Japan's highest court joins the official cover-up of Japan's war crimes

For over thirty years, Professor Saburo Ienaga fought Ministry of Education censorship of references to Japan's military atrocities in history textbooks written by him. In 1997, the internationally famous historian and freedom of speech activist argued before Japan's Supreme Court that Ministry of Education censorship of school history textbooks was unconstitutional and falsified history by covering up Japan's long list of war crimes, including the Nanjing Massacre in 1937 (formerly known as the "Rape of Nanking") and the biological experiments carried out by Japanese scientists at the notorious Unit 731 in Japanese-occupied China.

The horrifying massacre of at least 200,000 Chinese civilians and prisoners of war after the Chinese capital Nanking (now Nanjing) fell to Japanese troops in 1937 has been covered in detail elsewhere in this section on Japanese war crimes. The Nanjing Massacre is one of the best documented of Japanese atrocities because independent foreign witnesses observed and recorded the horrors inflicted on the Chinese after the fall of their capital and because the Japanese foolishly left photographic records of the massacre. However, as demonstrated by the quoted denials in this chapter, many Japanese politicians and academics reject historical fact and deny that the Nanjing Massacre occurred.

The preferred approach of Japan's Ministry of Education to the Nanjing Massacre has been to avoid any mention of it in school history books. If forced to allow it to be mentioned, the Ministry's approach has been to reduce reference to the massacre to a vague footnote or to imply falsely that the hundreds of thousands of victims died in the Japanese assault on the capital and before it fell.

Japan's Unit 731 conducted horrifying biological experiments on live Chinese prisoners of war at Harbin in Manchukuo (formerly the Chinese region of Manchuria). These biological experiments included live dissection, injection with anthrax, plague, and other lethal bacteria, deliberate infliction of frostbite, and resulted in horrible deaths for hundreds of prisoners. The existence of this ghastly unit had long been proved beyond all reasonable doubt by documents and interrogation of the Japanese scientists involved, but despite this clear proof, Japan's Ministry of Education had persisted in censoring mention of its existence in Professor Ienaga's history textbooks on the ground that no such biological unit had ever existed.

The Supreme Court found in favour of Professor Ienaga on his reference to Unit 731, but refused to find in his favour on seven other references in his textbooks to Japanese military atrocities, including the Nanjing Massacre and the sexual slavery forced on hundreds of thousands of captive foreign women by the Imperial Japanese Army. The Supreme Court upheld the Education Ministry's right to screen history textbooks before they were distributed to schoolchildren, and to remove material the Ministry found objectionable, including references to war crimes.

It is difficult to avoid a conclusion that Japan's highest court has now joined Japanese LDP governments in a conspiracy to prevent children learning the truth about Japan's horrifying record of war crimes. Speaking about the Supreme Court's support for the Japanese government's policy of censoring references to war crimes in school history books, Professor Ienaga said,

"I do not think things are going well in terms of Japan accepting responsibility for the past".

Growing public support in Japan for the war crime cover-up

Professor Ienaga's partial victory provoked an immediate backlash from extreme nationalists, militarists, and traditionalists who could not bear the thought of Japan's war crime shame being exposed to Japanese children. One of the leaders of an influential and growing movement to deny Japan's war crimes and prevent Japanese children learning about Japan's war guilt and atrocities is Professor Nobukatsu Fujioka of the Education Department at Tokyo University. Fujioka chooses to ignore overwhelming evidence and claims that the Nanjing Massacre did not occur. He is harshly critical of Saburo Ienaga and anyone who believes that Japanese schoolchildren deserve to be told the truth about Japanese war crimes. "It's masochistic", said Professor Fujioka in 1997. "No other country in the world subjects its schoolchildren to such terrible history education. (They) are volunteering to show that Japanese people are ruthless".

According to Fujioka, Japanese troops were no more brutal than those of the United States. He claims that the American occupation forces brainwashed the postwar Japanese into believing that they had committed terrible crimes.

Fujioka is not a fringe radical. His distortions of history have wide support in Japan, not only from ultra-nationalist thugs and militarists but also from a new breed of better educated neo-Imperialists, including at least sixty-two parliamentary members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), many academics, writers, journalists, businessmen, and sports figures. His books denying Japan's war guilt and countless atrocities are best sellers in Japan.

Agitation by Fujioka and his extremist supporters, led to Japan's Ministry of Education approving a sanitised history of Japan's military aggression in East Asia for high schools in 2001. As mentioned earlier, this distortion of history was opposed by Japanese liberals, and led to many school boards refusing to accept the revisionist history book.

Professor Saburo Ienaga finds the growing influence of Fujioka's movement disturbing, "What's alarming to me is that many people seem to support them".

Sanitising Japanese military aggression by means of the cinema

Revisionist film producers have joined the push to sanitise Japan's military aggression and the brutal behaviour of Japan's military in films such as "Merdeka" (2001) which means independence in the Malay language. In an interview with The Times in London, the producer of "Merdeka", Hideaki Kase, claimed that his film told the true story of how Japan "liberated Asia from the yoke of Western colonialism". This Japanese propaganda film does not attempt to address the fact that many millions of Chinese and other Asians were "liberated" from their lives by Japan's brutal military between 1931 and 1945.

Strenuous efforts are being made in Japan to rehabilitate the image of Japan's wartime Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo who was hanged as a war criminal in 1948. One film, "Pride, the fateful Moment" (1998), depicts this hard-line militarist as a patriot who shouldered Japan's war guilt to protect the emperor and satisfy America's lust for vengeance. This film ignores the fact that General Tojo wanted to wage war on the United States and led the government that approved the treacherous sneak attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor while Japanese diplomats were in Washington discussing means to resolve tensions between the two countries. Those diplomatic discussions were deliberately extended by Tojo to keep the United States preoccupied with hope of a peaceful solution while Japanese aircraft carriers were being positioned for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. As a senior general and Prime Minister, Tojo would have approved every act of aggression by Japan from December 1941 and must have been aware of the savage behaviour of the Japanese military.

Stifling the truth by threats and thuggery

A radio talk show host working in Tokyo, David McNeill, has pointed out that public discussion of Japan's war guilt or Japanese war crimes is an unwritten taboo in Japan. Anyone, including journalists, who breaches this taboo runs a very real risk of career damage, or being harassed, intimidated or beaten up by ultra-nationalist thugs who derive support at the highest levels of the Japanese government. Those who do not believe that it is dangerous to call for the truth to be told in Japan should read David McNeill's essay "Media intimidation in Japan".

An honest Japanese mayor speaks out and pays a heavy price for telling the truth

The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 finally produced a Japanese surrender, but the use of these weapons on Japan is constantly being used as a stick to beat the United States. Some Japanese, while ignoring or denying Japan's war guilt and many proven war crimes between 1937 and 1945, are quite happy to accuse the United States of committing a war crime by dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities. An arguably more balanced view was expressed by a former mayor of Nagasaki, Hitoshi Motoshima, who told the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun in 1997 that "the A-bomb Dome in Hiroshima should not have been designated a World Heritage Site because it makes light of Japan's role as an aggressor during World War II." He went on to say that he felt ashamed of the annual peace declarations he issued during his sixteen year term as mayor of Nagasaki "because they failed to include the point of view of Japan as an aggressor in the war." Mr Motoshima concluded with the words:

"The first thing to do is to apologise to China and others who were victims of Japan's aggression. Hiroshima and Nagasaki should pardon the atomic bombing and lead the world in reconciliation".

Following an unfortunate pattern of intimidation in Japan, Hitoshi Motoshima was attacked and seriously injured by a Japanese nationalist for speaking the truth about Japan's war guilt and war crimes.

The reasons why the atomic bombs were used as weapons of last resort against a stubbornly recalcitrant Japan that refused to surrender are covered in detail on this web-site in the section that poses the question: "Was the Atomic Bombing of Japan justifiable?"


For Japanese militarists and extreme nationalists, time is on their side. In many Western countries, including Australia, only a comparatively small number of schools still teach history as a rigorous discipline. I have spoken to many young Australians who were astonished to learn that Darwin was repeatedly bombed by the Japanese in 1942, and that many thousands of Australian prisoners of war, both men and women, were murdered, tortured, beaten, and starved by their Japanese captors between 1942 and 1945. I have spoken to many young Australians who were amazed to learn that Japanese submarines shelled Sydney in 1942, and entered Sydney Harbour and fired torpedoes at ships. A frequent response to this information was "We didn't learn things like that at school". Holding a strong belief in the validity of Santayana's famous aphorism "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it", caused me to embark on the creation of this web-site.

For Australian governments, trade with Japan appears to be a much more important priority than concern about Japan's refusal to acknowledge its war guilt and war crimes, and the implications that flow from continuing denial. Australia's largest veteran organisation, the Returned and Services League of Australia (or RSL) used to provide an important service to Australia and history by denouncing attempts by Japan to cover up its war guilt and war crimes, or to rehabilitate convicted war criminals and despised symbols associated with Imperial Japan's military aggression. However, times change, and apparently, so does the RSL. Since 2003, it appears that some leaders of the RSL have been prepared to accept invitations from the Japanese LDP government to visit Japan, with no awkward questions being raised about distortion of Japan's war history in school textbooks or about the continuing refusal by Japanese LDP governments to acknowledge Japan's war guilt or war crimes. I will return to this issue in a later chapter "Disturbing signs of reviving Militarism in Japan".

Fortunately, Asian countries that suffered most from Japan's brutal military aggression between 1937 and 1945, such as China, are not prepared to see these important issues swept under the carpet.

It is my view that the continuing refusal by Japanese governments to acknowledge frankly Japan's war guilt and the appalling atrocities committed by Japan's military between 1937 and 1945 justifies continued attention being focussed on this disturbing issue.