--The Asahi Shimbun Dec. 27
EDITORIAL: Search for war remains
The search for the remains of Japanese soldiers who died in the Pacific War is gaining momentum.
"We will check each and every grain of sand," Prime Minister Naoto Kan said after digging into the volcanic ash and soil of Iwo Jima, a fierce battleground between Japan and the United States.
The remains of 13,000 Japanese soldiers have yet to be found on this island, but the prime minister's special task force has located a group burial ground based on information from American documents. A full-fledged excavation project is to begin.
Kan stressed, "The country has a responsibility to bring the remains back home," and implied that he is eager to expand the search program to other battle zones.
About 2.4 million Japanese died in Okinawa and in foreign lands during the war. The 65th year after the war is drawing to a close, yet the remains of only 1.26 million have returned home.
Actually, there is no law that says "the country has a responsibility" to retrieve the remains. When the war ended, what is now the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare took over the unfinished administerial business of the Japanese military, and the ministry has conducted the search as part of an assistance program for families of the war dead.
For a while after the war, it was difficult to set foot on lands the Japanese military had once invaded. It was not until the late 1960s, after reparation payments to those governments had made progress, that official government teams could make repeated trips to those lands in search of the remains.
Former war comrades would serve as guides for the families of the fallen as they made their way into the jungles. The rescue of Shoichi Yokoi, a Japanese soldier who had held out in Guam until 1972, gave the project momentum.
With Japan entering the Heisei Era starting in 1989, veterans and families have grown older. With fewer leads on possible locations of the remains, the project dwindled down.
Starting four years ago, parts of the recovery project were commissioned to private groups, but there have been rumors that some of the bones that an NPO had collected in the Philippines might include those of local people. Some have suggested perhaps it was time to draw the project to a close.
Kan had shown interest in this matter since his days in the opposition. We would like to believe that his involvement is not for the sake of his administration's popularity, but that he is truly committed to the recovery project in the numerous former battlegrounds.
If so, is it not time to consider moving beyond the usual framework of assisting the families and paying tribute to the deceased?
In the future, the recovery project should involve more young people, including student volunteers.
Perhaps the recovery project can be continued as a process of contemplation and soul-searching; a process for us to think and question why people were mobilized by the state and had to die in such places, only to be left there. It can be turned into an opportunity for us to learn the horrors of war, to learn from the mistakes of the past, and discover means of reconciliation.
For example, of the 520,000 Japanese casualties of war in the Philippines, the remains of 370,000 have returned home. But when we search for the remains of Japanese soldiers, we must not forget that more than 1 million Philippine civilians were killed.
In China and North Korea, the search for remains, let alone their recovery, is still difficult. The remains include those of the soldiers who were originally from lands Japan colonized. Seoul is demanding Tokyo return the remains of those forcibly taken to Japan.
The bones are silent, but from the dark they continue to question how Japan dealt with the aftermath of war. The important thing is to constantly face up to the past.