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Self-victimisation' of Japan During World War Ii

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The Second World War was a medium for numerous atrocities, with the Japanese Army infamous for their own wartime actions. In the present, we hear stories of unspeakable inhuman acts committed by the Imperial Army, yet what is taught about this war in modern-day Japan is quite unlike the truth. In the context of WW2, a narrative of ‘self-victimisation’ is ever-present in Japanese society. For example, the Atomic Bomb Memorial in Hiroshima, while being a testament to the strength endurance and recovery of the Japanese people, is also heavily entwined with notions of victimisation. This narrative stems from way back to the advent of the Japanese newspaper industry and its consecutive switch from Imperial censorship to Allied (American) censorship. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with the Tokyo War Crimes Trials have also heavily influenced and moulded the emerging victimisation narrative.

Since its emergence in the late 19th century, the Japanese newspaper industry was subjected to intermittent bureaucratic censorship. This carried on to the start of WW2 and as the war effort went on, the press found itself progressively restricted and manipulated in the output of their opinions. In 1941, the National Mobilisation Law was updated to eradicate the freedom of the press entirely and to nationalise mass media. By 1945, there was only one newspaper company allowed to operate per prefecture. Civilians were fed propaganda throughout the war which inculcated a sense of nationalistic pride and arrogance, and when the surrender of Japan on August 15th, 1945 was broadcasted, a tremendous shock to Japan’s militaristic façade rippled throughout the country. The previously embedded view of Japan’s supreme Imperial Forces, combined with the culture’s extreme disdain for surrendering, led to an adverse reaction from the people. However, the established stranglehold of censorship on the press was swiftly enacted. An example of this is from the report from the Asahi Shimbun surrounding the surrender of Japan on August 15th, 1945. The paper reported on alleged masses of people flocking to the Imperial Palace to convey their anguish of the emperor’s declaration of surrender. Reporter Suetsune Takuro wrote a report beforehand, and modified details, trying to “‘depict the correct attitude’ (the way of the Imperial subject) that he believed ‘the people’ should be taking”. Mourners wept with their backs disrespectfully facing the palace (and thus the emperor), however, Tokyo reporters had also allegedly failed to take photos to document this. The vice-like grip of the Japanese government over the press was constantly exerted and peaked during World War II, and contrasted to the surrender of the nation and everything that accompanied it, forced the nation into a sea of overlying and underlying currents of denial and impotent submission to the new military authority of the country.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are widely considered to be the defining foundations of the victimisation mentality of Japan in WW2. It is not a radical argument that the attitude towards the atomic bombings naturally transitioned towards this mentality. However, there was almost direct inception to this idea, which came from a narrative published under the US Occupation, titled The Bells of Nagasaki. This book was written by Nagai Takashi, who on August 9th, 1945 experienced the atomic bomb on Nagasaki first-hand. Nagai was a radiology professor at Nagasaki Medical College who was informed during the war that he had only a few years to live, attributed to leukaemia. Thereafter, he experienced the atomic bomb and lost his wife, taking sole care of his two small children. He wrote essays from his deathbed, channelling his anguish and agony into this book, along with all his other writing. Following the publishing of Bells of Nagasaki, Nagai became a national celebrity, attributed to the resounding success of his book. Nagai, as a staunch catholic, revered and likened the atomic bombing of Nagasaki as a profound relationship between its destruction and the ending of the war. He claimed that the city was chosen to be the victim, the sacrificial lamb that was sacrificed in order to repent for all the sins committed by humanity during the war. Nagai’s work has attracted plenty of criticism, often labelled as hyperbole and over-sentimental. His work on The Bells of Nagasaki was heavily scrutinised, being discussed by Yuko Shibata, a researcher and professor of East Asian Literature, as “…problematic, the idea of the sublime that he forcefully promotes is a way to bracket or even deliberately lose the whole referential constellation—a referent of a perpetrator, a victim, and historical background. The founding trauma blurs all distinctions between them, and thereby shifts issues of social, historical, political, and moral responsibility to an ahistorical realm.” The narrative of self-victimisation and helplessness that emerged from this book echoed throughout the country, and many accounts appeared following the end of the Allied Occupation, and therefore the declining control of censorship. This narrative was starting to be standardised and Children of Hiroshima, a compilation of the testimonies of approximately 100 Hiroshima school kids was a key example of this. To this day, there are differing opinions on whether Japan was truly a victim of the war. It is a complicated and sensitive matter, however, what can be ascertained is that this narrative of self-victimisation stemmed from a detailed, first-hand account of a victim of this devastating event. A bombing of this magnitude would inevitably lead to the construction of such a narrative, and the victims are not to blame for it.

The International Military Tribunal (IMT) or also known as the Tokyo war crimes trials, was carried out post-war to bring justice to the war criminals of Japan. Many have labelled the trials to be unfair to the subjugated parties, citing reasons like the trial itself was not a means to impart justice, but simply “an occasion for revenge” and to humiliate the defeated. This perspective holds true if the context surrounding the establishment of the tribunal were to be examined. The main criticism towards the IMT was the selection of the members themselves. The Potsdam Declaration was written by members of the Allied powers which were victorious in the war, and the question of impartiality was emphasised by critics. Maria H. Chang, a political scientist, and Robert Barker wrote that “…the partisan nature of the (Potsdam) Declaration had tainted both the Declaration as well as the Tokyo Tribunal that it mandated.” Justice Radhabinod Pal, who himself was a judge on the IMT “raised substantive objections about the politicisation and dubious legality of the Trial.” Another reason that exacerbated the neutrality of the Trial was the dominant presence of the United States. The Tokyo Charter was drafted, and approved by the United States, on behalf of the Allied Powers in the Far East. This imposing presence led to the Netherlands’ appointment to the IMT panel, Bert Röling to suggest that “the tribunal might be perceived as an act of revenge for the national humiliation inflicted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.” The imperfect and heavily criticised handling of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials has shaped the collective memory of the present-day Japanese people.

Following the surrender of Japan, the Allied forces carried out the military occupation of the country and the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) established a new revision of Article 21 of the 1947 Constitution of Japan. This abolished all forms of censorship and control over free speech in the country. The Japanese military censorship over the press crumbled but, in its place, arose a new form of press control with Allied (American) interests in mind. Political matters which were considered to be harmful to the American government were consistently censored and military fanaticism was quelled in order to stabilise the country. A controversial component of the Allied Occupation was textbook reform, a solution that was aimed to “demilitarise and democratise pre-collegiate Japanese education”. The Civil Information and Education Section (CI&E) of the SCAP instructed Japan’s Ministry of Education to create textbooks for the elementary, middle and normal school levels of education. They were to select from very narrow and specific criteria of writers to carry out this procedure. Okada Akio and Ienaga Saburo were two of the authors meticulously selected to write the textbooks at the elementary level. The reaction to the project was mixed, with Okada complaining about the rushed completion of each manuscript. He stated that the CI&E required the “omission of ultra-nationalistic phrases and references to historical figures who represented ultra-nationalism”. Specifically, when writing about the Nanking Incident, he was instructed to change the description from “advance from Shanghai to Nanking” to “looting at Nanking”. Ienaga however, had a somewhat favourable opinion on the project, he mused that “although there were many restrictions on the process of writing, academic conscience did not have to suffer as much as it did under the wartime press code”. The project was completed about a month later around the end of June 1946. The authors published the elementary textbook Kuni no Ayumi. There were many domestic criticisms of the newly published textbook, with the largest one coming from Japanese Marxist historians. Inoue Kiyoshi argued that Kuni no Ayumi was insensitive to the lives of commoners and that it was “too heavily based on the imperial institution.” Kuni no Ayumi signalled the official start of the new education reform, with academic content being more “decentralised and democratic” in their teachings. Another group that attacked the textbook reform included Sakamoto Taro, who had links with the Ministry of Education. He said that “war is not desirable but there was a war fought for national survival,” and also emphasized that there was “a need to include mythology to promote patriotism,” further criticising textbooks that attacked Japan’s behaviour in the war. The textbooks did not last long, however, and as its middle school and normal school counterparts were dropped from use, Kuni no Ayumi remained as a “permanent textbook” until 1949, after laying down its foundations and influencing post-war textbooks.


The victim mentality of the Japanese people that developed from the Second World War can be considered peculiar, considering the many war crimes committed by the Imperial Army. This ‘self-victimisation’ narrative has been progressively moulded throughout the years through events like the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the sudden transition from Imperial censorship to American censorship and the controversial Tokyo War Crimes Trials. This narrative has deep-seated roots in post-war Japanese understandings of their participation in the Second World War and is still visible to this day.

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Self-Victimisation’ Of Japan During World War II. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from
“Self-Victimisation’ Of Japan During World War II.” GradesFixer, 29 Apr. 2022,
Self-Victimisation’ Of Japan During World War II. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 18 May 2022].
Self-Victimisation’ Of Japan During World War II [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 29 [cited 2022 May 18]. Available from:
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