Powell Street Festival (Japanese Festival in Vancouver) Panel Presentation, August 2, 1997 Reflecting on the History of World War II in Asia: Intergenerational Implications 

From the Burden of History to Reconciliation and Honors

by Mr. Joseph Tong (Director of Vancouver ALPHA)

On behalf of Canada ALPHA, I would like to thank the Human Rights Committee of National Association of Japanese Canadians for inviting us to co-organize today's forum. Following our joint effort in collecting over 10,000 signatures in supporting "Professor Ienaga's history textbook screening lawsuit", this is another of our mutual efforts to promote genuine reconciliation among Japanese and other ethnic groups who were brutally victimized by Japan's military before and during WWII.

World-wide Movement of ALPHA

Canada ALPHA has chapters in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, and ALPHA stands for Association for Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia. It is a member of the worldwide movement Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia. The aim of ALPHA is to pursue justice, racial and ethnic harmony and we denounce any wars of aggression. Our mission is to conscientize people with the history of WWII in Asia especially the crimes against humanity committed by Japanese military before and during WWII. We believe that unless mankind has learnt from the tragic past, we are doomed to repeat it.

After watching the video about Nanking Massacre, you probably will feel also that all of us should learn from this horrible past and work on genuine reconciliation. In fact the Nanking Massacre is a typical example and only one of the numerous atrocities committed by the Japanese militarists. Other better known cases that you may have read in the newspapers include Unit 731 experimentation on living human-beings, military sexual slavery, forced labor camps etc.

However, a picture on this dark period of history would be incomplete without mentioning the A-bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the unjust internment of Japanese Canadians and Americans. Millions and millions of innocent women, children and elders suffered and died because of Japanese militarism which was bred and driven by ethnic supremacy.

No Apology after 50 Years

Have the wounds of this period of history been healed? No, the wounds are still fresh and bleeding, because justice has not yet been served. Over fifty years have passed and the victimized countries and peoples are still waiting for the Japanese government to accept her wartime responsibility and to offer a national apology and compensations to victims of her atrocities committed before and during WWII. In sharp contrast, the German government has courageously stepped out from their misdeeds and reconcile with the victims of German Nazism ---- they issued national apology to the Jews and other victims; outlaw public denials of Nazi war crimes; ban neo-Nazi activities; pay reparations to the victims and establish monuments and museums to commemorate them. Japan is disgraced by hiding behind a wall of amnesia. However, the atrocities committed by the Japanese military are not something that victims and their children can or will ever forget. Indeed, history must not be forgotten but should be learnt to remind us not to allow similar mistakes to happen again.

A Economic Giant but a Moral Dwarf

Japan is now a powerful nation again and wishes to play an important role in the Asia-Pacific region and internationally. Yes, Japan can be an economic, political and military giant; but Japan will always be a moral dwarf and not be trusted by its neighbors unless she duly accepts her wartime responsibilities. Recently, Mr. Walter F. Mondale, former US vice president and US ambassador to Japan from 1993-96, stated in a public speech that certain Japanese prime ministers made statements of apology, but the Diet (the Japanese parliament), which functions by consensus, has never been able to get all legislators to agree. Mondale said "There are elements in Japan who do not want to confront what went on in WWII…….They need as a nation to speak more clearly".

Righteous Voices inside Japan

It is high time for Japan to step out of the dark shadow of its past misdeeds and to move forward courageously and in honor. We are encouraged to see more and more Japanese people are taking such steps. Some examples are:

International Efforts Seeking Redress for Victims

Outside Japan, victim groups and many international human rights groups are working ardently for an earliest possible apology and reparation from Japan. All of the surviving victims are in their 70's,80's or even 90's, and justice delayed is justice denied to them. Latest examples of international efforts are:

In Canada, Japanese Canadians had also become the victims of Japanese militarism. With the redress issue of the uprooting and internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII, the National Association of Japanese Canadians has been vigilant towards social injustices and human rights violations. As Japanese and Chinese Canadians, each of us takes pride in our ethnic roots and heritage, and it must hurt you and me to visualize our younger and future generations need to bear this terrible burden of history in their relationship. So it is a giant step forward to have NAJC, ALPHA and other ethnic organizations working together to face the history of WWII in Asia with a view to promote reconciliation and ethnic harmony

Shed Historical Burden, Gain Honor and Pride

Humanities must be upheld and justice must be served. All the efforts by Japanese and non-Japanese groups seeking redress for Japan's victims are not initiated out of revenge, but rather as a measure to bring closure to the victims and their families. Professor Ienaga and like-minded Japanese and Japanese Canadians are trying to shed the historical burden left by the old regime that brought so much pain and sufferings to humanity. They believe only through confession and apology by the Japanese government of past wrong doings, can trust and respect from other peoples be regained, and national honor and ethnic pride be reestablished.

For Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans, national apologies from the Canadian and US governments brought a closure to the victims and their families. The courage of both governments to shed this historical burden, admit their misdeeds, apologize and make reparations have regained the respects from the North American Japanese communities, from Japan and the world community. As fellow Canadians, it is heart-warming to see that the Japanese Canadian community is endeavoring to join with other ethnic groups to step out from the historical burden of WWII in Asia. This is indeed the best way to regain ethnic pride and honors, and to promote reconciliation and ethnic harmony together.