Clear the Air and Trust Will Follow : Like Germany, Japan must acknowledge and apologize for its wartime sins if it is to build a new order with its neighbors.


The end of the Cold War presents both Europe and Asia with the opportunity to build a new order of cooperation and integration supplanting the divisiveness of the post-World War II period. Germany and Japan, both so prosperous and economically powerful today, can play key roles in the new order, but only if they regain the full trust and confidence of the neighboring nations that were victims of their aggression in the last war.

To help build this trust and confidence, the leaders of both East and West Germany have apologized for the crimes of the German people in World War II, denounced aggression and pledged their nation’s respect for its postwar borders.

By contrast, Japan’s postwar leaders never clearly and unambiguously acknowledged the responsibility or expressed the remorse of Japan over war crimes and colonial aggression against Korea, China and Southeast Asia.

The issue surfaced again with the visit this week of South Korean President Roh Tae Woo. If we are going to get on with the business of building a post-Cold War order in Asia in cooperation with our neighbors, President Roh’s visit presents a perfect opportunity for Japan to finally put fears to rest--to make an unambiguous statement that takes responsibility and expresses remorse for our colonial aggression in the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Such a statement would be seen to apply to all of Asia.


Yet even a clear statement to the outside world apologizing for Japan’s crimes of aggression would fall short of convincing everyone of the sincerity of our remorse. The prime minister and the Diet must do something we have never done before: We must stop avoiding our past and acknowledge to ourselves our sins as a nation and take responsibility for our history.

We should follow the approach of West Germany’s President Richard von Weizsaecker, who told the Bundestag in 1985: “All of us, whether guilty or not, whether young or old, must accept the past. We are all affected by its consequences and are liable for it. The young and old generations must and can help each other to understand why it is vital to keep alive the memories. . . . Anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present. Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risks of infection.”

With a foundation of trust and confidence finally laid in this manner, we can begin building a new Asian political order with our neighbors--a Peace and Security Conference for Asia modeled on the Council for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This council would provide the basic political framework for dealing with all issues among Asian countries, ranging from political disputes to human rights and the environment, and help in adopting an integrated approach to common problems.

In short, we want a new Asia in the 1990s. To build this future, we must begin by acknowledging our past.