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  • Kyodo: SDF’s Tomogami revisionist history shows cosiness between J military and right-wing nationalists

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on November 13th, 2008

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    Hi Blog.  Here’s an issue that is being fleshed out in a well-written, informative Kyodo article:  that of historical revisionism within Japan’s military, and its cosiness with the right-wing.  We had a general write a prize-winning essay (received from right-wingers, see below) denying that Japan waged a war of liberation against Asia during WWII.  How Japan treats or is treated by its neighbors is of import to, albeit tangentially, so let me reproduce Kyodo’s recap of the debate so far.  

    I was asked for my opinion earlier this month in the Comments section of my blog.  In brief, this is how I answered:

    –- Tamogami was forced to resign. Good. He did not capitulate. Fine with me (it is his opinion). But the media I’ve seen so far skirts the issue. It’s not a matter of whether what he said was appropriate for his position within the SDF. It is an issue about whether what he says is historically accurate. (It is not.) And until these historical issues are finally laid to rest (through, as UN Rapporteur Doudou Diene suggested, a history book of the region written and approved by scholars from all countries involved), this is just going to keep happening again and again. Exorcising the elephant in the room, i.e. the ghost of Japan’s wartime past (particularly as to whether it was a war of aggression or liberation), must be done sooner or later. It is still not being done and debunked, and that means the SDF person can just use “freedom of speech” as his cloaking device and compare Japan to the DPRK (as he has done) and just gain sympathy for the Rightists. There. Debito 

    Unfortunately, I don’t see any diversion from this path even as the debate, as Kyodo reports below, goes to the Diet.  The debate has gone into issues of civilian control (meaning, to freedom-of-speechers on both sides of the political spectrum, mind control), and Tamogami is setting himself up to become a martyr to the right wing.  Again, the tack should also include, is what he saying historically accurate?  Again, it is not.  

    The honest study of the history of any country is going to reveal things that a nation is ashamed of, and one must include that as part of the national narrative.  The Tamogamis, Obuchis, Abes, and Asos are just going to have to live with that.  And part of the process is bringing historical fact of Japan’s conquering, Imperialist past into the debate.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    FOCUS: Unapologetic ex-general’s testimony fuels civilian control concern

    TOKYO, Nov. 11, 2008 KYODO, Courtesy of the Club

         Sacked air force chief Toshio Tamogami testified in parliament Tuesday over his controversial war essay but his unapologetic rhetoric only highlighted a large difference in perception with the government regarding Japan’s role in World War II.

         His testimony also posed a question even among Self-Defense Forces officers about whether the 60-year-old former general was ever fit for the post of Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff and prompted politicians to have second thoughts about the effectiveness of their efforts to maintain civilian control of the defense forces.

         ”Did I do such a bad thing at the end of my career?” the outspoken Tamogami told reporters after pressing his case over the essay as an unsworn witness during a 160-minute session before the House of Councillors Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense.

         Tamogami offered no apology or remarks that he would take a hard look at the release of the essay in which he denied Japan waged a war of aggression in other Asian countries before and during the war.

         ”I’m feeling good,” Tamogami said to TV camera crews and photographers on entering the parliament building earlier in the day for the testimony session.

         ”Mr. Tamogami has learned nothing (from this controversy),” a senior official of the Defense Ministry said. ”I cannot help doubting Mr. Tamogami properly understands the gravity of what he did as a top SDF officer.”

         The Chinese and South Korean governments have expressed their displeasure over Tamogami’s essay although the dispute has yet to develop into a major diplomatic problem.

         Adm. Keiji Akahoshi, the chief of staff of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, questioned Tamogami’s remarks in the upper house committee, telling a press conference, ”Again I recognized the gravity of the problem and that his releasing the essay was inappropriate.”

         Tamogami was dismissed as ASDF chief Oct. 31, the same day as his essay, which the government says clearly contradicts the position of successive governments, was made public.

         In the essay, Tamogami denied that Japan had waged a war of aggression in other Asian countries and challenged legal restrictions on SDF activities such as limits on the use of weapons overseas under the U.S.-drafted Constitution.

         Setting aside the essay’s content, the issue also shed light on whether politicians can properly control the expression of opinions by SDF personnel while being mindful of freedom of speech.

         Tamogami was known for his straight talk after becoming ASDF chief in March 2007 and wrote an article later that year in a magazine circulating only within the ASDF on the war and historical issues that contained views similar to those in the essay.

         Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, a legislator, admitted that the then leadership of the ministry missed the article ”because that was an in-house magazine.”

         This time, the essay Tamogami wrote while ASDF chief was made public as the winner of the 3 million yen top prize in a competition.

         But an SDF officer tried to defend Tamogami saying, ”I heard it was well-known in the ASDF that Mr. Tamogami held such views on the history of the war as he expressed opinions to that effect on various occasions without being clearly advised not to do so.”

         ”He may be puzzled, feeling, ‘Why am I being criticized so strongly only this time?” the officer said.

         Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, known as a military wonk, has said that more SDF officers should come forward to express opinions from the viewpoint of defense experts to support the defense minister.

         Tamogami has also come under fire for his failure to notify civilian officials in the ministry in writing of his plan to publicize the essay, breaking an intra-ministry rule on the expression of opinions by ranking SDF officers.

         But Tamogami said, ”That should not constitute a violation of any rules,” arguing that writing the essay was not part of his official duties and that it was a product of his private studies on history.

         At the beginning of the session Tuesday, Committee Chairman Toshimi Kitazawa from the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan urged members of the committee as well as Tamogami to be aware that sloppy civilian control over the old Imperial Japanese military forces resulted in the loss of more than 3 million lives in the war.

         The ministry is set to pay Tamogami a retirement allowance worth around 60 million yen. He was dismissed as ASDF chief but allowed to leave the ministry with a status enabling him to receive the benefit.

         ”I’ll use the allowance because I will have difficulty making a living,” Tamogami said, brushing off mounting calls to voluntarily return all or part of the money to the state coffers.

         But a top official of the ministry blasted Tamogami, saying, ”I hope he will better understand how much trouble he has caused for the ASDF for which he served for 30 something years and how seriously the already damaged confidence in the SDF has been lost.”

         The top official, who asked not to be named, also said that Tamogami was unfit for the top post in the air force and his behavior could suggest problems in the education programs at defense academies.

         ”We know there are some junior SDF personnel who don’t want to easily follow government policies on various matters. It’s OK. They have freedom of thought. But we do not usually expect a four-star-general-class officer like Mr. Tamogami to challenge the government in public,” the official said.

         Revelations about Tamogami’s cozy links with a nationalist real estate businessman who organized the competition was also among topics taken up by the committee.

         The essay contest was organized by hotel and condominium developer Apa Group and its head Toshio Motoya, a friend of Tamogami. Apa Group is also known for its support of hawkish former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

         On top of that, an orchestrated submission of essays by ASDF personnel is also suspected.

         Tamogami also denied in the parliamentary session that he received any inappropriate benefits from Motoya’s side and that he had played a role in the organized submission of essays.

         But the ministry has found that in addition to Tamogami, 94 of the 235 essay submissions came from the ASDF.

         Another senior official of the ministry questioned the fairness of the essay contest saying, ”It must have been fixed.”





    17 Responses to “Kyodo: SDF’s Tomogami revisionist history shows cosiness between J military and right-wing nationalists”

    1. Douglas Sweetlove Says:

      A 30 year military career, flushed down the toilet because the man expressed an opinion contrary to that of the government. Jesus.

      Are people really that sensitive that they can’t bear the thought of hearing or reading something that contradicts the accepted view of history? I hope not. The best response would be to refute the general’s comments with facts, not try and cover them up. Sunlight is usually the best disinfectant.

      By surpressing his opinion, it only gives conspiracy theory types and paranoid right wingers more ammunition to justify their beliefs. “See? We must be right, or the government wouldn’t be so eager to put us down…” That kind of thing.

    2. TJJ Says:


      Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another way is “What’s a guy who is willfully ignorant of history doing as an ASDF chief?”

    3. Douglas Sweetlove Says:

      Ignorant of history, or seeing it in a different light? If he doesn’t have a basic grasp of the facts, that is one thing. If he has an intellectual disagreement about how the facts are interpreted, that is another.

      If you want to see how the same set of facts can bring people to radically different conclusions, you only have to see the debate over the use of atomic weapons in 1945.

    4. Max Says:

      Yesterday the general said that in a survey on internet people gave him 58% of support rate about the content of his essay.
      Is it true?
      That would be scary.

      — Need a source on this.

      And if the good general is grasping at the straws of a self-selected sampling of internet trolls to back up his assertion that he is somehow in the right, he really is desperate for support.

    5. InJM Says:

      I saw that too. He said it was on Yahoo but I can’t find any mention of that poll. The article about him saying that is still around though. Here’s a link to the Sankei/MSN version:

    6. Grant Mahood Says:

      General Tomogami’s essay has been well-publicized in the media and speaks for itself. There was no need to ask him any more about it, and certainly not in a public session of parliament. Why would anyone give him 3 hours on the national stage to drive his message home unless it was exactly what some politicians wanted: a spokesman for their agenda who will bring their message out while they remain safely on the sidelines. Far from being government supression of his thoughts, calling him to testify resulted in his spreading his version of history farther and wider than it ever would have been if it had remained in an obscure essay. Those politicians probably leaked the story to begin with. What a coup. Well played.

    7. Futureal Says:

      Two immutable right-wing refrains:

      1) We didn’t do it.
      2) Even if we did, we were right to do so.

      Nationalism will always be at odds with history, if the nation has been around long enough to have any.

    8. E.P.Lowe Says:

      Here’s part of a dialogue I was involved with online about Tamogami’s essay, which is available in English from

      It show only a few of the poor ‘facts’ in the General’s essay.


      Here’s a few poorly researched facts in the former ASDF chiefs essay:

      Hong was a person who rose to lieutenant general in the Imperial Japanese Army while retaining his Korean name.

      But this is the exception that proves the rule. Col. Kim Suk-won, who is also mentioned by Tamogami had to change his name to Kaneyama Shakugen – because of the racist 1939 Sōshi-kaimei policy.

      Indians were not permitted to attend the British military academy.

      Really, I’m sure the descendents of Rajendrasinhji Jadeja, Brij Mohan Kaul, Muhammad Ayub Khan, Sher Ali Khan, Sayyid Iskander Ali Mirza to name a few would be surprised…

      Of course, they would never have considered a marriage between a member of the British royal family and an Indian. This holds true for Holland, France, America, and other countries as well

      Well, the Royal Family rarely set foot out of the UK in those days – so the chances of a meeting would have been slim. The prospective candidate for marriage would also have had to convert to the Anglican Church – which might have put a stop to things. The Tamogami should also know that France and America don’t have royal families.

      As a result, those of us living today could very well have been living in a Japan that was a white nation’s colony.

      Oh, looks like hyperbole there. Also, if Japan had become a white nation’s colony it’s very unlikely that Tamogami or anyone else in Japan today would be living in it – the changed events make that impossible. Poor logic all around.


    9. Behan Says:

      The Japanese military raped and murdered its way around Asia during the Pacific War. That the head of the air force tried to deny Japan’s guilt is shocking and frightening.

    10. Max Says:

      I think the general was referring to this survey (Nov 4th)

      which, despite it is done in “nemawashi” way “do you think is there any problem in what the general said?”, shows 32+10 = 42% of almost 100.000 voters think there are problems and the rest, “there is almost no problem” 13% “no problem at all” 46% and others 2%

      I think he just considered 100%-42% = 58% a rough calculation.

      — Thanks. Seems indicative of his use of the scientific method.

    11. InJM Says:

      Good find Max. There’s also this poll on Livedoor but I have a feeling the numbers aren’t quite right:

    12. TJJ Says:

      E.P. Lowe, links not working, do you have a saved copy, or an alternative link?

    13. E.P.Lowe Says:

      Hi TJJ,

      it looks like the website is either down – or has been pulled. I have a copy – but I don’t know how I’d get it to you. Any suggestions?

    14. TJJ Says:

      Hi E.P.Lowe

      I made a one-time ‘use and throw away’ email account.

      Much obliged if you could pass it on to me. Thanks!

    15. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      I love the fact that one of the top military people has trouble following instructions and guidelines. Says something about their fitness to command.

    16. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      Just as a follow-up, I see that he’s published a book which boldly states on the cover “I was dismissed just for saying Japan is a wonderful country”

      More of his version of history, eh?

    17. John Says:

      Somehow I missed all about this and booked a room in APA’s Narita hotel before my holiday flight home. I was blissfully innocent on my last morning, sitting in the hotel thinking (despite some problems) how great Japan is. Then I discovered that in every room (just below the adult channel listings) there’s the book of essays and another book by Motoya, both of which you can take for free. This is the first time I’ve had far-right literature shoved at me in a Japanese hotel – and I must stress, the only time.

      I didn’t have enough room in my luggage for two heavy tomes, so reluctantly passed, but I noted with interest that there were many foreigners like me using the hotel before heading to the airport. I wonder how many of them noticed the booklet, which opens with a long tract by Motoya on how “Caucasians” with their “crimes” plotted to divide up the world and how the Japanese were the only “colored people” to stop them. Then on to reams of stuff from various authors (everything self-defence… Pearl Harbor conspiracy… no cruel treatment of POWs… ).

      Also, they can’t argue that their intended audience is Japanese, and therefore foreigners have nothing to complain about. Motoya says he wants this to reach a worldwide audience, hence the English translation, which seemed to have very few of the grammatical forms you might expect to find in Japanese to English writing. A professional job, no less.

      At least they didn’t demand my ID card…

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