TOKYO, November 2 – Prime Minister Taro Aso came under pressure Sunday to clarify his own position on Japan’s colonial past after his government sacked the air force chief for remarks about World War II.
Some major newspapers urged conservative Aso, who took office in September, to state his opinion clearly and to examine why Japan’s ruling elite continues to glorify the country’s wartime history.
"Why a distorted historical view at the top?" asked a headline in the Mainichi Shimbun’s editorial. The Tokyo Shimbun said it wanted to "listen to the premier’s perception."
General Toshio Tamogami, chief of staff of Japan’s Air Self-Defence Force, was dismissed on Friday after writing in an essay: "It is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation."
Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada fired Tamogami, saying the essay clearly deviated from a 1995 government statement that apologised for Japan’s past aggression and its colonial rule in Asia.
Prime Minister Aso criticised the essay by saying: "It is inappropriate, given his position, even if he (Tamogami) expressed the opinion personally."
The Mainichi editorial pointed out that Aso has in the past made remarks that sought to rationalise Japan’s colonialism, including a 2003 statement in which he said Koreans had willingly adopted Japanese names during Japan’s 1910-1945 rule of the peninsula because it was advantageous when doing business.
It also recalled how Shinzo Abe, who served as prime minister from 2006-2007 using the theme of Japan as a "beautiful" nation proud of its history, supported the 1995 statement, but refrained from admitting the country’s wartime responsibility.
"Such attitudes, words and deeds of politicians are at the root of the problem," the Mainichi said.
The Tokyo Shimbun said it wanted to ask Aso whether he felt the essay was "inappropriate" because of its substance or just because of the way it was presented.
"The premier ought to send a clear message about this as a way to cut off the trouble at its root," it said.