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Home arrow History arrow The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia
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A-bomb Victims as a Focal Point of War-Related Compensation

The issue of compensation for A-bomb victims had been gaining momentum in the Diet since the late 1980s. In December 1989, the JSP and five other opposition parties had succeeded in passing the Bill on Relief for A- Bomb Victims (Genbaku Hibakusha Engo Hoan)—“based on the spirit of government compensation (kokka hosho no seishin ni motozuki)”—in the House of Councillors for the first time, though it had been discarded in the House of Representatives because the LDP had refused to extend deliberation on the bill to the next Diet session.56 In December 1993, however, Hosokawa’s coalition government had established the Project Team on the Act on Relief for A-Bomb Victims (Hibakusha Engoho ni kansuru Puroje- kuto Team) by appointing Morii Churyo, a JSP member from Hiroshima Prefecture, as project leader. The JSP also had produced its own report proposing to define relief for A-bomb victims as “government compensation.”57 Then, a week after Murayama became prime minister, the project team published its final report endorsing a new act on relief for A-bomb victims based on the “spirit of government compensation,” comparable to the Act on Relief for Injured Veterans and Bereaved Families.58

After taking office, however, Murayama took a cautious approach to the issue of compensation for A-bomb victims: “I am really concerned about the situation of A-bomb victims. But government compensation poses a fundamental problem in terms of equality between A-bomb victims and other civilian victims. So, we need to think about this issue carefully among members of the coalition government.”59 Murayama and other JSP cabinet members became cautious because the LDP was against government compensation. In fact, the LDP had opposed all sixteen versions of the Bill on Relief for A-Bomb Victims that the JSP had previously submitted to the Diet.60

The LDP’s strong opposition was based on the fact that the entire postwar framework of commemoration of the Asia-Pacific War depended on how to deal with the issue of A-bomb victims. First of all, if the nature of relief for A-bomb victims was defined as compensatory, the government would have to accept its responsibility for having started the Asia-Pacific War that had led to the atomic bombings. This would require the government to commemorate the war as wrong for having harmed the lives of Japanese citi?zens. Such commemoration would be unacceptable for the LDP, as well as for the Japan Bereaved Families Association, because they perceived the war as a heroic act of self-defense. Second, the government’s compensation scheme for war-related damages was predicated on a distinction between military- related and civilian populations. Throughout the postwar period, the government had limited compensation to former military-related personnel and their bereaved families as a way to honor their sacrifices for the country. If the government granted compensation to A-bomb victims who were civilians, this would legitimate compensation claims from many other civilian victims, such as those who had suffered from aerial bombings of major Japanese cities by the Allied powers. Last but not least, the government treated Japanese and foreign A-bomb victims equally, so long as the latter resided in Japan. This was an exception to the government’s compensation scheme that required citizenship as part of its eligibility criteria.61 If the government compensated A-bomb victims—both Japanese and non-Japanese—that could open the doors to compensation claims by a wide variety of foreign victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings. This was why the LDP was determined to stop the JSP’s attempt to provide government compensation for A-bomb victims.

In the end, the JSP accommodated the LDP’s demand, given the latter’s numerical dominance: the LDP had 228 and 109 seats in the Houses of Representatives and Councillors, respectively, whereas the JSP had 77 and 73.62 When Murayama’s coalition government submitted the Bill Regarding Relief for A-bomb Victims (Genshi Bakudan Hibakusha ni taisuru Engo ni kansuru Horitsuan) in November 1994, it included in the bill the phrase “government responsibility” (kuni no sekinin), instead of “government compensation” (kokka hosho). Minister of Welfare Ide Shoichi offered the following definition of government responsibility: “If we use the phrase ‘government compensation,’ people will likely interpret it as referring to compensation based on the government’s responsibility for having started the war. According to such an interpretation, there would be various problems, such as an inequality between A-bomb victims and other civilian war victims. In light of these considerations, we agreed not to include the concept of ‘government compensation’ in the bill.”63

Some of the opposition parties immediately challenged the proposed bill. Yamamoto Takashi, a member of the Japan New Party, criticized the JSP for giving up its longstanding commitment to government compensation for A-bomb victims. He also rejected the phrase “government responsibility” as vacuous because it “best exemplifies the JSP’s compromise [with the LDP]. The phrase makes no sense at all. The government was already responsible for implementing the existing two acts [regarding A-bomb victims].”64 Kat- suki Kenji of the Democratic Socialist Party also wondered what the JSP would do for other civilian war victims: “In the past, the JSP argued that the government should compensate civilian victims because the government had mobilized almost all civilians for the war. The JSP even proposed bills to compensate civilian war victims. . . . Are you going to give up the Bill on Relief for Civilian Victims of Wartime Disasters (Senji Saigai Engo Hoan)?” In response, Murayama conceded that the JSP had to give up its commitment to compensation of civilian war victims because the JSP was now part of the coalition government and had to make compromises with its coalition partners.65

Thus, even though the JSP finally gained access to the government, it was unable to change the nationalist logic of postwar Japan’s compensation scheme, partly because its mobilizing structures had weakened, and partly because its control of the government was compromised by the LDP, a powerful coalition partner. But the pol itical struggle over Japan’s official commemoration was not over yet. It only intensified as the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Asia-Pacific War approached.

 
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