Massive ceremonies focused on military display are planned by China on Sept. 3 to mark the defeat of Japan in World War II. This is yet another step in the re-writing of history that ignores most of the rest of Asia.
The facts of history are that Japan lost a war with the United States, the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki being the concluding act. The consequence was the withdrawal of Japan from China and other conquered territories such as Korea. The Communist Party under Mao Zedong spent very little energy fighting the Japanese, leaving itself in a better position to take on the Kuomintang afterward.
Without Japan’s high-risk decision to go to war with the US, which was strangling its fuel supplies, it is very likely that Japan would still control part of China, most likely Manchuria, in which it had invested heavily in industry and infrastructure.
China’s rulers today are not only exaggerating China’s role in Japan’s defeat but most specifically that of the Communist Party. Propaganda now claims that Mao himself, not Chiang Kai-shek, was present along with Roosevelt and Churchill at the 1943 Cairo conference which discussed what to do with Japan and its conquered territories after the war.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was conspicuous by his absence from Cairo because the Soviets (Mao’s supporters) had a non-aggression pact with Japan. This did not end until August 8, 1945, two days after the Hiroshima bomb, when the Soviets declared war and moved into Manchuria and the Kurile islands. Earlier Stalin has promised his Anglo-American allies that he would attack Japan at some point in exchange for their agreement to his seizing Sakhalin and the Kuriles.
Stirring continuing hatred of Japan has long been a theme of the Communist Party’s attempt to wrap itself in nationalist clothes and to paint Japan as an aggressor despised throughout Asia.
Not black and white
However, the history is rather more complicated. Korea surely suffered under Japanese rule. Yet the fact remains that many Koreans voluntarily joined the Japanese war effort (almost certainly including at least some of the “comfort women” who have become a focus of Korean outrage.) The best known of those volunteers was none other than former President Park Chung-hee, whose daughter is now president. He joined the Changchun Military Academy in 1942, graduated third in his class and became an officer in the Imperial Army in Manchuria, changing his name to Okamoto Minoru.
Japan’s war with China was brutal, as witness the Nanjing massacre. But Chinese under Japanese rule in Taiwan and to some extent Manchuria enjoyed peace and modest prosperity. Taiwanese nationalist president Lee Teng-hui was a lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army and went to Kyoto University. He took pride in his knowledge of Japan and its culture. His brother joined the Japanese navy and was killed in Manila.