Is voluntary surrender better than withdrawal


The memory of the Second World War initially only played a minor role in Japan in the months and years after the end of the war in the Asia-Pacific region. After Japan's surrender on August 15, 1945, the country was primarily concerned with reconstruction in almost all socially relevant areas. The only exception was the early commemoration of the atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima in the southwest of the island of Honshu, whose inhabitants fell victim to the first military use of nuclear weapons in human history.

In order to finally bring Japan to its knees militarily and to unconditionally surrender, the US Air Force dropped a uranium bomb on Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945 from the Boeing B-29 "Superfortress" long-range bomber "Enola Gay". The American military strategists had chosen the city as a target because of its military and industrial facilities, which were considered important for Japan's warfare. Around 70,000 to 80,000 people died immediately as a result of the detonation - in addition to the local civilian population, there were also a large number of Korean and Chinese forced laborers. Many thousands succumbed to the consequences of the drop in the following months, so that the total number of victims rose to over 140,000 by the end of 1945.

Two and a half years after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, which, together with the second one over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, is considered a "national moment of shock", Kaiser visited (Tennō) Hirohito in December 1947 Hiroshima. Film recordings show him speaking to the city's population near the "atomic bomb dome", the ruins of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The burnt-out dome building, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996, symbolizes the tragedy of the "Japanese August experience" of 1945 like no other building. Today it is a local, national and global place of remembrance, a visual memorial and a sign of peace at the same time. [1]

"Atomic Bomb Dome" in Hiroshima. (& copy picture-alliance, imageBROKER (Photographer: Moritz Wolf))

But memories of World War II in Japan are by no means restricted to Hiroshima. There are numerous other places of remembrance and remembrance, and media from school books to cartoons also contribute to the transmission of certain images and points of view. The way in which this happens, which narratives are in the foreground and to what extent 1945 plays a special role in this are shown below using a few examples.

Commemorations and debates about the atomic bombs

Since 1947, the Hiroshima Peace Bell has been ringing every year on August 6 at 8:15 a.m. - the time the bomb detonated - followed by a minute's silence to commemorate the dead. At that moment, life in Japan stops for a moment. As part of the peace ceremony, Hiroshima's current mayor appeals every year to abolish nuclear weapons and to stand up for peace in the world. In the Hiroshima Peace Park, designed in 1948 (Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Kōen) the Peace Museum has also been located since 1955 (Heiwa Kinen Shiryōkan), which also carries the pacifist message "Never again war" in its permanent exhibition and criticizes Japan's militarism of the war (before) years comparatively openly, especially by Japanese standards.

More than 70 years after the atomic bombs were dropped, an incumbent US president entered the Hiroshima Peace Park for the first time in 2016: together with the Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō [2], Barack Obama visited what is probably the most important national memorial in Japan in order to strive for a world free of nuclear weapons and world peace to emphasize. At the same time, the joint visit of the two statesmen underpinned the Japanese-American friendship, which is now taken for granted by the governments of both countries. But even Obama did not offer an apology for the atomic bombs at this symbolic place of remembrance. After all, it was the Japanese Empire that plunged the United States into war with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. [3]

Whether the use of atomic bombs was militarily necessary in August 1945 is still controversial today: Henry L. Stimson, who as US Secretary of War was directly subordinate to the entire "Manhattan Project" on atomic bomb development, emphasized for the first time in 1947 in an essay and a year then in his memoirs that it was the atomic bombs that prompted Japan's political and military leadership to surrender. The atomic bombs would have prevented an Allied invasion of Japan and thus saved the lives of thousands and thousands of US soldiers, but also Japanese combatants and civilians. [4]

On the other hand, other American and British authors took the view early on that Japan's military situation was hopeless, also and precisely because of the earlier end of the war in Europe, and that the country was in fact defeated by the beginning of August 1945. In terms of military strategy, the use of atomic bombs was therefore unnecessary and therefore not justifiable. Rather, it was a show of force against the Soviet Union. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are therefore to be understood much more as the military prelude to the Cold War than as the military end point of the Second World War. [5]

In Japan itself, immediately after the end of the war, there was initially no discussion about the military purpose and the proportionality of the atomic bombs. There was a simple reason for this: Japan was under an allied, de facto US occupation, which forbade it to critically question the use of nuclear weapons. This only changed after the end of the occupation was sealed in the peace treaty of San Francisco on September 8, 1951 and Japan became independent again in 1952. In Japanese historiography, Marxist authors in particular emphasized the American use of atomic bombs as a primarily ideological, anti-Soviet measure that should be seen in the context of the Cold War that was already emerging in 1945. Unsurprisingly, discussions about this were conducted with particular vehemence during the time of the Vietnam War.

In the mid-2000s, the historian Hasegawa Tsuyoshi in particular broadened the discussion about the necessity of the use of nuclear weapons: In a study at the end of the Pacific War, the expert on Soviet and Russian history took the view that it was primarily not the atomic bombs that were the main cause that supposedly not willing to surrender would have brought Japan to its knees. Rather, the Soviet termination of the neutrality pact with Japan and the invasion of Manchuria by the Red Army on August 8, 1945, i.e. between the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would have been decisive. [6] Even if internal Japanese and international Pacific war research are divided, whether it was primarily the atomic bombs or the declaration of war by the Soviet Union that prompted the Japanese decision-makers to surrender, it is clear that, alongside Hiroshima, the Soviet-Japanese war at the end of the Second World War is now firmly established Place in Japan's national memory.

Its consequences continue to have a political impact: three days after Emperor Hirohito admitted the defeat of the war by radio address and Japan surrendered to the United States, Soviet troops occupied the Kuril archipelago in northeastern Japan. Since then, Japan has been demanding their return, with both the US and the European Union supporting the Japanese endeavor. To date, Japan and Russia have not signed a peace treaty. It is true that the governments of the two countries have supposedly come closer in the recent past, and Japan's Prime Minister Abe Shinzō and Russian President Vladimir Putin have at least held talks about the islands. But since these did not produce any concrete results, the Kuril conflict is still unsolved.

This in turn washes grist to the mills of right-wing conservative and ultra-national forces in Japan: They use the unresolved territorial disputes over the Kuril Islands, but also over the island of Takeshima, which was administered by Japanese until the end of the war and has since been lost to South Korea and claimed by the Japanese side, to defeat Japan to stylize their own country as a victim of the Second World War. Territorial disputes after the war, as they have long since been shelved in Germany, have an influence on how the Second World War is passed down in Japanese memories that should not be underestimated - namely also as a time of unjustified loss.

Places of remembrance and remembrance

The last weeks and months as well as the end of the war play a central role in local memories of the Second World War. It is obvious that this is the case in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But this also applies to the commemoration of the bombing war in general: In 2002 the "Archive of the Great Air Raid on Tōkyō" (Tōkyō Daikūshū Sensai Shiryō Sentā) opened to preserve the memory of the Allied air strikes on Japan's capital. The focus is on the area bombing on the night of March 9-10, 1945, the most devastating and costly conventional air raid in history. Similar to Hamburg or Dresden, large parts of the city were reduced to rubble by a firestorm, with estimates suggesting that between 80,000 and 120,000 people died. [7]

In the second large metropolis of the country, Osaka, the museum called "Peace Osaka" was built in 1991 to commemorate the US bombing raids between December 1944 and August 1945 and especially the five heaviest attacks between March and August 1945 and those associated with them to remember the hardships and suffering of the local civilian population.

Even in more peripheral areas of the country, memories of the Second World War dominated the year 1945: One example is the city of Tokushima, which is located on Shikoku, the smallest of the four main Japanese islands. A tower on Mount Bizan, which is a popular tourist destination, offers visitors a wonderful view of the city and the bay. At the same time, you will inevitably come across an illustrated information board that shows the cityscape of Tokushima, which was destroyed as a result of the great bombing of July 4, 1945. Next to it hangs the alarm bell with which the civilian population was warned of the approaching US bomber squadrons. Today visitors are allowed to use them.

On the Okinawa archipelago in southwest Japan, memories of the war also focus on 1945, which is hardly surprising. After all, the Battle of Okinawa, fought from April to June 1945, was one of the bloodiest and most costly military clashes of the last months of the war: more than 12,500 US soldiers were killed, while an estimated 200,000 people died on the Japanese side, around half of them civilians .[8th] In contrast to the rest of the country, on June 23rd - the day the battle ended - the Okinawa Islands generally commemorate the end of the war and commemorate the dead, with "Okinawa's Day to Calm the Dead" (Okinawa Irei no Hi) is an official holiday in Okinawa Prefecture. Here, too, it is a peace park opened in 1975 with a museum (Okinawa Kenritsu Heiwa Kinen Shiryōkan), which institutionally underpins Japan's national peace mantra. Itoman was deliberately chosen as the local memorial site, where the battle had ended after bitter fighting. In 1995 the "foundation stone of peace" (Heiwa no Ishiji), whose design is based heavily on the Washington Vietnam War Memorial and on the walls of which the names of the dead who have been handed down from the battle are listed.

Commemoration of the "Foundation Stone of Peace", June 2019, Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

However, it is not so much the multinational "cornerstone of peace" that emphasizes the universal message of peace and more the memorial Himeyuri no Tō, a memorial stone that marks the main place of remembrance for Japanese visitors on the memorial path through the park. It is said to commemorate 222 high school students and 18 teachers who were holed up in caves and served in a field hospital during the Battle of Okinawa. In the turmoil of the last days of the battle, the majority of the schoolgirls were tragically killed. The memorial was inaugurated in April 1946, in 1989 it was moved to the newly opened Himeyuri Peace Museum (Himeyuri Heiwakinen Shiryōkan) integrated.

On the island of Kyushu, the war memory is remembered in several places in Japan Tokkotai directed, better known as "kamikaze units". For the most part only rudimentarily trained, very young pilots were used by Japan's war planners in a desperate situation as a last resort in the war. They died in particular in the Battle of Okinawa, especially in the Chiran Tokkō Heiwa Kaikan, the Peace Museum for the Tokkō- Chiran's units is remembered, which is located on the site of the former military airfield of the army aviators. [9]

In all of these examples of local memorial sites, the dominant role of narratives of (unjustified) loss, suffering and death in the Japanese culture of remembrance is evident. The losses of very young people in particular are perceived as both local and national tragedies. The year 1945 is seen as a turning point in its own history on a larger scale: It is remembered as the historical point in time when the Japanese empire with colonial and occupation areas in East and Southeast Asia came to an end, and with it Japan's history as an imperial power in Asia came to an end found.

This aspect is emphasized, for example, in an exhibition on World War II in the Sumitomo building in Tōkyō, which focuses on the one hand on the history of the repatriation of Japanese colonists and on the other hand on the captivity of Japanese soldiers in Soviet camps in Siberia. Elsewhere, too, memories are primarily focused on the repatriation of Japanese settlers and the return of prisoners of war, for example in the port city of Maizuru in the north of Kyoto Prefecture, which became the first point of arrival for hundreds of thousands of repatriated Japanese military personnel as a result of the end of the war and the associated abandonment of territorial possessions Civilians from continental China, Korea, and the Soviet Union became. [10]

The Second World War in popular culture

As in many other countries, the general memory of the Second World War in Japan is also significantly influenced by popular culture media. The choice of topics made by film producers, for example, contributes in a not to be underestimated way to what and in what form the post-war generation, especially teenagers and young adults, gain knowledge of the topic of "Japan in the Second World War" and which image of history is anchored in collective memory.

In the field of cinematic feature films and documentaries, the atomic bombs and their consequences are strongly represented. As Hibakusha Cinema"Cinema of the atomic bomb victims", films about the atomic bombs and their consequences form a separate genre, corresponding film productions are funded by pacifist circles. [11] But also ultrapatriotic and nationalistic appearing productions of the recent past focus noticeably on the painful and trend-setting year 1945 for Japan. For example, the lavishly produced film "The Men of Yamato" (Otokotachi no Yamato, 2005) to date one of the most successful films in Japan. It is about the last voyage of the warship "Yamato", which was sunk by American forces at the beginning of the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945. For the shooting, parts of the "Yamato" were faithfully reproduced; At the center of the glorifying representation is the self-sacrificing commitment of the team, which is symbolic of the entire Japanese nation. [12]

A frequently chosen film motif is also the use of young people, glorified as brave and heroic TokkōPilots. The film "Eternal Zero - Flight of No Return", released in 2013 (A no zero), which thematizes the life of a Mitsubishi A6M fighter pilot called "Zero" and whose plot culminates in the depiction of a suicidal kamikaze mission - understood as a symbol of selfless sacrifice for the nation. The Tokkotai- Chiran pilots are also the subject of the 2007 film "Kamikaze - I die for you all" (Ore wa, kimi no koso shini ni iku). The script was written by none other than the right-wing nationalist politician Ishihara Shintarō, who was governor of Tōkyō from 1999 to 2012 and is considered a history revisionist. Based on the Japanese war propaganda of the time, these films should have a meaningful effect by depicting the death of Japanese soldiers in the war year 1945 as "heroic falling" and as (voluntary) "willingness to make sacrifices for the nation".The attempt is made to retrospectively justify the high war casualties: The sense of these sacrifices lies in the prosperity of the present and the peaceful coexistence with other Asian states. The foundation for this was laid by the suicide pilots or the men of the "Yamato" with their sacrificed lives.

Anime (cartoons) that use the Second World War as a historical background also move the year 1945 into the center of the presentation: First and foremost is the widely received and clear message of peace, anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons, which is considered a classic of the post-war period Story "Barefoot through Hiroshima" (Hadashi no Gen), which was released as an anime in 1983. The plot is based on the experiences of the manga artist Nakazawa Keiji, who saw the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima as a six-year-old boy. Nakazawa, who suffered lifelong from the effects of Hiroshima with leukemia, not only drew a picture of Hiroshima in his 1973/74 work in the magazine "Shōnen Jump" as a manga, but also practiced focusing on the last days of the war in the summer of 1945 ruthless criticism of the Japanese war-era political system, which was characterized by militarism and perverted patriotism. [13]

The time of the last months of the war, when the Japanese civilian population felt the consequences of total war on a daily basis and Japan's defeat became more and more apparent, also form the framework for the plot of the anime "The Last Fireflies" (Hotaru no Haka). The animated film produced by Studio Ghibli and released in 1988 is based on the award-winning novel of the same name by Nosaka Akiyuki from 1967 and contains strong autobiographical traits of the writer who became a war orphan in 1945. The images of undersupply, destruction, death and suffering as a result of Allied bombings of Japanese cities - in this case the industrial and port city of Kobe, which was 50 percent destroyed in five bombings in 1945, is the scene of the event - have a very emotional effect and arouse pity for those who have survived fighting children. Since "Barefoot through Hiroshima" and "The Last Fireflies" have been seen by millions of Japanese children and young people, the autobiographical testimonies of their authors have made a lasting contribution to collective memory in Japan.

This form of transmission can also be found in newer productions: In the anime "In this Corner of the World" (Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni, 2016) depicts the everyday life of a young woman at the Kure naval base near Hiroshima. The Allied bombings of Kures in June and July 1945 as well as the atomic bombs on neighboring Hiroshima form the historical background of this largely fictional story to tell the story of suffering, characterized by food rationing, air raids and personal strokes of fate, of the simple, innocent, even naive-looking main character. Here, too, the focus on the war year 1945, which was painful for Japan, functions as a stylistic device to arouse sympathy and sympathy among the generally young or young-at-heart viewers.

The focus of the memory on the history of suffering, especially of young, innocent people as the main characters of the narratives, ensures that empathy is awakened in the recipients, both when consuming popular cultural media and when visiting memorial sites - remember the examples mentioned Himeyuri or Chiran becomes. Critical questions and reflections - for example who is actually responsible for the war and the suffering of the Japanese civilian population associated with it - remain largely unexposed or take a back seat.

School book controversies

"Naturally", school books are also powerful carriers of historical images and narratives. The representation and communication of war events in Japanese textbooks has been the subject of constant debate for decades: the textbook "New Japanese History" was published in 1953 (Shin Nihonshi) of the politically left-wing historian Ienaga Saburō. After it had first gone through the authorization process of the Japanese Ministry of Education, the Ministry wanted to allow a new edition of the book only in a changed or censored form due to "incorrect reproduction of facts". The stumbling block was Ienaga's account of Japanese war crimes, as well as formulations in which the author criticized the political system of the pre-war and wartime periods. Although he only partially responded to requests for changes, the ministry finally approved the new edition. Nevertheless, from 1965 onwards, with the support of like-minded colleagues from the Japanese Association of Historians, Ienaga litigated the Japanese state for several years and accused him of violating freedom of expression.

The textbook dispute received international attention in 1982 when Japan's largest daily newspaper "Asahi Shimbun" reported that the Ministry of Education had used the word "invasion" in a textbook for history lessons in the chapter on the military occupation of North China (Shinryaku) by "advancing" (Shinko) wanted to know replaced. A diplomatic dispute ensued with China and South Korea, who protested the apparent attempts by the Japanese Ministry of Education to downplay Japan's role in World War II. Finally, the Ministry in Tōkyō was forced to introduce a "neighboring state clause" in the textbook authorization process: From now on, modern history and contemporary history of Asia should be presented in textbooks in a harmonious manner, in the sense of international understanding and with consideration for neighboring countries.

In 1997, at the trial of the historian Ienaga Saburō, Japan's Supreme Court ruled that the current practice of authorizing school books was constitutional. For Ienaga, who was only approved in individual points with regard to the requested changes, this judgment was a bitter defeat in the struggle for the authority to interpret Japanese history. [14]

Japan's textbook controversy again moved into the international spotlight in 2001 when the "New Textbook" (Atarashii Rekishi Kyōkasho) the "Society for the Development of a New School Book" was authorized, in which Japan's acts of war against China and the Japanese colonial rule over Korea are played down and glossed over. In particular in the directly affected neighboring countries China and South Korea, but also in Japan itself, this caused a storm of indignation and numerous protests. Even if this revisionist history book was only used in less than half a percent of all Japanese high schools and thus had only a very limited influence on Japanese youth, the debate about the book provided important impulses for social understanding about the question of how to do it with the second To remember World War I and how to teach about it. [15]

The debate flared up again in 2007 when the Ministry of Education sought textbooks to deny the Japanese military's responsibility for the mass suicides of civilians during the Battle of Okinawa. In fact, at the time, the military had forced numerous civilians to commit suicide. After demonstrations and pressure from the Okinawa Prefecture Parliament, the role of the military was reinstated in school textbooks.

New perspectives for memory?

As the examples of the local places of remembrance and from the area of ​​popular culture as well as the textbook controversies show, the memory of the Second World War in Japan is often shaped by the commemoration of the last year of the war and from a victim's perspective. It emphasizes civilian and "innocent" casualties, especially children, and Japan's role as the first and only victim of a nuclear weapon. At the same time, glorifying and heroic narratives are used in order to subsequently give meaning to the willingness to make sacrifices that was demanded at the time. The responsibility for their own crimes during the Second World War and claims for compensation by Asian slave laborers and forced prostitutes (euphemistically referred to as "comfort women" according to Japanese war propaganda) are still not recognized.

The cause of the dispute about the authority to interpret one's own history, which is reflected both in the popular cultural media landscape and in the textbook controversies, may above all be the inadequate examination of the question of the Sensō Sekinin, one's own responsibility for the war. Immediately after the end of the Second World War, for example, the role of the Tennō and to critically question the imperial family during the war. The US occupying power, first and foremost its commander, General Douglas MacArthur, believed that it needed the emperor as an instrument for the political domination of Japan and its own legitimation of power. As a result, Hirohito, who as commander in chief had primary responsibility for Japan's crimes in World War II, was spared Allied jurisdiction and was not held accountable in the Tokyo trials from 1946 to 1948.

Compared to Germany, Japan's "Zero Hour" was completely different - with effects that are still visible today on "coming to terms with the past" and dealing with our own history of the world war - which is essential in the continuity of the empire as an institution, but above all also in Hirohitos seems to be founded on the throne. A perfectly conceivable scenario would have been to keep the empire as an institution after 1945, but to install another person on the throne. Since Hirohito's death in 1989, Japanese historians have developed a great deal of new source material and, as a result, have debated the role of the empire in the war, but have so far not found a line on this subject that can be agreed upon. While Hirohito's son and successor Akihito never publicly questioned his father's role in the Second World War, Japan could, with the change of personnel on the imperial throne in 2019 and Naruhito as the first emperor born in the post-war period, break new ground in terms of coming to terms with the past. [16]