In this chapter, the underlying reasons for Japan’s entry into WWII are discussed, and its drive for freedom for the colonized nations of Asia analogized to the experience of the thirteen original American colonies, then a part of Great Britain, fighting for their independence and right to freedom from a distant oppressor.
It also examines the difference between the methods of colonial rule between the Western powers and Japan, the misnomer of fascism, the unrecognized threat of communism, and the underlying scourge of racism inherent in the years leading up to and encompassing the war.
It is time to now look at The Great East Asia war with dispassion and the enlightenment. Below is the 1st Chapter of Jiro Ayaori’s newly released book titled, “Liberating Asia: The Miracle of Modern Japanese History”.
Japan Aimed for the Liberation and Independence of Asia
2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2, and China has defined this year as the 70th anniversary of its victory in a war against fascism.
In May of 2015, a private delegation of 3,000 Japanese visited China. Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the Japanese delegation led by Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council, at a reception dinner at the Great Hall of the People. He said, “It is not forgivable to conceal the past crime of aggression by militarist Japan and distort the historical truth.”
Taking advantage of this occasion, it seemed as if the Chinese were trying to stigmatize the Japanese as fascists similar to Nazi party members in Germany.
Was WW2 a War Between a Fascist State, Japan, and Democratic Nations, such as the U.S. and Britain, in the First Place?
In December of 1941, right after the start of the war, the Japanese government held a Cabinet meeting and decided on the name “The Greater East Asia War” because the objective of the war was to establish a New Order in East Asia. The Joint Declaration of the Greater East Asia Conference, issued in November of 1943, included details of the new order.
The declaration stated as follows:
The United States of America and the British Empire have in seeking their own prosperity oppressed other nations and peoples. Especially in East Asia, they have indulged in insatiable aggression and exploitation, and have sought to satisfy their inordinate ambition of enslaving the entire region, and finally they have come to menace seriously the stability of East Asia.
The countries of Greater East Asia, with a view to contributing to the cause of world peace, undertake to cooperate toward prosecuting the War of Greater East Asia to a successful conclusion, liberating their region from the yoke of British-American domination, and ensuring their self-existence and self-defense.
The Greater East Asia Conference held in Tokyo, the first-ever summit meeting of Asian countries, adopted this declaration. The leaders of the Philippines, Burma (Myanmar), and other countries that had acquired independence after the Imperial Japanese Army expelled British and American forces attended the conference.
The declaration stated that the cause of war was the U.S. and the British Empire’s insatiable aggression and exploitation, holding up the five principles including the elimination of racial discrimination. It also proclaimed loudly that the objective of the Greater East Asian War was to liberate Asian countries from Western colonial rule. (Refer to the Joint Declaration of Greater East Asian Conference at the end of this chapter)
The First Summit Meeting of Colored People in History
Five participants and one observer, whose countries had long suffered from Western colonial rule, attended the Japan-led Greater East Asia Conference. They were Wang Jingwei, the President of the Reorganized National Government of China, Zhang Jinghui, the Prime Minister of Manchukuo, Jose P. Laurel, the President of the Second Philippines Republic, Ba Maw, the Head of State of Burma, Prince Wan Waithayakon, from the Kingdom of Thailand, and Subhas Chandra Bose, the Head of State of the Provisional Government of Free India. The attendees at the conference were basically leaders of countries that had become independent after Japan drove off their former colonial powers such as Britain and France.
Shigemitsu Mamoru, who had taken up the post of foreign minister in April of 1943, proposed holding of the conference. He talked about the purpose of the conference as follows:
Japan’s purpose for war is to liberate and resurrect Asia. That people in East Asia free themselves from colonial subjugation and attain equal status with other countries is fundamental for world peace. Realizing this goal is the objective of this war. Only when this goal is achieved will Japan be completely satisfied.
The Joint Declaration of the Greater East Asia Conference was partly intended to counter the Atlantic Charter that the U.S. and the U.K. issued in August of 1941. The U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill signed the charter that adopted the principle of racial self-determination. However, the two leaders thought that this principle did not apply to Asia and Africa. Shigemitsu pointed out this contradiction.
Shigemitsu convinced Emperor Showa and the then Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo that the principle of racial self-determination must be applied to all countries in South East Asia through the policy of Asian liberation, and he managed to hold the conference. This was the first-ever summit meeting of only colored people.
Western Powers’ Insatiable Exploitation in Asia
The declaration states that the West indulged in insatiable aggression and exploitation and sought to enslave the people of Asia. Many people in the world forget that, and it is hard to describe the suffering that Asian people went through during colonial rule.
Britain benefitted from the cotton textile imports via the East Indian Company (EIC) because Indian textiles were sought after by most European countries. With the growth of the cotton textile industry in Britain due to the Industrial Revolution, it started to export British cotton products to India. However, Britain imposed tariffs on Indian cotton goods imported into the country whereas British textiles exported to India were exempted from taxes. The EIC even acted cruelly, such as cutting off the hands of Indian weavers, which devastated the indigenous weaving industry in India.
Britain also imported tea and porcelain from the Qing Empire, but it had few exportable products to the Qing dynasty. That would have caused Britain to suffer from a constant trade deficit, so it made India grow opium poppy on the plantations and sold opium, a kind of narcotic, to the Qing dynasty. As opium penetrated all levels of society in the country, the Qing dynasty launched a crackdown on the trafficking and use of opium. The interests of both countries clashed, which developed into the First Opium War of 1840.
In Indonesia, the Dutch colonial government enforced the cultivation of export crops to Europe such as sugar, coffee, and other goods, and turned a great deal of farmland, including rice paddies, into plantations so that the Indonesian peasants could not grow food crops to support themselves. Some towns in Indonesia saw a decrease in population by as much as two-thirds. The colonial government did not provide education for the native people and left them illiterate to make it easier to control them. As a result, the literacy rate in Indonesia remained at small percent.
At that time, there were over 300 native ethnic groups in Indonesia that used different languages and dialects. The colonial government let each ethnic group use their own language to prevent them from building up their identities as Indonesians.
The U.S. conquered the Kamehameha dynasty of the Kingdom of Hawaii by force in 1898, and in that year, it started a war with Spain (Spanish-American War). The U.S. promised the Filipino revolutionaries that it would give them independence after the war and secured their cooperation for the U.S. troops.
However, when the U.S. forces and the revolutionary army defeated the Spanish forces, the U.S. broke its promise and annexed the Philippines. The Filipino revolutionaries resisted the annexation and struggled for independence, which developed into the Philippines-American War that continued into 1913. It is said that the U.S. killed more than 600,000 Filipino civilians in the war.
Thus, many Asian countries had suffered under Western colonial rule, and Japan fought the Greater East Asia War for the cause of liberating Asian countries from the rule of the U.S., Britain, and other European countries.
Japan Conducted Good Policies in Korea and Taiwan
On the other hand, some people view that Japan also colonized the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan, and indulged in exploitation, but in fact, the situation was totally different. Japan invested huge amounts of government funds into improving the industrial and social infrastructures there, such as healthcare and education, which promoted the rapid modernization of these countries.
Japanese government subsidies accounted for 10 to 20 percent of the revenue of the colonial government in Korea. Therefore, it is nonsense to insist that Japan indulged in exploitation. To the contrary, the Governor-General of Korea used the money to build hospitals to improve the poor hygienic environment, successfully preventing infectious diseases and drastically reducing the infant mortality rate. With an aim to produce people like Kinjiro Ninomiya (a prominent Japanese agricultural leader, philosopher, moralist, and economist), the colonial government also spread education throughout Korea and encouraged its citizens to learn Hangul letters which had already been created during the Joseon Dynasty in the 1400′s.
At the time of the annexation in 1910, about 20,000 children attended public elementary schools, but in 1937, the figure reached as many as about 9 million. In addition, the Japanese government placed importance on higher education and established the Keijo Imperial University ahead of other domestic Imperial Universities such as those in Osaka and Nagoya.
The colonial government also improved the food situation and doubled rice production. As a result, the population of Korea increased rapidly from 9.8 million before the annexation to 24 million. Before the annexation, the state of poverty could have been compared to the living conditions during the Genpei period (the late 11th century to the late 12th century) in Japan. The colonial government successfully overcame this poverty in just 30 years.
Also in Taiwan, Japan improved the industrial infrastructure as well as the social infrastructure including education and healthcare. The rate of enrollment in elementary schools reached 71 percent in 1944. It was the second highest level after mainland Japan, marking a sharp contrast with the Western colonial systems that did not provide decent educations.
The average Taiwanese life expectancy, which had been 30 years in 1895 when Japan started to rule Taiwan, rose to 60 years in 1943. The population of Taiwan increased sharply from about 2.6 million to 6.6 million.
In light of these historical facts, you will find that Japanese governing policy stood for good politics, which was completely different from the colonial rule by the Western powers whose “insatiable aggression and exploitation” and “inordinate ambition to enslave Asian people” killed many local residents and destroyed their lives and industries.
In fact, Japan in those days was a federal state consisting of Korea and Taiwan just as the U.K. forms a federation with Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. At that time, it was not an uncommon state configuration. For example, Austria-Hungary, which disintegrated after WW1, and Czechoslovakia, which existed until 1992, had taken the form of federal states. Since Japan was a federal state, the argument in itself that Japan had colonized Korea and Taiwan and had exploited them was far from the mark.
Japan “Won” WW2 in Terms of the Purpose of the War
I mentioned that the objective of the Greater East Asia War was to liberate Asian countries from the colonial rule of Western countries. Then, what was the outcome?
Japan was the only country that had virtually maintained its independence before WW2. Back in the late 1800s, Western powers such as the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Russia fiercely competed to acquire colonies in East Asia. Japan alone rose up against the Western countries and defeated Russia in the Russo-Japan War. After that, Japan clashed with the U.S. over its concessions on the Chinese continent. The U.S. imposed an economic blockade on Japan along with other European countries, forcing Japan to go into the Greater East Asia War with the U.S. and Britain.
After the war, the world has completely changed. Before the war, there were about 50 independent nations around the world. Around 1960, there were over 100 independent countries, and now there are about 190 independent, sovereign states. Many of them are countries in Asia and Africa that have been liberated from the Western colonial rule.
It is a little known fact that the Japanese army fought with the allied forces of Britain and South Africa in Madagascar off the east coast of Africa. The impact that Japan has made on the African people has been significant. It is said that the South African regime was seriously concerned that it would have to give up apartheid (racial segregation) when Japan closed in on them.
Carl von Clausewitz, a military theorist from the 19th century, defined victory or defeat in war by saying that what matters is whether you accomplish the purpose of your war, not whether you win or lose.
The war between Japan and the U.S. started with conflicts between the two countries over interests on the Chinese continent. However, after the war, China established a Communist regime, and the U.S. had to give up all of its interests there. The U.K. lost India, Malaysia, and all its other colonies around the world. The then Prime Minister Churchill lamented that it was an unnecessary war.
As a result, from the 1960s to 1990s, South Korea, Taiwan, and South-East Asian countries achieved miraculous economic growth rates. In recent years, we have been seeing a phenomenon called “east and west reversed” in which the GDPs of emerging countries have been overtaking those of advanced countries.
Before the war, Western powers split up China, and it possessed a half-colonized status. Thanks to Japan that waged a war against the West, China was able to emerge from its colonial rule and build its current prosperity. India won independence from Britain, and is now enjoying prosperity with its population reaching 1.2 billion.
From the perspective of such significant change in the postwar world, it can be said that although Japan was not a victor nation in WW2, it still “won” its objective of “liberating Asian countries from the colonial rule”.
Education and Free Speech Led America to Independence
America was also a country that gained independence from colonial rule. One of the causes that led America to declaring independence was the war-driven taxes that the British Parliament imposed on North American colonies.
In 1775, the colonists of America rose up, claiming that the taxes the British Parliament imposed, which did not represent America’s interests, were unconstitutional. They attacked the ships the East India Company owned, and threw an entire shipment of tea into the Boston harbor (The Boston Tea Party). The British government responded harshly and punished the colonists, taking away self-government from Massachusetts and sending its troops there. This is how the American Revolutionary War began.
At that time, there was a growing awareness in the minds of people in the North American colonies that they should develop their “country” on their own. The first settlers arrived at North America in 1607, and about ten years later, the colonial legislative assembly convened. In 1630, more than 1,000 immigrants arrived, and six years later, they established Harvard University, one of today’s most prestigious universities in the world. While taming the wilderness of the western frontier, the colonists gave high priority to nurturing new leaders such as politicians and ministers.
There were many British intellectuals among the settlers. Around 1640, they created a publishing company, which grew to publish a full-fledged newspaper in 1704 despite the ban on publications that the British government imposed. In an environment like this, the colonists began to have a consciousness that America was their own country, which heightened their momentum toward independence.
American Independence as a Foundation for Freedom
Hannah Arendt, a political theorist in the 20th century, stated in one of her books, “On Revolution”:
The end of a revolution is the foundation for freedom and the foundation of a political entity, which ensures a space where freedom can be realized.
The term “freedom” here means the pursuit of public happiness, and public happiness means the right to participate in politics. Arendt thinks that human happiness lies in the freedom to discuss, to make decisions, and to take action concerning how to improve a community in general. In other words, it is the freedom to determine your community’s destiny.
And she found the ideal of such democracy in the American Revolutionary War.
The archetype of democracy that Arendt considered as ideal was the democracy of ancient Greece where its citizens had public debates. The “foundation for freedom” means creating in a public sphere a place where people can engage in free debate.
Just after the outset of the American Revolutionary War, colonists still remained split on whether to support the war for independence. They were divided into three groups: the Patriots, the Loyalists, and the Neutrals.
Then, Thomas Paine, a political activist and philosopher, wrote a pamphlet titled “Common Sense”, in which he asserted that Britain did not contribute to the prosperity of North America and that independence was the only solution for America. This bolstered people’s enthusiasm for independence from Britain, leading Americans to issue the Declaration of Independence.
Each and Every Person Is a Being that Wants to Leave a Mark on the Era
Why did Arendt think that it was human happiness to participate in politics, to discuss freely, and to determine the fate of communities? In one of her main works, “Human Condition,” Arendt wrote as follows:
Each and every human being is one and only existence. This means that when individual human beings are born into this world, they each bring something new and unique into this world.
She believed that since each and every human being has a unique personality, participating in activities such as politics and argument allows them to add “something new and unique” of their own to this world.
In his book, “About Ideal Politics,” Ryuho Okawa, the Founder and CEO of the Happy Science group, stated:
We often feel happiness when we live an active life. It is a desire to devote our life to making a difference in the world and to leave some monument as the evidence that we lived in this era. We have a desire to make a mark on this era through our activities, and I believe that in the process of realizing this, we, humans, can enjoy true happiness.
George Washington, the Commander-in-chief during the American Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson who drew up the Declaration of Independence and other leaders of the American Revolution were representative figures that left their marks on the era.
President Lincoln, who disseminated America’s founding principles of “freedom” to the blacks as well as whites, was undoubtedly one such leader. At the time of the Civil War, the South had a population of about 9 million, of which about 4 million were Afro-American slaves. Lincoln insisted that the existence of the slaves in America would not be tolerated in God’s name, leading the Union to victory despite the loss of more than 600,000 lives on both sides.
Lincoln ended the Gettysburg Address he made during the war with the following famous line, “We here highly resolve that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” I believe that the thought that Lincoln put into those words was that Americans should protect the public sphere where the Founding Fathers of the United States had created freedom, the public had participated in politics, and the community had built public happiness.
The emancipation of the black slaves was a part of this major objective.
The Meiji Restoration as a “Foundation for Liberty”
The spirit of American Independence and Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves actually had a major influence on the Meiji Restoration in Japan. The leading spirits of the Restoration, who contributed to establishing the Meiji Government, were strongly conscious of the thoughts and actions of Washington and Lincoln. They abolished the class system of the samurai, the farmers, the artisans, and the merchants, and created a society where all people were equal. In view of the fact that it was only in the 1960s that the U.S. eliminated social and legal discrimination against African Americans in the southern states, Japan was 100 years ahead of the U.S.
The Meiji government issued the Charter Oath of Five Articles in 1868 that outlined basic national policies as below.
Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established and all important matters decided by open discussion.
All classes, high and low, shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.
The Charter Oath included part of the idea of the participation of “the people” in politics. During the Edo period, people’s birth determined their lives, but the government abolished the privileged class of the samurai, paving the way to the public’s participation in politics.
Taisho Democracy as a “Foundation for Liberty”
Due to the rising tide of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement, the Imperial Edict for Establishing a Diet was issued in 1881. In 1889, the Meiji Constitution (the Constitution of the Empire of Japan) was promulgated. After the Imperial Diet was inaugurated the next year, Japan became the first country in Asia to practice a parliamentary democracy.
Twenty years after the Diet was established, political parties took initiative away from the domain clique and the military, realizing a democratic government on the same level as its post-war one (Taisho Democracy).
In 1918, the cabinet of Prime Minister Takashi Hara, the first party cabinet in Japan, was established. After that, the three party coalition cabinet of Constitutional protection was formed, which shifted into the two-party system in which the Seiyu-kai Party and the Minsei Party took charge of the government alternately from 1925 to 1932 when party politics in Japan entered its golden age.
Just several decades after the Edo period when the ruling class of samurai had governed the country, Japan created a society where common people were able to carve out paths through their own talents and efforts and could participate in politics. Amidst the white subjugation of colored people around the world, the Japanese established their own government (public sphere) and created a political system so that they could determine their country’s destiny.
(Viewed in this light, it is obviously wrong for countries like China and the U.S. to claim that WW2 was a war fought against Japan, a fascist nation. After Taisho democracy, the Diet never ceased to function in Japan, and even during the war, people publicly criticized the military in speech. This means Japan was not a fascist state that suppressed different opinions.
On the contrary, the Japanese government was entirely different from the Hitler-led Nazis in Germany, the Mussolini government in Italy, and Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union, on which political power was concentrated.)
Japan Called on the World to Abolish Racial Discrimination
What is more, Japan tried to spread to the world a political system in which people could govern themselves without being subject to the rule of the white supremacists.
At the Paris Peace Conference held after WW1 in 1919, a commission was appointed to discuss a covenant for the Leagues of Nations. Japan proposed that the preamble include a principle related to the equality of all nations and the equal and just treatment of all people. It is said that Japan was the first country to make an explicit claim about the abolition of racial discrimination at an international conference.
However, U.S. president Wilson, who was acting as chairman, insisted that Japan drop the racial equality proposal. In response, Japan demanded that the proposal be put to a vote. Eleven delegates including France, Italy, and China were in favor of the proposal, while five delegates such as Britain and the U.S. were against it. A clear majority approved the proposal, but Wilson rejected it, saying that such an important issue should be decided unanimously.
In the Paris Peace Conference, Japan stood squarely against the U.S. over the issue of racial discrimination. This confrontation continued after the conference, and Japan finally had to have a military showdown with the U.S. in the Greater East Asia War.
The Indonesians and Japanese Are Brothers
Thus, America’s founding principles of liberty and justice have been significant influences on the Civil War and the Meiji Restoration and the ensuing establishment of the Imperial Diet in Japan. Therefore, Americans should well understand the significance of the independence of a country and the principles upon which a country becomes founded. However, few Americans understand that in WW2 Japan wanted to realize a goal that people in Asian countries could develop their countries on their own.
After the outset of the war in 1941, the Japanese army took control of British Malayan (a set of states on the Malay Archipelago and the island of Singapore), Burma, the Dutch East Indies, and the American Philippines in six months or so. The then Japanese Prime Minister, Tojo, issued a statement. He said while keeping Malaysia as a military stronghold, Japan would recognize the independence of the Philippines and Burma.
Japan ultimately aimed to realize the independence of all Japanese occupied areas. You could see this fact in the words of the Commander of the Sixteenth Army, Lieutenant General Hitoshi Imamura, who drove the Dutch Army out Indonesia.
Indonesians offered food and other goods to the Japanese army during its battles with Dutch forces. Local people quoted Imamura as saying that some of Japan’s ancestors sailed across the sea from the islands around Indonesia to Japan, so Indonesians and Japanese were brothers. He went on to say that the Japanese fought against the Dutch to ensure that the Indonesians would regain their freedom.
This idea was contained in the edict he issued after the territory was placed under military administration.
- The Japanese and Indonesians share a common ancestor that comes from the same race.
- The Japanese Imperial Army aims to realize coexistence with Indonesia in mutual prosperity.
- Indonesia is placed under military administration in accordance with the principle of universal brotherhood.
The ideal that Japan tried to realize in its occupied territories was completely dissimilar to Western colonial rule, during which time white people indulged in exploitation and enslaved native populations.
Adolescent Education Was Top Priority in Southeast Asia under Japanese Military Rule
Japan established a military administration in the occupied countries of Southeast Asia and started to prepare for their independence. It placed top priority on the education of youths there.
Japan also provided military training to local young people and organized independence armies because having a military is indispensable to an independent state. In Indonesia, the Japanese military government helped Indonesians organize Tentara Pembela Tenah Air (PETA), an Indonesian volunteer army, which later became the foundation of the national military. Also in Burma, it provided military training to pro-independent activists outside the country before WW2, which became the Burma Independence Army and fought against British forces after the war began.
In India under British rule, Japan fully supported the Provisional Government of Free India, which Chandra Bose led, who was a leader of the pro-independence movement. It also helped organize the Indian National Army with captive Indian soldiers of the British Indian Army.
Under Western colonial supervision, ruling nations never provided weapons to colonists, not to mention military training. In contrast, Japan trusted the local people and tried to help them achieve independence together.
Furthermore, Japan focused on nurturing political leaders and administrative officers. In each territory, it established educational institutions such as agricultural schools, technical schools, mercantile marine schools, and teacher’s schools. Kumayoshi Harada, the commander in charge of the military government in Indonesia, issued an order to train 100,000 elite soldiers to lead the Indonesian independence army and achieved the goal in just over three years.
Under colonial rule, local people were not allowed to participate in politics. In the Netherlands East Indies (today’s Indonesia), local people were charged with rebellion if they had any sort of gatherings or stood around talking with a group of three or more people. The Japanese military government completely changed that policy to allow the Indonesian people to get involved in politics and helped them to establish a representative assembly.
Japan also placed emphasis on national education in the territories it governed. Under colonial rule, the colonizing nations used their languages to educate the local residents, whereas the Japanese military government provided education to the local people using their indigenous languages.
As previously mentioned, in Indonesia, the Netherlands did not provide education to the local people to leave them illiterate, or let more than 300 tribes use their own dialects, not allowing them to have a standardized language. For this reason, the local people in Indonesia could not develop a consciousness of being “Indonesian”.
On the contrary, the Japanese military administration encouraged them to use Indonesian as a standard language, leading them to developing a national identity as Indonesians.
Despite Japan’s efforts to prepare for independence, the local leaders strongly criticized Japan, demanding for immediate independence. However, leaders of a country cannot be raised overnight. In terms of results, Japan brought independence to Asian countries in just a few years whereas it took the U.S. 170 years to become a free nation. Considering this fact, we may well call the achievement Japan made a miracle in world history.
Japan Inspired Asian People to Make the Nations of Their Ancestors Their Own Again
After Japan was defeated, Britain, the Netherlands, and France sent troops to their former colonies in an attempt to regain control over them. However, Japan had already trained independence armies and political leaders there, and people there had developed self-confidence in their abilities to develop their own countries responsibly.
Raja Dato Nong Chik, who came from Malay to study at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy during the wartime and served as a former member of the Malaysian House of Representatives and Senate after the war, talked about what the Greater East Asia War meant to Malaysians:
Many of the countries in Asia could gain independence because Japan fought the Greater East Asia War. Japanese soldiers drove out the forces of Western Europe, which had colonized the nations of Asia for many years. They surprised us, because we didn’t think we could possibly beat the white man, and they inspired us with confidence. They awakened us from our long slumber, and convinced us to make the nation of our ancestors our own nation once again.
After the war, Malaysia became a British colony again, but an independence movement grew throughout the country. Britain could not quiet the movement, and in 1957, Malaysia finally achieved independence.
Mountbatten, the Supreme East Asia Commander of South East Asia Command, highly rated Japanese military rule. In his report, he said, “Western countries thought that people in their colonies did not have the will and ability to attain independence. But Japan provided them with systematic military training in a short time, fostered patriotism among them, and significantly improved their military and administrative capabilities.”
A “Space for Free Speech” that Brought About Independence
During the war, freedom of speech was partly restricted in countries under the rule of Japan, but the space for free debate in the public sphere that Thomas Paine described in “Common Sense” did indeed exist.
In May of 1943, when then Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo visited the Philippines, he addressed a crowd of tens of thousands in Manila, promising anew to give them independence. In October of that year, the Philippines became independent. Filipinos established a Philippines Constitution under Japanese military rule, which stipulated that a popular election should be conducted within a year and that a meeting should be held within 60 days after the election to draw up and adopt a new constitution. It differed from the Macarthur draft that the GHQ prepared under the American occupation, which did not include such a stipulation. Japan well understood that Filipinos should discuss and formulate their own constitution and build a nation based on their own initiatives.
Free discussions were also held in Indonesia. Japan was supposed to recognize the independence of Indonesia in September of 1945, but it was defeated beforehand. Immediately after Japan’s defeat, Sukarno, who was the leader of the independence movement and later became the first president of Indonesia, declared independence. At that point, the Japanese Imperial army still took the duties of maintaining security. It could have prohibited meetings and public speeches, but it allowed Sukarno and other leaders to give street speeches in the squares of Jakarta city. The people in Indonesia rose up in response to Sukarno’s call for them to stake their lives to win independence. After four long years of fighting against the Dutch forces, they finally achieved independence.
Chandra Bose’s Speeches Ignited the Indian Independent Movement
It can be said that the space for free speech brought about Indian independence. When the Japanese Imperial Army, which aimed for the liberation and independence of India, and the Indian National Army (INA) launched the Imphal campaign in March of 1944, Chandra Bose, a leader of the Indian independence movement, addressed his people in India over the radio.
He said, “Unless we rid India of foreign invaders (the British forces), the Indian people will never get freedom, Asia will never be able to enjoy freedom and security, and the imperialistic wars will never end.”
Immediately after the whole army was forced to retreat, driven back with heavy losses, he urged the Indian people to strengthen their determination to become independent.
“We should have but one desire today – the desire to die so that India may live – the desire to face a martyr’s death, so that the path to freedom may be paved with martyr’s blood. It is blood alone that can pay the price of freedom. Give me blood, and I promise you freedom!”
Bose’s calling from his soul ignited the independence movement in India. After WW2, British forces brought the three leaders of INA to military tribunal for treason. The people of India revered them as heroes of the war for independence, so they took to the streets for demonstrations and burnt down buildings each and every day. Britain could not bring the situation under control, and India threw off the yoke of its 200-year long British Colonial rule and won independence.
In the Philippines, Indonesia, and India, people had the freedom to hold discussions, make decisions, and they could take action regarding how to make their countries into great nations. One could argue that what Arendt described as public happiness almost came to realization.
Arendt did not talk about the Greater East Asia War at all. If she had studied it thoroughly, she might have said that Japan founded freedom in Southeast Asia and India, which spread to more than 100 countries after the war.
Furthermore, she did not refer to the Meiji Restoration in Japan. If she had studied it in detail, she would have said that the restoration and the ensuing democracy in Japan founded freedom just as the American Revolution did.
Japan Gave Birth to the Heroes of the Independence Movements in Asia
Ba Maw, a Burmese independence activist, said in his book, “No other country has ever contributed so much to Asia as Japan. However, no other country has been misunderstood as seriously as Japan.”
In fact, the British and the Dutch forces tried many Japanese soldiers as Class B/C war criminals at the military tribunals and executed them for crimes they had not committed and without giving them any opportunity to explain themselves.
Commander Harada Masayoshi, who was in charge of the military administration in Indonesia, was also put to death after the war.
Asian countries won independence because there were heroes of the independence wars in each country. I have no intention to say that they owed their independence to Japan. However, it is true that the Japanese leaders and army nurtured, helped, and inspired those heroes.
The former Thai Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj posted a poem entitled “December 8th” in a newspaper in 1955 while he was a journalist:
It was thanks to Japan that all the nations of Asia gained independence. For Mother Japan, it was a difficult birth, which resulted in much suffering, yet her children are growing up quickly to be healthy and strong.
Who was it that enabled the citizens of the nations of Southeast Asia to gain equal status alongside the United States and Britain today? It is because of Japan, who acted like a mother to us all, carrying out acts of benevolence towards us and performing feats of self-sacrifice. December 8th is the day when Mother Japan – who taught us this important lesson – laid her life on the line for us, after making a momentous decision and risking her own well-being for our sake.
Furthermore, August 15th was when our beloved and revered mother was frail and ailing. Neither of these two days should ever be forgotten.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Japan is the Mother of all independence movement heroes in every Asian country.
In the Indonesian war for independence against the British and Dutch forces, Japanese soldiers, who remained in Indonesia, offered to help them in the fight. About 2,000 soldiers took part in the battle, and about half of them were killed on the battlefield. Those who could not participate in the battle asked the Indonesian troops to kill them because giving their weapons to the Indonesian soldiers was against military discipline. There were as many as 3 million Japanese who sacrificed their lives to carry out acts of benevolence.
“World Spirit” Brought About the Greater East Asia War and the Independence of Asia and Africa
When the Greater East Asia War began, those who had lived during the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate said, what Shoin Yoshida had said, had come true. Shoin attempted to go to America to get to know Asia’s enemy better. His true intent was to open his country to the world, introduce Western civilization, and then carry out an expulsion of the foreigners. Those who had experienced the end of the Edo period thought that the Greater East Asia War implemented the ideal of expelling foreigners.
After all, the spirit underlying the Meiji Restoration was “reverence for the Emperor and the expulsion of foreigners.” The “opening of the country” and “civilization and enlightenment” were means to realize this goal. The Greater East Asia War turned out to be the final stage of the Meiji Restoration.
The confrontation between the Choshu domain that revered Shoin Yoshida as a spiritual leader and the Edo shogunate that became too bureaucratized to make decisions caused upheaval at the end of the Edo period, but there was not so big of a difference in the way that they thought.
Masayoshi Hotta, who served as the head of roju (senior councilors of the Tokugawa shogunate) before Naosuke Ii assumed tairo (chief minister), was quoted as saying, “Japan must become a powerful nation by opening the country to the world and by taking in Western civilization, and then unite the world in the spirit of Hakko Ichiu, which literally means eight corners of the world under one roof.”
“Hakko Ichiu” is one of the founding principles of Japan. The first Emperor Jinmu stated in an imperial script at the time of his ascension, “I shall cover the eight directions and make them an abode.”
At that time, there had been constant conflicts among the powerful local ruling clans, so the emperor called for the people to end the wars and unite like a family.
This philosophy of peace is the origin of the Japanese people, and Shoin Yoshida who was part of the anti-Tokugawa shogunate faction and Masayoshi Hotta who was on the shogunate side shared it. This spirit of “Hakko Ichiu” bore fruit in the form of the Joint Declaration of the Greater East Asia conference in 1943, which proclaimed the liberation of Asian countries from Western aggression and exploitation and the realization of the co-existence with Asian countries in mutual prosperity. As I mentioned before, Commander Imamura, who was in charge of the military administration in Indonesia, said that the Indonesians and Japanese were brothers. His words come from the spirit of “Hakko Ichiu”.
After the French Revolution, Napoleon ascended to the throne and conquered Europe almost in its entirety. When the French army defeated Prussia in 1806 and Napoleon entered Jena, Hegel saw the emperor riding past and said, “The World Spirit on horseback”.
In the wake of the war, the feudal lords in Prussia declined in power while nationalism grew through resistance to the Napoleon’s army, which paved the way to Prussia becoming a modern nation-state. Hegel saw an act of divine providence in it, describing it as the “World Spirit”.
As a consequence of the Greater East Asia War, Japan created many independent nations, so it can be said that like Napoleon, Japan embodied the “World Spirit”.
In this sense, the Meiji Restoration, Taisho democracy, the Greater East Asia War, and the independence of Asian-African nations were huge tidal currents that the “World Spirit” created.
Clearing up WW2 Misunderstandings About Japan on the 70th Anniversary
What I have discussed so far can be summarized as follows: The Greater East Asian War achieved the goal of founding freedom like the American Revolution did. It was an act of divine providence, reminiscent of Hegel’s “World Spirit”, and in accord with God’s will, many Japanese sacrificed their lives and carried out acts of benevolence.”
However, the world still misconstrues Japan’s deeds. China has been calling Japan a fascist nation, encouraging a misunderstanding. The U.S. and the U.K. believe more strongly than China that Japan was an evil country rather than just going along with the Chinese position.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2, and it is high time for the Japanese to clear up the misunderstandings about Japan. The Japanese people should awaken to the fact that the objective of the Greater East Asia War was the foundation for freedom, that is, the emancipation of Asia, and should take the following actions:
(1) Urge the U.S. to correct its mistaken historical views
Japan cannot review the Kono and Murayama statements now in the face of opposition from the U.S. However, the American War of Independence and the Greater East Asia War shared the same ideal. If the U.S. still insists on treating Japan as a criminal state, it is just acting out of racial discrimination.
(2) Awaken the Japanese to the fact that the spirits of the war dead accomplished the valuable mission of emancipating Asia, and hold a mass for the spirits who were unable to return to heaven after death
More than 2 million people died in WW2, and they were the people who helped Asian-African people to fulfill their wishes to develop their countries on their own, so the spirits of the war dead should be respected.
(3) Amend Article 9, the war-renouncing provision of Japan’s Constitution
Japan has been depending on the U.S. for its own national defense, so the Japanese are unable to be responsible for their own country. The “foundation for freedom” must also be achieved in Japan.
(4) Encourage China to democratize and to realize the “foundation for freedom” that allows the public’s participation in politics
China is a fascist nation that imprisons people who disagree with the Communist party lines. There are also “colonies” in China. In November of 2013, a ceremony was held in Japan to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Greater East Asia War, at which a message from Rebiya Kadeer, a civil-rights activist from Uighur, an autonomous region of China, was read:
70 years ago, Japan established the sublime national ideal of emancipating the peoples of Asia who had been oppressed and killed under the Western powers’ colonial rule. I sincerely hope that Japan will go back to that ideal and support Uighur as a powerful democratic nation.
Japan must realize the foundation for freedom to liberate Uighur, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia from the control of the Chinese Communist Party.
(5) Japan must fulfill its responsibility within the international community to lead developing Asian-African nations
Although Japan was defeated, the ideals and consequence of the Greater East Asia War were correct. Japan should pursue these ideals in the future and carry on with its responsibility to help Asian-African countries to develop further.
When Bung Tomo, one of the leaders of the Indonesian war for independence, visited Japan as chief of the intelligence department and met with the then Japanese Prime Minister, Nobusuke Kishi, he was quoted as saying the following:
Japan’s failure is to have forsaken its aspiration to emancipate Asia and Africa because of just one defeat in war. Japan’s mission will not end until the colored races in Asia and Africa enjoy freedom and prosperity just as Western people do. So it is my sincere wish that Japan will continue to give guidance and assistance to us.
Japan founded freedom at home and overseas from the late Edo period through the Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods. So, the role that Japan should play in the international community is clear ― it is to help people in each country to actualize the freedom to participate in politics and to determine the fate of their countries on their own and to attain happiness based on “creating a future from freedom”.
The ideals of the Greater East Asia War will continue to live throughout the 21st century.
※The following is an English translation of the Joint Declaration of the Greater East Asia Conference.
The Joint Declaration of the Greater East Asia Conference
It is the basic principle for the establishment of world peace that the nations of the world have each their proper place, and enjoy prosperity in common through mutual aid and assistance.
The United States of America and the British Empire have in seeking their own prosperity oppressed other nations and peoples. Especially in East Asia, they have indulged in insatiable aggression and exploitation, and sought to satisfy their inordinate ambition of enslaving the entire region, and finally they came to menace seriously the stability of East Asia. Herein lies the cause of the recent war. The countries of Greater East Asia, with a view of contributing to the cause of world peace, undertake to cooperate toward prosecuting the War of Greater East Asia to a successful conclusion, liberating the region from the yoke of British-American domination, and ensuring its self-existence and self-defense, and in constructing a Greater East Asia in accordance with the following principles:
- The countries of Greater East Asia through mutual cooperation will ensure the stability of the region and construct an order of common prosperity and well being based upon justice.
- The countries of Greater East Asia will ensure the fraternity of nations in the region, by respecting one another’s sovereignty and independence and practicing mutual assistance and amity.
- The countries of Greater East Asia by respecting one another’s traditions and developing the creative faculties of each race will enhance the culture and civilization of Greater East Asia.
- The countries of Greater East Asia will endeavor to accelerate their economic development through close cooperation upon a basis of reciprocity and to promote thereby the general prosperity of the region.
- The countries of Greater East Asia will cultivate friendly relations with all the countries of the world, and work for the abolition of racial discrimination, the promotion of cultural intercourse, and the opening of resources throughout the world, thereby contributing to the progress of mankind.