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JapanFocus
'My Grandfather Died to Protect Japan'
[Interview] Yuko Tojo defends the notorious WWII leader and says her country was in a defensive war
David McNeill (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2005-08-22 11:18 (KST)   
There is no mistaking the impact of the family genes on Yuko Tojo's face: she has the same myopic, almond-shaped eyes, thin mouth and wide cheekbones as her infamous grandfather, General Hideki Tojo, who led Japan to disastrous defeat in World War II. She even has his straight-backed military bearing.

Ms. Tojo clearly idolizes her late grandfather, who was executed as Japan's top war criminal in 1948: she carries to interviews with foreign journalists a box of mementos that include nail clippings, a lock of hair, and even the butt of the last cigarette the General smoked while awaiting the hangman's noose in Sugamo Prison.

Contrary to those who put Tojo in the small club of World War II monsters along with Hitler and Mussolini, she says the man who ordered the Pearl Harbor attack led a war of freedom in Asia. "Essentially he was a kind man who loved peace," she says. "He was defending his country against foreign aggressors. His greatest crime was that he loved his country."

In another time or place, Ms. Tojo might be considered a harmless relic, or have opted to live anonymously under her real name Iwanami. But with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II looming, this tiny woman with impeccable manners and the air of a retired school teacher is one of the key figures in a growing historical revisionist movement that is again pulling Asia apart.

The revisionists have already sparked a storm of protest by publishing school textbooks that gloss over Imperial Japan's worst wartime atrocities. Now they risk further confrontation with an increasingly patriotic and assertive China by pushing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to visit Yasukuni -- which many Asians say glorifies militarism - on the anniversary of the end of the Pacific War.

Yuko Tojo ponders in front of the portraits of her grandfather in Tokyo July 26, 2005. The girl in the picture in the background is herself when she was two years old. Tojo, who became a symbol of wartime militarism for many both in and outside Japan, was hanged for war crimes in 1948. He is also one of 14 Class A war criminals honored at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine.
©2005 Reuters/Toru Hanai
Do you remember your grandfather?

My memories of him are slight. My grandfather became prime minister when I was just two years old. He was away most of the time during the following three years and eight months. And at the end of the war, my family hid in Ito for five years and my grandfather was detained at Sugamo Prison. There were lots of people in the house: the driver and so on so we seldom got time alone.

During the war my mother used to bring myself and my older brother Hidekatsu to the Prime Minister's Residence every day where we were left to ourselves. Once in a while, we were able to eat with our grandfather in the residence, with an official cook and staff, but I can't really remember his face.

My brother remembers him. He used to sit on his knee. My grandfather used to feed him fruit. My brother said he was a really gentle person. He felt sorry for the children of the drivers and police because their fathers were so busy. He used to play with the children in the garden and bring them toys.

When grandfather was in Sugamo my brother used to go to see him often. Grandfather worried terribly about my brother's future, how he was going to suffer with that name. We suffered awful discrimination with our name. We weren't allowed to sit in class. Even when we changed schools we weren't allowed into the classrooms. My little sister was beaten and came home covered in blood. My brother couldn't go to school so he was taught by private teachers. That was what it was like at the end of the war in Japan.

Iwanami was my real name but I didn't start to use Tojo until quite recently. The name Tojo was untouchable for 50 years. What changed it was the film "Pride" (a movie apparently based on a book by Yuko Tojo's that has sold 140,000 copies in Japan; the movie, which portrayed the General as a reluctant hero, is one of Japan's highest-grossing movies.)

Do you think Japanese schools should teach more about your grandfather or that he is a role model for young people?

I don't think there is any particular need to teach about him as an individual. The Meiji Era was the first time that a small Asian country had made an impression on the West. It was a source of pride that in Scotland and Turkey and elsewhere they named streets and buildings after us. Japan should have pride in these things and they should be taught.

We should properly explain the international situation at the time, and what the Tokyo Trials were all about. How terrible the situation was. We were surrounded and facing attack. We had no oil, or steel and all our assets abroad were seized. How were we to protect all those millions of Japanese except by standing up for ourselves? The media -- the Asahi, Yomiuri, all of them were fanning the flames, saying "What is Tojo up to? Why doesn't he fight back? The media can't say it was not involved. The people were also involved. Even fifth-grade elementary students were asking: what will we do without steel or oil? And now they talk about the Emperor's responsibility. It is terribly saddening.

The Japanese government is concealing all this. It's not a question of respecting my grandfather. It's about learning to respect someone who loved and fought for his country. Not just Tojo, but also the 2.6 million soldiers who died. We should respect those who fought for their country and that's what should be taught in schools.

Some describe him as "an extreme nationalist and a fascist who hated the very notion of compromise with Britain and the U.S."

People say lots of things. He loved his country.

You could make the same arguments for Hitler, though, couldn't you? He loved his country too.

That's different. He killed his own people -- Jews.

Well, he did. But those who support him would say the same as you -- that he loved Germany above all else. And in any case, "Jews were not real Germans."

My grandfather didn't kill his own people. A lot of people died as a result of a war that could not have been avoided. You have to properly understand the stance of each country. And therefore you need to teach why the countries went to war. We shouldn't keep repeating that Japan was bad. That destroys pride in our country. I mean, if you join a company and are told that the boss is a bad guy and the company is evil you'll stop wanting to work for that company. It's the same.

Japan might not have killed Jews, but it is accused of massacring millions of Chinese.

That was in battle. Please don't confuse the two. Do you know what benhei (soldiers in masquerading as civilians) means? They are soldiers who hide among civilians and attack the Japanese army from behind. You can only tell once you capture them. Australians, British and Americans probably don't know, but in what is referred to as the Nanjing Massacre there were many of these people. Western journalists all believe this Nanjing Massacre. The Chinese say 300,000 were killed. There were media representatives from 150 countries. And as the army entered (she uses the word nyujyo here, which means to enter a city triumphantly), Nanjing and began their assault on the city's castle these reporters were running alongside them. That's how important the Japanese side thought this was. A safety area was set up with 200,000 under John Rabe and the International Committee for the Nanjing Safety Zone. So how could 300,000 people have been killed?

I've heard that argument many times before. The truth is nobody knows exactly how many people were there, but certainly the numbers were swelled by refugees from outside the city. We don't have to get bogged down in figures to know that the army behaved brutally. There were many witnesses, including Rabe, who even as a Nazi was shocked at the behavior of the troops.

There was only one witness at the Tokyo trials who said he actually saw what had happened. The rest was complete rumor and hearsay (denbun bakkari).

Rabe was not the only witness. There were reporters there, including one from the New York Times, another from the Manchester Guardian, not to mention thousands of Chinese civilians.

The truth is coming out now. Fujioka-san (of the Society for History Textbook Reform) has researched this and shown one-by-one how the photographs of the incident were faked by the Chinese side.

I'm sure there is probably some faked evidence, but how can you only focus on the molehill of evidence that supports your claim and ignore the mountain that refutes it?

(Impatiently) Anyway, the truth doesn't just come from one side. You have to look at what really happened from all sides because there is so much hearsay.

So do you think that China and Japan should cooperate to create history textbooks?

No, history recognition is impossible because each country's stance (tachiba) is different. Even when the truth is the same, the interpretation by China and Japan is often completely the opposite. For example, for Koreans the man who assassinated Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909 -- first Prime Minister and drafter of Meiji Constitution) An Chung-gun is a hero, but to us he is a criminal. That's the kind of thing I mean. It's completely impossible.

Tojo on trial for war crimes in Tokyo, 1948
©2005 U.S. Archive
I'd like to ask you about Unit 731 (Tojo was commander of the Kempeitai of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria when Unit 731 began experimenting with live experiment victims. Tojo was allegedly a supporter of biological warfare and the work of Shiro Ishii, the chief medical scientist at 731.)

I know nothing about that or what went on in Manchuria. I'm not an historian. If you want to talk about Yasukuni or something like that, ask me. For anything else, ask a historian.

But you've heard of it?

I've seen the photos by China which look at ways of disinfecting against pests. I don't know about it.

Why didn't your grandfather kill himself by committing seppuku like other leaders?

You know how Mussolini died: being lynched and hung upside down in the streets? And Hitler's death was tragic too. He wanted to avoid those kinds of deaths. And of course my grandfather knew his death would be broadcast all over the world. He didn't want to shoot himself in the head because he didn't want his face being destroyed and going all over the world. He would have died from the shooting wound to his heart, from bleeding, but he was saved by the Americans who wanted to put him on trial.

Do you resent America?

Not even a little. If I resented America I wouldn't be happy that my daughter was married to a citizen of that country, would I? (Her daughter is married to a U.S. citizen who works for Boeing Corp. and lives in the U.S. Tojo says her son-in-law is soon to take a job in Iraq. When her daughter said she was worried about this, her mother told her it couldn't be helped because "one had to defend one's country.") My grandfather admired America and said we could learn from it. And his American lawyers defended him and said the most amazing things. Other lawyers strongly criticize the actions of the Allied Forces. Those people treated my grandfather with great respect and he respected them, even as enemies.

Can I ask you about the Emperor? How do you feel about millions of people being trained that it was noble and beautiful to die for the Emperor?

It wasn't beautiful to die for the Emperor. People were trained from birth as samurai, as soldiers. It was considered natural for millions of people to work and ensure that the emperor was not dishonored. This wasn't for the Emperor; it was for the country -- to protect the country. That was the belief: it was absolutely natural for people to take responsibility for protecting the country.

You don't want to go back to that?

That was then, for better or worse, no matter how we look at it now. This is now. Japan has been at peace for 60 years.

Couldn't war happen again, perhaps with China?

Of course not! The world wouldn't accept this. If China tried to do something, Taiwan, America and other countries would become involved. The world would be looking on. There is no way Japan will become involved in a war with China. We are told we are not a military power even though we are an economic power, right? We don't have an army, just defense forces, right? We have no nuclear weapons. The countries that have these things are America and China. We are not an aggressive (kogekiteki) country. When we did go to war, it was because it couldn't have been avoided.

How about an attack by North Korea?

That is not a normal country. Who knows what it will do.

You don't think there are a lot of similarities between North Korea today and wartime Japan?

Absolutely not; please don't make that comparison. That is an insult to those who died in the war.

Do you think the Emperor bore any responsibility for what happened?

None at all; his majesty wanted peace above all. "Heika wa akumademo heiwa wo motometeita". The emperor is a special existence (tokubetsu na sonzai). He is not like normal people. The Japanese Imperial Family is not like the English Royal Family. He was respected deeply by Japanese people who happily gave up their lives for him. People died saying: 'Long Live the Emperor! They didn't shout: Long Live General Tojo!' 2.6 million of these people are in Yasukuni and that's why we should go there to pay our respects. I really want that with all my heart.

Your grandfather had no resentment against the emperor? He lived while many others were executed.

If there was no emperor there would be no Japan. My grandfather and others died to protect the Emperor, to protect Japan. That was perfectly natural. We can't even talk about those beliefs today. The idea that he is a symbol of Japan as we have been taught in the postwar period is insulting to the emperor. He is the essence of Japan (kokka genshi). He is nothing at all like a U.S. president. He is Japan.

But the Emperor himself admits he is Korean.

I know nothing about his roots, but I was astonished that he said such a thing. His majesty (it is clear here that heika refers throughout to the Showa Emperor, not the current occupier of the Chrysanthemum Throne) would never have said such a thing. He knew the limits of what to say. The current Crown Prince (Naruhito) chatters away about everything. As the national essence (kokka genshi) he has to know what to say. He has to maintain the dignity (igen) of the Imperial Family.

The emperor also seems ambiguous about the flag and anthem issue.

What country doesn't have a flag and anthem? Why does only Japan have to endure this stupid criticism?

What are your feelings about Yasukuni? About your grandfather's secret enshrinement there?

The prime minister promised to visit on Aug. 15 and he should. He should ignore pressure from China and other countries. This is a domestic affair.

China has the right to protest though doesn't it? Japan invaded their country and killed millions.

China played no part in the San Francisco Treaty. Countries that were not involved in the treaty or the Tokyo Trials have no right to talk about war criminals now. So why is China complaining now? The Japanese fought the Nationalists (KMT) not the Communists. It is now a completely different country. China and Japan later signed a treaty and war criminals and prisoners were released. The word war criminal (senpan) does not exist in that treaty. They should abide by that treaty. It is unforgivable (zettai yurusanai) that they continue to interfere in our domestic affairs.

Do you feel that Japan should not recognize the results of the Tokyo Trials?

On May 3, 1952, (Douglas) MacArthur said Japan fought a war of defense. Japan had no choice. It had no resources, he said. My grandfather said the same. Despite this, our own government can't say the same. It is very odd. MacArthur said it wasn't a war of aggression but now Chinese people who weren't even there can call it a war of aggression.

So it was a war for resources?

No. We were standing up for ourselves. Every country accepts the notion of self-defense.

Is this why your grandfather referred to himself as a "war responsible person" but not a "war criminal"?

Yes. He behaved like a samurai, and took responsibility for his failures as a good soldier. But by what definition was he a criminal?
©2005 OhmyNews

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