Every once in a while, I come across a story that is so extraordinary and breathtaking in how people individually or collectively manage to create their own realities, despite what historical evidence shows to be true.
(CNN) — A state-run Chinese newspaper expressed relief Monday that senior Japanese officials had dismissed the country’s air force chief after he denied Japan’s aggression before and during World War II.
Gen. Toshio Tamogami lost his job as chief of staff for Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, the Ministry of Defense said, after saying in an essay that “it is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation.”
Japanese troops invaded China in 1937 and were widely accused of gross human rights abuses, including raping tens of thousands of girls and women and killing several hundred thousand others in what has come to be called “The Rape of Nanking.” Imperial Japan also invaded several other Asian nations, leading to the death and misery for an untold number.
Two former Japanese prime ministers have apologized for Japanese aggression before and during World War II. Yet China has long accused of elements within Japan of trying to whitewash the Japanese atrocities committed before and during World War II.
“The denial of the aggression history by Toshio Tamogami comes in as an element of disharmony,” the state-run China Daily said a commentary Monday. “Yet, as long as the Japanese government has a right attitude to this question, the smooth development of ties between the two neighbors will not be derailed by such discordant notes.”
Tamogami’s essay, published late last week, also stirred controversy in South Korea.
Japan controlled Korea from 1910 to 1945. Its military is accused of forcing roughly 200,000 women, mainly from Korea and China, to serve as sex slaves — they were known euphemistically as “comfort women” — for soldiers in the Imperial Army.
I did a story related to this, about a series of movies being produced about the Japanese occupation of Nanking, when I was working in Hong Kong. What struck me most was how raw the emotions were in both countries 70 years later. The Chinese have their own issues with revisionist history, but the factual merits of the argument are clearly on their side when it comes to Nanking.
I don’t know what is more stunning – a Japanese senior military official denying his country’s role as aggressor during the war, or that somebody gave his historical analysis enough credibility to award it first prize in an essay competition called “True Perspective of Modern and Contemporary History.”