The Pacific Asia War, Pacific War, or Asia-Pacific War refers to the major theater of World War II which covered a large portion of Pacific Ocean, East Asia, and Southeast Asia, spreading as far north as the Aleutian Islands and as far south as Northern Australia. Officially, it began on December 7th, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor by surprise and launched its campaign in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Philippines. However, one also could argue that the Pacific Asia War started with the Sino-Japanese War on July 7th, 1937. The Japanese empire and the Republic of China had hostile relations with each other dating back to the invasion of Manchuria on September 18th, 1931. Check this blog post for the major battles of the Pacific Asia War.
What was the death toll of the Pacific Asia War?
On the Allied side, there were more than 4 million casualties in military personnel and more than 26 million civilian deaths. On the Axis side (which included Thailand, Manchukuo, and Japan) there were more than 2.5 million casualties in military personnel and about 1 million civilian deaths. Overall, the death toll of the Asia-Pacific Theater was about half of the total casualties of World War II.
Should guilt be felt by the Japanese people and government today, decades after the war?
This is an ongoing issue, and one to remain remain open-minded about. It should be acknowledged that for decades, the government has heavily filtered the information available to their citizens about the Pacific Asia War. There are still deniers who live in Japan; many claim the Nanjing Massacre never happened and was completely fabricated by the Chinese government despite ample evidence. However, on the other hand, there are also Japanese people who are earnestly trying to educate themselves and others about the shameful parts of their nation's history by leading grassroots movements and attempting to put history back into their textbooks. One example is the Chiba Korean Elementary Middle School, which explores the use of student art as a medium to foster understanding between Korean and Japanese students about wartime atrocities. Thus, it is evident that we should not judge Japan as one people in this regard, but in a case-by-case basis.
How does the Pacific Asia War, and Japanese denial of crimes committed during it, shape diplomatic relations and people's lives to this day
The lack of apology and/or acknowledgment for the atrocities has definitely soured the Sino-Japanese relationship. Given the countries’ past wounds, it puts a lot more pressure on contemporary issues such as the disputes over the South China Sea and trading relations. Moreover, the Korea-Japan relationship has been profoundly influenced by the Pacific Asia War due to Japan's lack of acknowledgement for their use of forced labor and prostitution/comfort women during the final years of colonial occupation. As China, Korea, and Japan are the some of the world’s biggest economies, these longstanding diplomatic tensions can make neighboring countries uneasy.
As for individual lives, there are still people and families alive today who survived the atrocities of the war. Countless numbers of people each day relived the pain of traumatic memories, having witnessed genocide or other heinous atrocities, and/or missing or dead family members. So many who lived through unimaginable suffering still struggle to find answers to why such atrocities were allowed to occur. Sharing these stories and ensuring that the world knows about, and acknowledges these historical events is a often essential part of closure and reconciliation.
In my sophomore history class, we are not taught about the Rape of Nanking or Japanese atrocities in general; we mainly focus on the war in Europe and the Holocaust. Why is it important to remember and teach about tragedies that do not involve our own country?
You're right, Western academic systems generally focus the European Theater of World War II--which we do believe is extremely important. However, while your history textbook may take up multiple chapters to cover the course of WWII as it concerned the West, the Asia-Pacific Theater might be given one or two sections. We strongly believe that the 26 million civilians who died on the Asia-Pacific front, each with an individual story, deserve more. No nation's history occurs in a vacuum; rather, it is shaped by intersecting world developments and contextualized with events that concern multiple countries, states, or territories. Thus, it is important to remember and teach about tragedies even if these do not directly involve our own country because in such a globalized world, each nation's history is more implicitly connected to another's than we often anticipate, and often continue to influence current diplomatic relations (see the last question). Healing historical wounds is not achieved by a one-step procedure, but through education, acknowledgement, and understanding that the world must never allow such tragedies to occur again
How can I learn more?
There are plenty of ways you can become more aware about the Asia-Pacific atrocities of World War II. For a start, you can find a book at your local library, watch a documentary on YouTube, or take a look at some of our organization's publications, topic pages, or blog! The internet is an extremely powerful tool. With the help of people like you, we definitely believe that the Asia-Pacific War can someday be taught in schools as a fundamental part of world history.
How can I support your organization's effort?
You are welcome to make a tax-deductible donation here to support our work!
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