UN heritage body refuses request to preserve letters of kamikaze pilots

Heritage agency rejects request to preserve suicide fliers' personal documents, which Seoul and Beijing say glorify Japan's war record

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 4:28am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 4:46am

A Japanese bid to have letters of farewell and other papers written by kamikaze pilots included in a registry of historic documents has been rejected by the UN heritage body, after fierce opposition from China and South Korea.

The advisory panel to Unesco announced on Thursday that it had refused to recommend the inclusion of the documents in the organisation's Memory of the World Register.

The decision will be seen as a victory for both China and South Korea, who had expressed anger that symbols of Japan's militarist and colonialist past were being considered for a repository designed to preserve unique historical archives.

Documents that have previously been accepted into the register include the Magna Carta and the diaries of Anne Frank.

Despite the rejection of the kamikaze pilots' writings, other Japanese wartime documents were approved for inclusion in the register by the panel.

These included drawings and diaries kept by Japanese soldiers captured in the closing days of the second world war and held in Siberian prison camps, many of whom were not permitted to return to Japan until 1950. Of the 600,000 soldiers held in Soviet camps, more than 55,000 died of the brutal conditions, overwork, malnutrition or disease.

The request that the kamikaze documents by included in the register was filed by the town of Minami-Kyushu. It cited a collection of 333 diaries, final letters, photos and other personal items held by the Chiran Peace Museum, built on the site of a wartime airfield for kamikaze squadrons.

"Next year will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war," Kanpei Shimoide, the town mayor, had said in a statement. "Through inclusion in the Memory of the World, we hope to transmit to a wider audience the real voices and feelings that are contained in the wills of the special attack pilots, who became victims of the national war policy."

That sentiment failed to win over China or South Korea, who have been locked in a bitter exchange of criticisms with Tokyo over Japan's interpretation of its imperial history.

"The design behind the so-called application for the kamikaze pilots is very clear, which is to try to beautify the Japanese militarist history of invasion," said Hua Chunying , a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry. She made the statement in February, after the museum's announcement that it was seeking to have the kamikaze collection registered.

"This intention is diametrically opposed to Unesco's objective of maintaining world peace," Hua added.

Expressions of outrage were similarly swift from South Korea, where the issue of kamikaze pilots is controversial. A Japanese colony during the war, the Korean peninsula provided troops - including kamikaze pilots - for the Japanese war effort.

"Japan wants to glorify these pilots as heroes who sacrificed their lives for their country, but they are just a symbol of the cruelty born from the fascism of the Japanese emperor," read a Kyunghyang Shinmun editorial.

"It is definitely a lesson the world should not forget, but it is significant only as a reflection of one's mistakes and as a lesson from history," it added.

The Japanese museum has declined to comment on the panel's decision.



Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe moved closer to easing constitutional curbs that have kept Japan's military from fighting abroad since the second world war after the ruling party's dovish coalition partner agreed to consider a compromise proposal.

An agreement would be a big step towards achieving Abe's goal of loosening the limits of the post-war, pacifist constitution.

The New Komeito, the junior party in Abe's ruling bloc, is wary of a dropping a ban on sending Japan's military to aid a friendly nation under attack, but party officials yesterday agreed to consider a proposal that would allow the change while theoretically limiting cases in which it could be implemented.

"I want to discuss this thoroughly within the party," New Komeito deputy chief Kazuo Kitagawa told reporters after the latest round of talks, at which his ruling Liberal Democratic Party counterpart, Masahiko Komura, submitted the new proposal.

The United States and some Southeast Asian countries would welcome the change, which would mark a major shift in Japan's post-war security policy. Japan's military has never engaged in combat since its defeat in the second world war. But rival China would almost certainly criticise it as a sign that Tokyo, rather than Beijing, is ramping up regional tensions.

Pressure has been mounting on New Komeito from Abe, whose drive to loosen the constraints of the US-drafted, post-war constitution is central to his conservative agenda. Conservatives say the charter's war-renouncing Article 9 has hindered Japan's ability to defend itself as a sovereign nation. Advocates of a new interpretation also argue the change is vital to cope with security threats including from an increasingly assertive China and a volatile North Korea.