-war development, particularly its war crime tribunals, complicated its apologetics compared to Germany.

Three criteria are herein necessary prerequisites for an apology to be meaningful: responsibility, a sense of guilt and the apology being accepted; with guilt being the fulcrum. The decision to operate with such criteria for an apology to be meaningful is due to the fact that there have been many failed apologies from Japan; a firm foundation for an apology is essential for H1 to be credible, and the opposite would make H2 credible.

Following is an outline of how my paper will unfold: I will first present the theoretical framework of apology by clarifying key terms and concepts, positioning apology within the IR (International Relations) grand debate, presenting the two primary theories from which my aforementioned hypotheses are derived and dissecting the politico-cultural context in which the current international moral framework was established (i.e. the Human Rights regime); then follows the testing of my two hypotheses, i.e. the case for and against apology; my paper is wrapped-up by a review of my findings, a final evaluation of which hypothesis is confirmed or given added credibility, and finally questions raised for future research.



Finding good neutral sources: Of utmost importance in scientific studies is neutrality and distance between researcher and the object of research. The historical context in which one lives can become a blindfold, and distance can be especially hard to achieve for the social scientist. Many of the scholars who have written on apology in IR focus on WWII; more specifically why and how past Axis powers should apologize for war crimes, while atrocities perpetrated by Allies are rarely mentioned. Japan is on the one hand expected to apologize for its war crimes, while on the other it is the only country to have suffered decimation from nuclear warheads; hence, Japan both fells like a victim and perpetrator of war crimes.

Words denotation and connotation: While terms like apology, contrition, and restitution have clear denotations in English (i.e. the dictionary meaning of these words), their connotation (i.e. subjective associations an individual attaches to a word; some associate apology with weakness while others with strength) vary widely among authors using these terms.

The Theoretical Framework of Apology

The theoretical framework of apology consists in the first place of the terms and concepts that are used to articulate, describe and discuss the issues within this research program. Clarifying what is meant by terms and concepts herein is useful since scholars on this topic differ in which words they use to express their thoughts, and some apply rarer terms that need clarification to the uninitiated. The theoretical framework further consists of the theories scholars within this program have developed to help us explain, predict, understand, and expand our knowledge of the phenomena pertaining to apology. Apology is however not the hottest topic within IR and this affects both the amount of theories on it and the empirical data supporting them. Even though it is an unstudied topic, there is an increase in scholarly contributions to apology in general and on various specific interstate conflicts in particular.

An examination of the post-war origin of the Human Rights regime was something I found missing in many of the theories and it is dissected and presented as part of the theoretical framework of apology, since it is from it that our idea of war crime derives. Central to this paper is how the grand theories in IR view the value of assessing other states motives and intentions, since Japans unapologetic stance can be used to gauge its future intentions. While various scholars[1] have made an effort at construct theories to understand apology, I have given Elazar Barkan (2000) and Jennifer Lind´s (2010) effort some special attention since they have fundamentally different implications in the case of Japan.  

As aforementioned three criteria are herein prerequisites for an apology to be truly meaningful and be likely to lead to reconciliation; proven responsibility, a sense of guilt and the apology being accepted; with the negation of these validating H2. Japanese responsibility for war crimes is understood in a technical sense, i.e. proving/disproving weather it actually committed those actions it is accused of and which account(s) of them are most accurate; e.g. Japanese nationalists claim most accounts are exaggerated. Responsibility is sufficient for, but does not necessarily, lead to a feeling of guilt since guilt is dependent on the subject recognizing his actions as wrong. The apology being accepted is the final criteria, and is most complex since it depends on both parts of the conflict. Japan is culturally very different from most of its neighbors in being a highly developed democratic country, and might thus feel like it has a different identity than them.    



Apology: Oxford Dictionary of English (Stevenson, ed. 2010 cited in Oxford Reference, 2012a) defines it as “…a regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure.” In this context apology is the act itself of acknowledging a transgression. It is not the case that the state of Japan never has apologized for WWII war crimes, so the problem is that they have been succeeded by so many backlashes that the offended states have not accepted the apologies. My three prerequisites for apology are there to avoid its potential superficial application, and hence I will refer to apology throughout to avoid the conceptual confusion that’s likely to result from applying apology and contrition interchangeably. 

            Contrition: Oxford Dictionary of English (Stevenson, ed. 2010 cited in Oxford Reference, 2012b) defines it as “… the state of feeling remorseful and penitent …”. Contrition is a much deeper than the concept of apology, and is a key concept in Christianity where forgiveness for ones sins require totality of repentance.

            Reconciliation: The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace (Bar-Siman-Tov,  2004 cited in Oxford Reference, 2012d) defines it as follows “Reconciliation has found new conceptual development as the term used for the profound positive change that constitutes a recovery between persons or groups that have suffered grave injuries inflicted by one party upon another, as may occur from deep-rooted conflict.”

            Restitution: The Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law (Barker and Grant, eds. 2009 cited in Oxford Reference, 2012h) defines it as “The fundamental principle governing the duty to make reparation for an internationally wrongful act …”. A topic of debate is whether restitution should be monetary, non-monetary or both. The burden of monetary restitution has shown to have played a very unfortunate role in provoking Germany to initiate WWII.

            Remembrance: Oxford Dictionary of English (Stevenson, ed. 2010 cited in Oxford Reference, 2012g) defines it as “… a thing kept or given as a reminder or in commemoration of someone.” How a state remembers an event shape its behavior and influence other states perception of its intentions. There is however an important distinction between official and unofficial remembrance, and these two types has to be quite united in order for a transformed remembrance to appear genuine (Lind, 2010, p.14).

War crime: The definition by which the Axis powers where adjudged according to was formulated immediately after the war and appears in Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal:

“ … murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.” (Kriegel, ed. 2012 cited in Oxford Reference, 2012i).

It would however be unreasonable to assume that war crimes only are perpetrated by the losing side in a war, and it will be clearer later in this paper that there where rather substantial judicial and ethical issues with the post-WWII war crime tribunals (Barker and Chang, 2001; Eisikovits, N., 2009; Call, 2004). The reader should note that the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima are not recognized as war crimes, and the same goes for a score of Allied actions during the war that fit the description above (Beevor, 2010 and Atkinson, 2007 cited in Wiegrefe, 2010). Demonization of the loosing part and sanctification of the winning part might be a strong inclination for humans with a world view in which justice triumphs injustice (Grinnell, 2008; Grohol, 2008).



On a very general level in ethics we have the difference between consequentialism and absolutism. The end result, consequence, is of central importance to the consequentialist, while the absolutist holds a certain set of principles as most important. Moral frameworks have changed throughout history, and our contemporary human rights regime was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. Hence, the Axis powers where judged according to an egalitarian idea of rights based on the emerging human rights regime (Berger, et al., 2009, pp.346-347). It was called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 1 read “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” (Hunt, 2008, p.17).

            The first drafting of UDHR was constructed by members of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and of the United Nations Secretariat. The commission was thought to represent the global community with representatives from France, India, Iran, Lebanon, Australia, Belgium, United States, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Yugoslavia, Chile, China, Egypt, Panama, Philippines, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Morsink, 1999, p.4). There were 8 abstentions when the Third General Assembly adopted UDHR in December 1948 (Danchin, 2012). All 8 of these countries where under communist rule and abstented because they did not think UDHR went far enough in its condemnation of Nazi political ideology. The Marxist block had further issues with UDHR and that was its individualistic focus, since they thought Human Rights could not be conceived independent of the state. Human Rights trace their origin back to the Enlightenment, and it would then behoove us to look at why fascism is radically different.

            Japan was politically fascistic along with its Axis partners (Willensky, 2005, p.77; Heywood, 2003, ch.7), and this means that its wartime ideology was fundamentally different from liberalism and socialism. Both liberalism and socialism are in the Enlightenment tradition, while fascism is opposed to Enlightenment values “… the characteristic fascist emphasis upon action not ideas, on the soul not the intellect, was itself a product of an important intellectual and philosophical shift, namely a backlash against the rationalist ideas of the Enlightenment.” (Heywood, 2008, p.174). Liberalism favored the upper class capitalists, socialism the lower working class, while fascism is middle class extremism (Lipset, 1983 cited in Heywood, 2008, p.173). Further differences are fascist elitism and hierarchical division of human ethnic groups and members within a given society. Germany is more extreme when it comes to the eugenic expression of this, but Japanese had strongly held ideas of being racial superior to its neighbors. 



Assessing states intentions is important for both liberalists and constructivists, while most flavors of realism are more focused on capabilities. Interacting states are always confronted with the choice between competitive or cooperative strategies, and the final decision is dependent on their assessment of opposing states (Berger, et al., 2009, p.339).

An unapologetic state like Japan sends out a message to the international community in general, but a more personal one to its past victims. Offensive realists argue that one should focus on other states powers and not their intentions, while defensive realists argue that intelligence about other states intentions is critical in strategic decision making. John J. Mearsheimer is a leading proponent of offensive realism while Kenneth Waltz is the main man behind defensive realism; but they are both within the neorealist tradition created by Waltz in which structural limitations over agents’ strategies and motivations are central. Offensive realists are critical of basing strategies on an analysis of states intentions since the price is too high if its intentions change; e.g. from security to power seeking application of military capabilities (Mearsheimer, 2001 cited in Berger, et al., 2009, p.339).

An assessment of other states intentions does not replace the evaluation of their power and military capabilities, but it’s arguably an important source of information in threat evaluation. States intentions can be read out of how they choose to remember and relate to the past, and this is where apology, contrition and remembrance becomes important concepts in IR. 



These theories fall into two broad camps; those who focus on the constructive nature of apologies and those who focus more on their potentially destructive nature; the former represented by Barkan and the latter by Lind in this paper. A key differentiating factor between these two is to what extent the effect(s) of nationalism and/or conservatism is taken into account, since the strength of nationalism determines the likelihood of apology and acceptance thereof. The strength of nationalism affects the success of apology both ways; e.g. an apologetic Japan will face issues with a nationalistic South-Korea. Common to both theories is the idea that how history is remembered effect interaction between states, but their findings differs on what reduces conflict.


3.4.1 Toward a Theory of Restitution: Elazar Barkan and the neo-enlightenment synthesis

Elazar Barkan is the founding Director of the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) in The Hague, and specializes on Human Rights, historical crimes/ injustices and the contemporary role of history. He presents his neo-enlightenment synthesis in The Guilt of Nations: Restituting and Negotiating Historical Injustices (2000). The construction of shared historical narratives is important to his theory, and this comes about by bringing scholars from the conflicting states together and using historical dialogue as a tool of political reconciliation. He thinks that such dialogue can establish international standards of morality and cooperation (Barkan, 2000, p.321). Barkan thinks apology is growing in popularity both nationally and internationally, and that its growing legitimacy is not retarded by criticism and cynicism; he further thinks apology will overcome nationalism (Barkan, 2000, p.323). Restitution in Barkan´s understanding does not have to be monetary, but can be accomplished through apologies and he uses the Korean wartime rape victim’s refusal to accept monetary compensation without an apology as an example of its importance.

Barkan´s theory is in the Enlightenment tradition and he traces its lineage from its humble beginning in the eighteenth-century up until modern times, and uses the Enlightenment principles of liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness as a conceptual framework for justice. Liberalism is central in Barkan´s interpretation of Enlightenment values, which is an important caveat since Marxism has presented collectivistic variants of these values where the individual is subordinate to the collective. His neo-enlightenment synthesis is a reaction to the notion that classical Enlightenment values essentially have been western values; the problem of universality. By considering local social particularities and cultural identities within the liberal framework of individual rights, he seeks to bridge individual and group rights (Barkan, 2000, p.312); his contribution is a kind of Hegelian synthesis of individualism (thesis) and collectivism (anti-thesis). This is an important contribution since there are four types of group rights that conflict with individual rights; collective ownership (e.g. public goods), group limits on individual creativity (e.g. hate speech), enforcement of group codes (e.g. circumcision) and illegalization of “offensive” traditions (e.g. ritual animal sacrifice) (Barkan, 2000, pp.312-314).

While Barkan thoroughly argues for Japanese responsibility for war crimes (2000, ch.3), it is also his conception of guilt that is interesting in relation to the aforementioned second criteria for apology. His conception of guilt is a social (liberal-humanist) kind of guilt, and this sense of guilt is evoked by the recognition of oneself, society or ones ancestors having violated or limited the individual rights of others (Barkan, 2000, p.316). Recognition of historical injustices is both an individual and group right. Restitution can however be misused as a political tool since the victim can use victimization to limit others free-speech and the perpetrator can use restitution as an easy tool to rid himself of guilt. Barkan thinks that restitution should be sponsored as a standard method for solving international conflicts, and as such is not a classic theory of justice (Barkan, 2000, p.346).

The greatest challenge for Barkan is to answer the begging question; when should restitution be applied? Should Japan use his method to construct a shared historical narrative with its offended neighbors through a sincere apology? What a society considers moral and immoral determines whether it will feel guilt for violating the individual rights of others, and moral conceptions change. SS soldiers, Japanese Emperor Hirohito and the personnel at KGB had in common the strong conviction that they were doing more good than evil. Neither Hitler nor Stalin thought of themselves as evil tyrants. Barkan admits that restitution is only possible during times when there is enough peace for reason to be manifest, and a concern for moral justice is most alluring in affluent places “… success results when the moral benefit is greater than the social and economic cost.” (Barkan, 2000, p.348). Restitution theory is a mechanism of international justice, and its core assumptions is that though no global consensus on morality exists, there nevertheless are a vague set of global principles based on transcultural moral common denominators (Barkan, 2000, p.319).


3.4.2 Jennifer Lind´s Theory of Remembrance and Threat Perception

Jennifer Lind is professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College, and her book Sorry States: Apologies in International Politics (2010) examines how international reconciliation is effected by war memory. She tests her theory in a comparative

study of Franco-German and Japanese-South Korean relations after WWII (Berger, et al., 2009, p.337); though its primarily the latter part that`s of interest to my paper since my application of comparative method is secondary to my case research on Japan and apology.

Her work is significantly different from Barkan because she thinks apology should be used with great caution and does not subscribe to idea that apology is growing in popularity. An understudied issue she highlights is how apology can worsen the situation if the apologizing country is not significantly unified in their evaluation of the issue. Japan is one of the examples of countries in which attempts at apology have led to nationalist backlash, and that makes any official apology seem less genuine (Lind, 2010, p.4). Lind does think states should acknowledge past atrocities, but she finds that frequent apologies can generate domestic issues and reduce the likelihood that the apology will be accepted.

            She identifies three mechanisms through which remembrance effects how opposing states perceive a state`s intentions. Mechanism 1: remembrance is a “costly signal” since it constrains the behavioral patterns open to the state (Lind, 2010, p.11). A state remembering its past military aggression as cruel and unkind will be very unlikely to see a sudden shift in public opinion in favor of military aggression, while a state remembering its past militarism as appropriate is more likely to act militarily in the future. Mechanism 2: how states perceive each other’s historical/regional identity shape interactions between states and this is probably shaped by remembrance (Lind, 2010, p.12). France does not fear Germany since Germany no longer identifies itself with the idea of expansionism legitimized by racial superiority, though Japan is feared in east-Asia since its identity has not changed enough (Berger, et al., 2009, p.338). Mechanism 3: observers in other states can be emotionally and cognitively affected by how a given state remembers the past (Lind, 2010, p.13). South-Korea is e.g. negatively affected, hurt or infuriated, by Japan not sufficiently apologizing for forcing Korean women into sexual slavery during WWII. It’s especially unapologetic remembrance that has this powerful effect on how the intentions of the unapologetic state are perceived. This third mechanism hence does not work both ways, i.e. both positively and negatively, feelings of goodwill are not expected to be as intense as the negative ones.   

[1] Jane W. Yamazaki, N. Tavuchis, Steven T. Benfell, Alexander Karn, Aaron Lazare, Kiyoteru Tsutsui, Roy L. Brooks, Jennifer M. Lind, Elazar Barkan and Alexis Dudden.

Testing the Case for Apology (H1)

The supposition of H1 is that Japan should apologize since acceptance of guilt is a necessary prerequisite for a shared historical narrative, politico-cultural homogenization, between it and its offended neighbors to develop; a hypothesis derived from Barkan´s neo-enlightenment synthesis. All three criteria for apology are necessary for H1 to be viable as a foreign policy alternative for Japan, though guilt is the fulcrum, and the strengths of them determine the overall strength of H1 vis-à-vis H2; Japanese responsibility, sense of guilt and that its apology will be accepted. It would be futile to try to develop a shared historical narrative with its neighbors unless the apology on the table from Japan is genuine.

Empirical data either directly implicating Japan as the catalyst of the wartime turmoil in the region or indicating any effort at obscuring evidence that might implicate it as such can be considered to strengthen the case that it is responsible, though a sense of guilt does not logically follow. Evidence of receptivity for Japanese apology strengthens H1, though that criterion is undermined by the amount of empirical data supporting Lind´s findings on nationalist backlash.



Japan had victoriously ended the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905), proven its strength against the biggest European country, and began to set its sights on empire building in Asia. The invasion of China had begun in 1931 by attacking Manchuria, installing a puppet government, and then spreading to Shanghai by 1932. China was destabilized by revolutionary movements, communists versus nationalists, and was weak. Japans future agenda was formulated in its plan for a gigantic Asian bloc called “The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere”. Expulsion of white imperialism in the region was part of this 1936 Pan-Asian plan by Ishiwara Kanji for an Asia under Japanese leadership. Japan Emperor Hirohito and other officials justified military aggression with the idea that they were liberating Asia. The arch enemy Japan faced in China was the communists, but the Nationalist Army joined hands with the communists in 1937 since a full-fledged war had begun. Tension between Chinese and Japanese forces exploded on 27th of July 1937 when a misunderstanding over the whereabouts of a missing Japanese soldier in Luguoqiao finally brought Sino-Japanese relations to the boiling point and an 8 year war ensued. Chinas capital, Nanjing, was under Japanese control by the end of 1937 and we will see later on that Japanese violence in Nanjing was especially brutal. Japans Empire had spread to Indochina and Southeast-Asia by late 1930s.(Zhao, 1998, pp.63-72)

It should not come as a surprise that Japan did not think of itself as a cold-blooded imperialist, but rather that it was on a mission to civilize east-Asia and protect it from the Europeans. An important difference between European and Japanese imperialism is that Japan had a much more far-sighted strategy. This manifested itself in its effort at building a robust bureaucracy and infrastructure in the occupied territories, and they wanted to wipe out cultural and national differences in order to create a united Asian race.(Zhao, 1998, p.74)

Japanese confidence in victory was motivated by the Axis progress in Europe. France and Germany was under Nazi control by 1940, and without a clear stance from U.S. and the other great powers, Axis victory in Europe seemed imminent to the Japanese. Weakly protected European colonies in the south tempted Japan to move into northern Indochina in 1940, and the signing of a Soviet-Japan Neutrality Treaty in 1941 convinced Japan that its southward march would be a success. Taking control over raw materials in British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies would gain the Axis powers allot of leverage. Theodor Roosevelt was troubled by this development since the chances of a future Europe and Asia under Axis control was becoming likely, and Pan-Asianism was viewed as the antithesis of U.S. interests so sanctions had to be put in place to prevent this development; failed U.S. tactics will however later be argued in disfavour of apology since it seems to have incentivized Japanese militarism.(Zhao, 1998, pp.75-77)

The historical data in this section strengthens the first prerequisite for apology, i.e. responsibility for initiating turmoil, but its responsibility for war crimes is still unproven. A shared historical narrative is unlikely to develop as long as Japan subscribe to the idea of being the liberators instead of violators of its neighbors. Japan and South-Korea did however begin to normalize their relation in 1965 when they signed a reconciliation treaty (Dyke, 2006).



The declassification of documents that could show the extent of Japans war crimes is rather recent, and U.S. government has been accused of withholding these and other documents that could prove Japanese responsibility beyond doubt in order to serve its own geopolitical interests (Bradsher, et al., 2006, pp.3-4). IWG[1]´s mission is to declassify and make all Nazi and Japanese war crime records publically available, and IWG´s document Researching Japanese War Crimes (2006) is the basis for the following section. The Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act (P. L. 106-567) was passed on 6 December 2000, and the Act had to be extended three times to enable the agencies involved to build up the records.(The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 2012; Bradsher, et al., 2006)  

It’s important to differentiate between systematic war crimes and those crimes perpetrated by some “bad apples”. The following war crimes where known, ignored or accepted by top wartime officials; they include systematized sexual slavery, forced labor[2], torture of POWs (Bradsher, et al. 2006, pp.62-65), cannibalism (Bradsher, et al. 2006, p.39), looting (Bradsher, et al. 2006, pp.26-27) mass murdering of civilians and scientific experimentation on POWs (Prisoners of War). My primary focus will be on sexual slavery due to the enormous amount of data, and since it historically is the most sensitive topic.    


4.1.1 The Rape and Massacre of Nanjing

Etched into Chinese collective memory is the military tactics of the Japanese army in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, winter 1937-1938. 200,000 POWs and civilians were killed and 20,000 raped within the span of six weeks; Japanese nationalist denial of this is akin to Holocaust denial. Unsurprisingly, studies diverge on the exact estimates[3] of the number of rapes and casualties, and what exactly happened during these weeks of the Pacific War. Some, like Japanese journalist Honda Katsuichi, deliver a very graphic account of what happened, while e.g. Susuki Akira state that those kind of accounts are exaggerated.(Yang, 1999, pp.844-846; Zhao, 1998, p.73)


4.1.2 Sexual slavery

A system of comfort stations (ianjo) where established in order to sexually gratify the Japanese soldiers (Trutsui, 2009, p.1401). The women seem to have been drafted from occupied territories in east-Asia by a mix of deception and coercion. Most of these comfort women where Koreans, and they were singled out because the Japanese thought they were especially inferior (Barkan, 2000, p.48). Nationalists contend that these women were not ordinary women kidnapped by the Japanese and forced into sex slavery, but rather that they originally where prostitutes sent to service the army. Barkan´s (2000, ch.3) work on how the Japanese army justified the establishment of such stations shows that they though these stations would protect the local women in the occupied regions, i.e. that soldiers where de-incentivized from raping them since they had comfort stations readily available; this argument is used by nationalists.  

            Research done by anthropologist Sarah Soh (2008 cited in Caprio, 2012, pp.163-165) proposes that these comfort women must be viewed from a much more complex perspective than the usual bi-polar (rape/prostitute) paradigm. She analyses these comfort stations and find that they can be categorized into three primary types. The most extreme type was the “criminal ianjo” in which women were raped and forced to have sex with scores of soldiers. “Paramilitary ianjo” are the middleground between two extremes, and characterized by some women providing sexual services while other women offered nursing and culinary services. “Concessionary ianjo” fit more closely to how nationalists remember the war, since most women in these centers where originally prostitutes who only had Japanese soldiers as costumers during the war.  

            Barkan´s (ch. 3, 2000) account of the comfort stations leans towards Soh´s “criminal ianjo” category, which is expected since he does not sufficiently take nationalist arguments into account due to his teleological internationalism. While it`s appropriate to describe the evils of war, focusing on the most heartbreaking examples does not make diplomacy easier when the scenario might be more nuanced. Lind´s account (2010, pp.39-62) of the historical development of Japanese apology shows that nationalist backlashes are especially provoked when the accounts of the war crimes are particularly graphic. It’s important to note that nationalism complicates apology both ways; i.e. that Chinese and South-Korean nationalism results in demands for deeper Japanese apology than a more tempered national pride would. An apology from Japan might result in demands for monetary restitution and that would be expensive, and this incentivizes Japan to wait it out so that there are fewer survivors left. 

            Working out how to deal with the issue of sexual slavery in warfare has only recently come to international attention. 1990 was the year when UN, other NGO´s, and the major east-Asian countries began to figure out how to deal with this issue: 50 years after the fact. A number of former comfort women came out publicly with their stories in 1990, succeeding feminist activism during Seoul Olympic Games 1988, and the comfort women thus made the transition from being a group, or category, to being viewed as individuals. Little in the way of restitution has come from Japan after this initiative.(Barkan, 2000, pp.47-54)


4.1.3 Symptoms of Japanese guilt

South-Korean Kim Hak Sun filed a lawsuit on 6 December 1991 against the Japanese government and it was followed by a succession of other plaintiffs, and the Alliance of South Korean Woman Organizations chose her as Woman of the Year in 1992. The problem is that few of the comfort station survivors are still alive (Barkan, 2000, p.54-55), and further delay would continue that trend. Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawaa (1991-1993) retracted previous denials of responsibility in January 1992 after an outrage surrounded his state visit to South-Korea (Barkan, 2000, p.55). His retraction was followed by declassification of documents showing the Japanese governments involvement in the comfort stations; a limited apology followed this admission of guilt. A moderate relief fund to survivors of comfort stations was proposed by the Japanese government in 1993, but it was speedily rejected by activists as an attempt at whitewash since it did not contain any obligation of restitution in the form of individual compensation, and since the sum of money was to low (Barkan, 2000, pp.56-57). Complicating the suggested comfort women relief fund was POW and various other organizations also demanding monetary compensation for past sufferings; suggesting that the comfort women only where the tip of an iceberg (Barkan, 2000, p.57). 

Change seemed however imminent in 1995 when an informal acceptance of responsibility for the comfort stations manifested itself in the Japanese government establishing a politically supported, but privately run, fund called the Asian Women´s Fund (AWF) (Barkan, 2000, pp. 57-58); being a fund it faced opposition similar to what we saw in 1993. Several hundred comfort station survivors where identified by 1996 and estimated cost for AWF is only a few million dollars (Barkan, 2000, p.58). The Obuchi-Kim summit in Japan October 1998 did result in a formal apology accepted by 8th President of South-Korean Kim Dae-jung (Green, 2003, pp.135-137), but the visit of Chinese General Secretary Jiang Zemin (Jiang-Obuchi summit) two months later only lead to increased mistrust between Beijing and Tokyo, partly due to Zemin´s reluctance (Green, 2003, pp.96-97). Japans Emperor Akhito and Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi made various diplomatic missions expressing guilt for Japans past in the 90s (Green, 2003, p.95).  



This is an argument that apology is in Japans material self-interest. Japans current diplomatic and military role in the region does not at all match its very prominent and leading economic presence. Japans dependency on trade with its east-Asian neighbors, especially China, has grown since the 1990s (Web Japan, 2011, p.1) and no harm can come out of improving relations with one´s trading partners; Trade with China increased after she joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. Most of Japans neighbors shudder at the thought of Japan as a regional leader due to its stance on history. Gilbert Rozman, specialist on Northeast Asian societies, says that “In particular, Japan has failed to bolster its claims to leadership by 1) setting a high moral tone in its treatment of history; 2) forming networks and exchanges where moral issues are addressed; and 3) developing a vision of regionalism capable of winning support from others.” (Rozamn, 2004, p.358 cited in Kang, 2010, p.171).

David Kang (2010, pp.169-171) argues that the history issue electrifies territorial and diplomatic disputes in the region since a rising China and ever advancing South-Korea will not accept unapologetic and provocative behavior from Japan anymore. The recent Diaoyu / Senkaku Islands dispute is really more reflective of nationalistic tension between Japan and its neighbors, than the actual value of these rocks. While the Eastern Chinese Sea teems with fish and gas, it was especially the 100 billion barrels of oil that were discovered around the Senkaku islands in 1969 that attracted widespread attention: value of the oil alone is estimated to be 6 million USD (Lohmeyer, 2008, p.11). NTNU´s Japan-expert Paul Midford told Morgenbladet however that the really valuable Islands where in the Northern Chinese Sea, and that the Islands in the south are small and meaningless (Vaaland, 2012). The origin of this territorial dispute follows Japanese businessman Kunioki Kurihara, who privately owned them, selling these Islands to Tokyo government for 27,000 USD. Midford told Morgenbladet that the Japanese government purchased these Islands to reduce the territorial dispute over them (Vaaland, 2012), though the result has been different.

There is skepticism to Japan becoming more involved in geopolitical issues, and these concerns are connected to its unresolved history issue. Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore from 1959-1990, Lee Kuan Yew, likened Japans past militarism to alcoholism. In reaction to Japan sending peacekeeping troops to Cambodia in early 1990s, keep in mind that Japan occupied Cambodia from 1941-1945, Lee said “To let an armed Japan participate [in peacekeeping operations] is like giving a chocolate filled with whiskey to an alcoholic.” (Green, 2003, cited in Kang, 2010, p.173). H1 will be very attractive for Japan if it could help it gain more regional proves and thus compensate for the pride a sincere apology would cost.

[1] The Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group.

[2] It was during Japanese expansionism in the 1930s that e.g. 750,000 Koreans were forced into slave labour (Lind 2010, p.28).

[3] The post-war Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal estimated 300,000 casualties.

Testing the Case Against Apology (H2)

H2 is a tentative supposition that an apology would be counterproductive since Japanese nationalistic sentiment and historical remembrance is fused into its current politico-cultural identity, a hypothesis derived from Lind´s theory. All criteria that were used to measure the strength of H1 return here, and their absence would strengthen H2 in this case; (lack of) Japanese responsibility, (lack of) a sense of guilt and the apology (not) being accepted. Data indicating that Japan was not the only culprit of the types of war crimes it where indicted for does not reduce its own responsibility, but will make its reduced sense of guilt understandable if, and only if, those other states are not pressured to apologize. Any data about the offended countries indicating undue reluctance to accept apologies from Japan, e.g. in the form of unrealistic demands, will strengthen H2.



Scientific reductionism incentivizes us to specify certain points in the causal chain of events from which we identify a beginning and an end, this enables us to avoid an infinite regress but might make us caricature the actual causal chain. Wars do not appear like lighting from a blue heaven, they are caused by prior events, and the crucial question is whether the military actions by the given state are legitimate reactions or not. An absolutist position would be that war never is a legitimate reaction, but such idealism has only been realized between democratic states (The Democratic Peace Theory). What constitutes an act of war is also hard to define since it is dependent on how it’s perceived by others. Crippling economic sanctions can be so hard on a state that the thought of war transitions into action. Who is to blame then, when we have this problem of causation? 


5.1.1 Japan´s unapologetic stance on Pearl Harbor but good U.S.-Japan relations

Japan has never apologized to U.S. for the attack on Pearl Harbor, though U.S. and Japan has had a very intimate post-war relationship (Berger, et al., 2009, p.339). The attack on Pearl Harbor was however unwittingly incentivized by U.S. embargo on export of raw materials to Japan due to Japans attacks on China. Japan initiated the attack with the purpose of disabling the U.S. fleet and give it enough time to conquer the Dutch East Indies, and ultimately force U.S. to negotiate. 90% of Japanese oil was imported, so it would not even last a year without it, and with nothing to lose it went to war against U.S. (Zhao, 1998, p.77).

Jeffrey Record is a well-known defense policy critic who offers a fresh look at Japans reasoning for going to war in his monograph (2009) for The Strategic Studies Institute (SSI). Japan had few available alternatives by fall 1941; surrender of Tokyo’s empire on the Asian mainland or national economic suffocation. He identifies both U.S. and Japanese miscalculations as major contributors to the war “… most of them mired in mutual cultural ignorance and racial arrogance.” (Lovelace, 2009 cited in Record, 2009, p.vii). National security decisionmakers has to take into account that e.g. strategies such as economic sanctions can be perceived as an act of war against another state. It’s well known that Germany was steeped in depth due to the economic sanctions following WWI, and the rise of Hitler should be viewed with that perspective as well. All this illuminate the problem of causation and shows that the entire idea of apology in IR might be steeped with problems if responsibility is more spread out than the current historical narrative delineates, and that only certain states, those who lost the war, are expected to feel a sense of guilt and apologize. 



This should be viewed in connection with the problem of causation, since the argument here is that there is data suggesting that the causal chain can be reconstructed inappropriately to suit the most powerful state(s). Hence, this argument combines constructivists focus on the inter-subjectivity of systemic interaction (Wendt, 1992) with realist realpolitik.

All the big wars of the 20th and smaller ones of the 21th century has been catalytic in creating a new interdisciplinary research program, called transitional justice, in which the transition from war to civilized society is studied (Call, 2004; Eisikovits, 2009; Barker and Chang, 2001). War crime tribunals popped up after WWII in order to convict, judge and punish war criminals, but why where virtually no-one from the Allied forces convicted as war criminals[2]? There are two types of criticism of war crime tribunals; technical concerns (e.g. destroyed evidence and lack of resources) and substantial concerns (e.g. Victor´s Justice, Selectivity and Retroactivity) (Eisikovits, 2009).


5.2.1 Victor´s Justice

The argument is that war crime tribunals simply are a charade in which the winners of the war punish the losers, and hence that rule of law is absent (Eisikovits, 2009; Barker and Chang 2001, p.75): head of Luftwaffe Hermann Göring said while in prison that “… the victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused.” (Bass 2002, p.8 cited in Eisikovits, 2009). Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara stated in Errol Morris’ documentary The Fog of War (2003) that wartime General Curtis LeMay told him, and McNamara agree, that if the Allied[3] powers had lost the war then they would have been prosecuted as war crime criminals for e.g. the firebombing and nuclear attack on Japan (ScenesMustafaFavs, 2010, 3:00). When General Omar Bradley told General George S. Patton about the massacre of unarmed German POWs in Biscari, Patton responded “… tell the Officer to certify that the dead men were snipers or had attempted to escape or something, as it would make a stink in the press and also would make the civilians mad. Anyhow, they are dead, so nothing can be done about it.” (Atkinson, 2007, p.119). Victors Justice negatively affects the second and third prerequisite for apology in the case of Japan, but positively affects the first prerequisite for apology in other cases; e.g. former Allied forces apologizing for the war crimes documented by Beevor (2010), Atkinson (2007) and those above mentioned by McNamara.


5.2.2 Selectivity

It’s here argued that war crime tribunals prefer to prosecute lower level officials and military personnel and fail to indict those of higher rank (Barker and Chang, 2001, pp.76-77; Minow 1998, pp.40-41 cited in Eisikovits, 2009). This is especially true of the Tokyo War Crime Tribunals since Emperor Hirohito was not tried (The United States Army, 2010), nor where a score of top officials and bureaucrats. Hirohito was allowed to go unpunished since it was deemed fortuitous for U.S. occupation to be able to legitimize its rule by using Hirohito as a bridge between them and the Japanese people. Not judging one of the primary catalyst of Japanese aggression makes the Tokyo Trial differ allot from the Nuremberg Trials in Germany during which the most culpable individuals were judged (Barker and Chang, 2001, p.75). The European equivalent of this would be Adolf Hitler avoiding prosecution and continuing as Head of State in a defeated and occupied post-war Germany, a scenario that is almost unthinkable; notwithstanding Hitler´s suicide.

The primary focus of the Tokyo Trial where the war crimes conducted during the Pacific War, sex slavery and forced labor where ignored, and Washington even struck a deal with the leaders of Unit 731 which stipulated that they would avoid prosecution in exchange for their scientific findings (Bradsher, et al. 2006, p.6; Lind, 2010, p.31); this gives H2 allot of added credibility. Unit 731 was a research facility set up in China in which POWs were subjected to medical experiments (Lind, 2010, p.28), though U.S. government has not declassified all of the documents they got from the deal (Bradsher et al., 2006, p.17). Unit 731 was under the command and direction of Lt. Gen. Ishii Shirō, and the fact that he also struck the Washington deal is quite shocking since he is the Japanese equivalent of Josef Mengele.


5.2.3 Retroactivity

It’s a fundamental notion in law that you should not judge someone for doing something that was not prohibited when the criminal act was committed: Nullum Crimen, Nulla Poena Sine Lege (no crime, no punishment without a legal prohibition) (Eisikovits, 2009). While it is true that there did not exist binding international laws during WWII, there where norms on what was considered fair and not. The concept of natural law also has a long tradition in the west, and natural law arguments and positivism has been used to counter the retroactivity argument before the establishment of the human rights regime.



The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki complicated Japans memory of history since it made it feel like a victim rather than a perpetrator. In order to bring about the Surrender of Japan, two nuclear warheads called Little Boy (6th of August) and Fat Man (9th of August), where dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. Totaling 199,000 casualties (AJ Software & Multimedia, 2011) this event is in a league of its own, and stands as the most terrifying reminder of the destructive potential of modern science.

American occupation policy changed however dramatically at the beginning of the cold war, since a pacifistic Japan was not a very deterring anti-Soviet ally. Rearming Japan required competent military, industrial and political leaders with experience in combat situations. Washington did however face a very ironic problem with Article 9 which said the following in the first paragraph “… the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” and the second paragraph elaborated that  “… land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” (The Law Library of Congress, 2006).

Washington decided that many purged wartime government officials should be de-purged and reinstated (Lind, 2010, p.31). The 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, from which Beijing´s participation was blocked by U.S., had made it clear that wartime reparations should not damage Japans economic recovery, and this further incentivized Japan to avoid the issue. Anti-communistic trends in U.S. domestic and foreign relations continued until the 1989 end of the cold war; U.S. favored conservative domination in Japan throughout this time. LDP (The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan) conservatives and occupation authorities even joined hands in purging the bureaucracy and industry of leftist influences (Lind, 2010, p.32), and there has since never been strong leftist alternatives in Japan (Reed, Scheiner and Thies, 2012); LDP´s current biggest rival DPJ subscribes to Democratic Centrism. Three LDP postwar prime ministers[4] suspected of war crimes where never indicted, and convicted Class A war criminal Shigemitsu Mamoru regained the foreign minister portfolio in 1954 (Bradsher, et al., 2006, p.6). Japan was staunchly anti-communist, before, during and after the war.

            It follows from the few examples mentioned above that U.S. has played a role in incentivizing Japan not to apologize. Japanese pride alone does not explain why apology has been so long delayed, but that should however not be used as an excuse for Japans unapologetic attitude. The data in this section gives H2 much added credibility.



The conservative party LDP was the result of the merger of The Democratic Party and The Liberal Party and dominated Japanese politics for 54 years (1955-2009) (Krauss and Pekkanen, 2010). Economic nationalism dominated the liberal branch within LDP, while political nationalism dominated the democratic branch. LDP is hence politically to the right of the political spectrum with a focus on striking a balance between urban big business and rural protectionism (Pempel, 2010, p.232). José Antonio Crespo (1995) finds that Japans wartime bureaucracy was largely exempted from the purge and that LDP recruited such bureaucrats into the cabinet. Research on LDP´s sponsors (Cunningham, 2004, p.567) has found that its financial dependence on nationalistic and religious groups de-incentivizes it from taking more responsibility for war crimes. Nationalistic conservatism has recently seen a rise under LDP Prime Minister Shinzō Abe (2006-2007) who advocated revisionism and conservative nationalism in Japanese politics and that history textbooks should form national consciousness (Ryu, 2007, p.726). All data in this section undermines H1 and strengthen H2.


5.4.1 Worship at Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine is a Shinto shrine built to commemorate those who have died in battle. The ghost spirit of the 2,5 million victims of battle related deaths since 1850 are here honored and worshiped; a ritual especially common among LDP cabinet members. The problem is that some of those “victims” entombed in the shrine where convicted as war criminals during the Tokyo Trials. Attached to this shrine is a museum in which Japans occupation of its neighbors are characterized as defensive tactics.(Barkan, 2000, pp.62-63). LDP Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro (2001-2006) worshiped at this shrine in 2003 (Ryu, 2007, p.711; Lind, 2010, p.26), and this led to diplomatic tensions with neighboring China and South Korea. While Japans relation with South-Korea has seen some improvement, Japans attempts at apologizing to China has almost made everything worse (Green, 2003, p.95); remember 84% in Japan dislike China, and 69% in China dislike Japan (Pew Research Center, 2008).


5.4.2 What Japan teaches its children about its past

The nature of remembrance in public education is a very strong way to communicate future intentions to the international community. Conservative Republican General Douglas MacArthur, who directed the occupation of Japan (1945–50),wanted the Ministry of Education only to approve books clearly portraying Japan´s aggression, but his reform efforts have been criticized since it shaped a narrative of a people duped by the Emperor rather than any clear collective guilt (Lind, 2010, pp.29-30); weakening H1. Conservative powers where very strong in Japan in large part because the postwar bureaucracy was not purged, and the very strong ties between the bureaucracy and Japans long leading political party LDP meant an ever steady supply of nationalistic opposition (Crespo, 1995). Education Minister Ota Kozo and his successor Maedo Tamon lamented that Japan lost WWII because it had not been nationalistic enough (Lind, 2010, p.30).  

Japan´s Ministry of Education had to retract when it in 1982 characterized the former occupation of its neighbors as an “advance”. Depictions of its less peace-loving past has not made much headway into textbooks, and right-winged affiliates fought against the stories of the comfort women appearing in junior high textbooks (Barkan, 2000, pp.60-61). So, Japan´s children are not thought much about its less peace-loving past during their years in school. If the teachers take their class to the museums they will not be shown the atrocities of war, like German children visiting a Holocaust museum or and old concentration camp, and hence the youth have little knowledge of Japan as a past regional aggressor.      

            A positive change was seen when relations between Japan and South-Korea improved in the late 1990s and they hosted the World Cup together in 2002, though it appeared that fear of North Korea was the actual motivation behind their closer partnership rather than the spirit of reconciliation (Lind, 2010, p.26). Further problems where however to originate from Japan´s Ministry of Education in 2003 when another textbook was approved which Koreans felt was another attempt at historical whitewash, and Chinese people where infuriated when something similar happened in 2005 (Lind, 2010, p.160). Ryutaro Hashimoto (LDP), in office from 1996-1998 is one of the LDP politicians who has, sort of, apologized for the; “… grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women.” (Barkan, 2000, p.61).

[1] There were also two other separate and smaller trials connected to victims of Japanese war crimes; the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials held by the Soviet Union between 25 – 31 December in 1949 and the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal 1946-1948.

[2] For more on Allied war crimes in Normandy see Antony Beevor´s D-Day: The Battle for Normandy (2010) and for more on such crimes in Sicily and Italy see Rick Atkinson´s The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1934-1944 (2007).

[3] See also RepresentativePress (2011; 2012) for Noam Chomsky´s take on this.

[4] Hatoyama Ichirō (1954–1956), Kishi Nobusuke (1957) and Ikeda Hayato (1960–1964).


The development of Japans post-war historical narrative was distorted by Japan becoming embroiled as a regional bastion of anti-communism with the concomitant de-purging and dominance of conservative nationalism. A rise of a strong communistic China to regional dominance will probably neither temper Chinese nor Japanese nationalism. H2 is hence likely to remain strong unless a China under Xi Jinping will avoid cultivating Chinese nationalism in order to legitimize its authoritarian regime. H1 is liable to be more successful between Japan and South-Korea than between Japan and China since the historical dialogue in the latter case will lack openness due to communist control over academia, but the uncertain future of North-Korea could seriously destabilize South-Koreas democracy through war and/or mass immigration. Japans nationalistic educational system does however reduce the likelihood of scholars from the opposing states being able to play the role desired by Barkan. H1 is also tremendously complicated by the discoveries of transitional justice, what is the true narrative? Lind (2010) and Green (2003) are not alone in casting doubt over the benefits of apologetically pursuing historical justice issues, and might be part of a burgeoning counter-movement in the apology literature; scholars like Jack Snyder, Leslie J. Vinjamuri, James Ron and Oskar N.T. Thoms have similar findings. This trend might further increase the credibility of H2, and hence the prospect for a peaceful rise of China in particular is dimmed.  

Questions raised for future research: How hetero- or homogeneous are Japanese nationalists? To what extent is Japans unapologetic position explained by U.S. anti-communism? Which role does Japans geography play in shaping its politico-cultural identity and hence position on apology, considering that its landmass does not touch borders with its neighbors? Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong where on the winning Allied side of WWII, does that mean they were war heroes? To what extent is the difference on apology between Japan and Germany explained by religio-cultural factors? Compare Emperor Hirohito with Adolf Hitler; to what extent do they personify the desires of their respective people? Was post-war Europe really more homogeneous than east-Asia? Should U.S. apologize for Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What was the extent of Victor´s Justice after WWII?

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