It seems that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress during his visit to the United States in late April. House Speaker John Boehner made the decision to allow the congressional address. Addressing the joint session of Congress is by far the highest honor and respect that the U.S. can give to the head of a foreign state. Needless to say, Japan and United States have been traditionally staunch allies, and there are a total of three prime ministers of Japan who addressed the U.S. Congress. Yet, there hasn’t been a single case of a Japanese prime minister addressing a joint session of Congress since the end of the war approximately 70 years ago. Plus, this is an address that hasn’t happened for the last 54 years. No doubt, Japan is very pleased with this diplomatic success.
Japan needs to look back and figure out why their prime minister was never invited to address a joint session of Congress. Here is a little hint: the lack of willingness to face historical issues. Back when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pushed for his own joint session address, the motion was rejected because of his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. Prime Minister Abe repeatedly denies the historical facts. He tries to damage the Murayama Statement by claiming that “the definition of war of aggression is not fixed,” and underestimates the Kono Statement, which admitted the involuntariness of the Japanese military’s comfort women as “a product of diplomatic compromise between two nations after consultation, rather than based on the historical facts.”* He is trying very hard to go against the course of history.
The reactions to Prime Minister Abe’s upcoming address to the joint session of Congress are somewhat cold. Rep. Mike Honda, a pro-Korean politician, stated that “I would hope that Prime Minister Abe would make sure that … he acknowledges the systemic kidnapping of girls and women during the 1930s and 1940s during the second world war that they were responsible for, that he apologizes on behalf of the government, that the apology be unambiguous, and that he accepts the historical responsibility.”
A group of U.S. veterans sent a letter to the Congress, demanding that “Prime Minister Abe should only be invited to give a speech to Congress if he admits Japan’s historical responsibility for its wartime conduct.”
Recently, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Japan and urged the country to “set its history straight”: a powerful message from the international community to Japan. It is never too late for Japan to change. History is not something you can paint over and hope for a new and better version of it. Prime Minister Abe’s address to Congress is a great opportunity for Japan to sincerely apologize and make amends for its embarrassing past.
*Editor’s Note: The Yasukuni Shrine is a Japanese Shinto shrine to war dead who served the Emperor of Japan during wars from 1867-1951. The Murayama Statement by then Prime Minister of Japan Tomiichi Murayama in 1995 apologized for the damage and suffering caused by Japan to its Asian neighbors.
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