Keiichiro Kobori became a judge for the “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest since the eighth annual contest last year. Toshio Motoya spoke with this well-known conservative controversialist about Douglas MacArthur’s testimony at the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, how the history of World War II is being revised in the U.S., and other topics.
Motoya Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. You have been a “True Interpretations of Modern History” judge since last year’s essay contest, and thanks to you this contest has gained greater authority. Kent Gilbert was awarded the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize), which became a hot topic in the media. It seems there are many people who are more interested in what foreigners have to say than Japanese people, even if they say the same thing.
Kobori Yes. I think Gilbert’s fantastic essay really raised the level of the overall contest.
Motoya You also made wonderful statements in the judging committee. Instead of going along with the existing atmosphere, you precisely understood the essays – even the detailed wording – and spoke in a logical way, which made it impossible to refute what you were saying. I look forward to having you judge the next contest as well.
Kobori Me, too.
Motoya I have visited 81 countries across the world and repeatedly spoken with important figures in these nations, all of who praise Japan. Yet when I return to Japan, all I see are mass media reports stating that Japan is a bad country. I thought this was bizarre. I used to be rather left wing, and even served as the vice chairman of a labor union superior body, but I became conservative. I think there are many left-wing people at the University of Tokyo, where you are from. What put you on the path towards conservatism?
Kobori My conservative sentiment comes from my family lineage. My grandfather was a historical painter in the field of Yamato-e paintings, and he spent his entire life expressing his Japanese spirit in that way. I grew up surrounded by these warrior pictures on themes of reverence for the emperor and love of one’s country. It’s true there were many students who held left-wing ideologies during my years at university, but they seemed like the members of a different world to me. When I was in graduate school, I studied abroad in Germany in the spring of 1961, the year the Berlin Wall was built. Looking at the miserable town on the other side of the wall, I realized just what socialism means, which impacted me significantly. I was at the University of Frankfurt, which is actually a famous left-wing school. But I majored in literature, rather than social science, so it didn’t really affect me. There were many moderate teachers in my major program, and I was able to learn in a very positive atmosphere.
Motoya I heard that Shoichi Watanabe, the head of the “True Interpretations of Modern History” judging committee, studied abroad in England. You went to Germany? It’s easier to see the truth when you study overseas, rather than staying in Japan forever.
Kobori That may be true. I learned a lot, including how German people view Japan.
Motoya In addition to your research on German literature, is that when you began researching Ogai Mori, whom you have written a book about?
Kobori Ogai absorbed and had a very profound understanding of not only Germany, but also European history and culture. As I learned about him, that’s what I admired first. He studied abroad in Germany on an official order to investigate battlefield hygienics. He was strongly impacted by German idealism in natural science, his field of expertise, so one cannot absolutely say that he was a great success as a scholar. I learned a lot by taking a critical look at how he really was. That’s why I reject historical research that attaches too much importance to concepts. However, in terms of culture I have complete admiration for Ogai’s conservatism.
Motoya Have you known Watanabe for a long time?
Kobori Yes, since we were both members of the Japan Culture Congress in 1973. Incidentally, a special feature entitled “70 Years After the War: The Tokyo Trials and GHQ” was published in five installments in the Sankei Shimbun newspaper from December 24 of last year. This special feature was very significant and made me impressed that the media was finally reporting on this information. The fifth article had content, albeit simple, about MacArthur’s testimony at the Senate Committee on Armed Services in 1951, which was probably the first time this was reported on in a daily paper. There, MacArthur recognized that Japan fought a war of self-defense: “They feared that if those supplies were cut off, there would be 10 to 12 million people unoccupied in Japan. Their purpose, therefore, in going to war was largely dictated by security.” Watanabe and I had spoken about the importance of this testimony in the past. I knew about it from newspapers and other outlets and thought it was very interesting, but we agreed that no one could make assertions based on this testimony without seeing the original text.
Motoya That’s true.
Kobori When I looked for it, I found it easily. There is a microfilm version of The New York Times in the University of Tokyo’s library, which includes the entire text of MacArthur’s testimony over three days. When I gave Watanabe a copy, he was very happy and emphasized the great importance of confirming the original text. I compiled a book in 1995, called Un-submitted Defense Materials That Were Rejected by the Tokyo Trials, which included the whole text of MacArthur’s testimony in the appendix. The important parts are included in Rejected Defense Documents at the Tokyo Military Tribunal from Chikuma Shogei Bunko, so you can read them right now. I wonder how the public opinion would be different today if the Japan Broadcasting Association (NHK) and major newspapers put out special programs and articles deciphering the original text of MacArthur’s testimony.
Motoya I think there was a great response.
Kobori The issue isn’t being for or against the United States; as a researcher, all I want to say is that this is the scholarly correct interpretation based on the literature. Seventy years have passed since the end of the war and 68 since the conclusion of the Tokyo Trials, so we should calmly and fully reflect the weight of MacArthur’s testimony in our verifications of history.
Motoya The world has changed considerably compared to the past. I think this was inspired by the uproar after Toshio Tamogami, who was the chief of staff of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, won the Grand Prize in the “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest seven years ago. The entire media merely mentioned parts of his essay and consistently bashed Tamogami, but I thought that many people would understand that he is correct if they just read the entire text. After repeated negotiations, I finally had the whole essay printed in the Tokyo and Osaka editions of the Sankei Shimbun on the morning that Tamogami was to give testimony as an unsworn witness at the House of Councillors Diplomacy and Self-Defense Committee. Many readers contacted us by telephone and fax to voice their encouragement for Tamogami.
Kobori That’s amazing.
Motoya Yes. I called Tamogami on his mobile phone as he was heading to the National Diet and told him about the many encouraging messages we had received – so many that the fax machines and telephones wouldn’t quit ringing. I said he should be like the “last samurai.” Afterwards there has been a trend of growing conservatism, which led to Shinzo Abe becoming prime minister for the second time. In this way, I am confident that my activities have great social significance.
Kobori That’s very true, and I feel like we have gained many supporters.
Motoya People who succeed in business generally avoid risks. People said I would lose customers if I placed copies of my books, like Unspoken National Theories, in the hotel guest rooms, but that hasn’t happened at all. In contrast, some recent guests are staying at APA Hotels specifically to read my works. The world has changed, hasn’t it?
Kobori Yet it must be difficult to share your opinions as essays in Apple Town each month.
Motoya To me, writing my monthly essay is a way to organize my thoughts. It may seem like these have nothing to do with my business, but I am able to make accurate future predictions when my mind is organized. I think my predictions must have been correct because we have never fallen into the red or laid off an employee over the past 44 years. I have sold assets when times are favorable and bought them in severe circumstances, which people say is backwards. But all I did was what seemed obvious according to my future predictions. I have continually published Apple Town for the past 25 years, which includes my essays, and I think I have had some influence on society in this way.
Kobori I’m sure these impacts are considerable. I am viewed as a historical revisionist by all sides, and sometimes my participation in international academic symposiums has been rejected for that reason. But history should be revised as a way to come closer to the truth.
Motoya I agree entirely. When new facts come to light we must re-interpret history to allow for consistent explanations, yet people don’t make new interpretations because they are bound by established theories. The 1928 Huanggutun Incident is regarded as the start of Japan’s invasion of China, but it was not perpetrated by Colonel Daisaku Komoto as the established theory states. Instead, the novelist Dmitri Prokhorov put forth a theory that this incident was the work of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), the Soviet secret service. I went to Saint Petersburg in 2009 to meet with Prokhorov, and then invited him to the press conference I held when I returned to Japan. However, the mass media turned a blind eye to all of these things.
Kobori I didn’t know you did that.
Motoya I did. Moreover, according to a document that was released in 2007 from the National Archives in London, the British Army Far East Intelligence Department investigated right after the incident and twice reported that it was the work of the Soviet Union. The timing at which the truth of the Huanggutun Incident was revealed was significant for both Russia and England. China, underneath Jiang Zemin, is becoming more aggressive towards Japan. Perhaps Russia and England thought it would be problematic if Japan kept yielding to China, so they decided to release this information. By the way, the Japanese media ignored this entirely, which was foolish.
Kobori New research is also underway on the Huanggutun Incident in Japan lately. This research involves detailed considerations and says that – according to the established theory – the train was blown up by Captain Kaneo Tomiya , commander of the Fengtian Independent Garrison, based on a plan by Komoto. Interestingly enough, Russia and Japan seem to be fighting to claim these great achievements rather than investigate who the true culprits were. This indicates that removing Zhang Zuolin was a political necessity both for Comintern and the Kwantung Army. I think we can try to revise the history of Manchuria after that point by focusing on this common political need.
Motoya The Soviet secret service had also made an assassination attempt in September 1926, two years before. It concealed this criminal act and drafted another assassination plan that would result in the most damage. It set explosives on the railway track bridge girder on the upper side of the multi-level crossing, and made it look like the crime was committed by the Kwantung Army – namely, by Tomiya at the order of Komoto. Based on photographs of the exploded train, I suggested that the explosion actually took place inside the train car, where Zhang Zuolin’s death would have been certain. Hearing this, Prokhorov said it is possible that the bomb was inside the car. He said he first learned of Zhang Zuolin in a book by Dmitri Volkogonov, his former boss and the head of the Soviet Ministry of Defense’s Military History Research Institute (For details, please see my Special Dialogue with Prokhorov in the December 2009 issue of Apple Town.)
Kobori There are also some good trends in historical revision. Historian Charles A. Beard’s great work was President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941: Appearances and Realities. It was originally published in 1948 and then finally translated into Japanese in 2011, 64 years later. Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath came out in the U.S. in 2011 after being sealed away for 50 years. Who Started the War Between Japan and the U.S.? Roosevelt’s Offenses and the Memoirs of President Hoover, which was based on this book, was published in Japan in January 2016. It’s interesting to see these full-on historical revisions beginning in the U.S. I think this debate was started by MacArthur, who gave testimony as I mentioned before. The memoirs of Hoover, who was president before FDR, clearly showed that World War II was a conspiracy between FDR and Winston Churchill. What is particularly intriguing are the 19 “blunders” – political mistakes made by FDR – as pointed out by Hoover. Hoover concluded that FDR had ethical defects that strayed off the path of statesmanship. Hoover clearly called FDR a lunatic, and MacArthur agreed with this view. Three consummate villains are named as the ringleaders of the enormous calamities experienced by the world in the 21st century: Joseph Stalin, FDR, and Adolf Hitler. The world already recognizes Stalin and Hitler as evil, but I think the nature of FDR’s offenses will be revealed in the future.
Motoya I recently spoke with Dr. Jiban Ranja Majumder, the ambassador of Bangladesh in Japan, at my Wine Tasting event. Majumder said he heard that Radhabinod Pal, a judge of the Tokyo Trials, saw documentary evidence that the U.S. and England had been colluding to formulate a plan to draw Japan into war from 10 years before World War II began. That’s why Pal insisted that all Class A war criminals were innocent. Churchill – who seemingly embodied the pragmatism that stated all other countries were hypothetical enemies – believed American support was necessary to protect England from the evil deeds of Hitler, and that the sentiments of the war-weary American citizens had to be changed. He came up with a story in which Japan was angered and the U.S. could enter the European front from the back door due to the Triple Alliance.
Kobori I think that’s true.
Motoya Next, consider the atomic bombs. The U.S. formulated the Lend-Lease policy in 1947 to oppose Germany and provided extensive military assistance to the Soviet Union. As a result, the Soviet Union became a military monster that could communize all of its adjoining countries after the war and bring about World War III. To prevent this, and to gain hegemony in the postwar era, the U.S. had to drop the atomic bombs it used vast amounts of secret Congressional funds to develop during the war. It drew out the war by purposefully giving vague responses to Japan’s only condition for surrender – which was the maintenance of the Emperor System – and having this condition removed from the Potsdam Declaration. When the U.S. finally completed the atomic bombs, it dropped them on Japan. Of course this was a cruel massacre, but it did change World War III from a fierce fight into a cold war. I think Japan must recognize the historical significance of this and break the atomic bomb curse the U.S. is under.
Kobori I agree entirely regarding the wrongdoing of the U.S.
Motoya At that time, the American establishment did not believe the colored races were human. I think that’s one reason behind the atomic bomb attacks. It certainly did not drop any bombs on Germany.
Kobori It is well known in Japan that Roosevelt was a coldhearted racist.
Motoya Also, it’s not fair to say that Japan invaded Asia. Japan fought with the imperialist nations that invaded and colonized Asia to drive them away.
Kobori Yes – Japan worked to liberate these nations. But the countries that were forced out probably wanted to call it an invasion because they had lost their colonial interests. I think the issue is how to make the Japanese media aware of this.
Motoya The Asahi Shimbun has long been biased, and NHK and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun have grown stranger along with China’s economic growth. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun in particular is under the influence of the financial world that stresses the importance of China because it has production bases in China and does business in that market. The media and social standards have steadily moved towards the left, so people like me who speak from the middle of the road are called right-wing. I think the Nihon Keizai Shimbun should be more upright.
Kobori I do feel the Sankei Shimbun did a good job with its “The Tokyo Trials and GHQ” articles at the end of last year.
Motoya Yes. It is the only salvation, but regrettably it has a small circulation… I think fewer copies of The Asahi Shimbun are being sold due to the issue from the year before last about its coverage of the comfort women issue. This mistaken reporting caused Japan’s national interests to be lost to the tune of several trillion yen.
Kobori Many citizens even forgave The Asahi Shimbun. It’s so disappointing.
Motoya Once someone is brainwashed to that degree, it’s hard to restore them to normal. Even if you teach them what is true, they think it is a stratagem. People who speak decent things are censured as historical revisionists. This trend can also be seen in the Western media.
Kobori Deep down, they are afraid of Japan’s latent strength. Even though they won World War II and harmed Japan greatly in the postwar period, before they knew it Japan has gained a position of looking down at these victorious nations.
Motoya As I wrote in my essay last month, Japan’s advanced technologies are truly fantastic. American F22 stealth fighters must be frequently brought to Japan for paint maintenance or their stealth performance deteriorates. The railguns that will be installed on the Zumwalt class of state-of-the-art destroyers contain Japanese technologies as well. Japanese technologies are used in all sorts of American weapons, yet the U.S. does not allow Japan to develop original weapons with these exemplary technologies. In the civilian aviation field, the HondaJet and MRJ have finally been created 70 years after the end of the war. Japanese people are outstanding, yet the American occupation policy directly after the war ensured that the Japanese people would not have this sensibility, and the impacts of this policy are still felt today. In the U.S. the ratio of accomplished people is less than 1%, and the rest aren’t special at all. Compared to that, the Japanese people are of a high level on average.
Kobori Small factories in towns also have high-level technologies, like in Shitamachi Rocket.
Motoya We must have more pride in this. To that end as well, conservatives must support the Abe administration so it can last for a long time. This isn’t the time for conservatives to be divided on small issues.
Kobori That’s right!
Motoya Japanese conservatives have differing opinions about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and agreement between Japan and South Korea. When asked if Japan should draw close to China or the U.S., the U.S. is the only valid answer, so we should approve the TPP. Regarding the Japan-South Korean agreement, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has attended a military parade in China, and she is close to being taken in by China. The main purpose of the agreement is to fix this. Park Geun-hye does not believe that Japan forcibly transported Korean comfort women, but North Korean powers have infiltrated South Korea and are stirring up controversy about this issue. The removal of comfort woman statues is the ideal, but one billion yen is small change to Japan so I think conservatives should not be fighting over minor matters. I feel that priority should be put on protecting Abe. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) regulations must be changed so he can serve another term as president until the Tokyo Olympics.
Kobori Yes. After all, revising party regulations is simple compared to constitutional amendment (laughs).
Motoya To amend the constitution, victory must be gained in this summer’s House of Councillors election. I think elections will be held in both houses around the same period – the New Komeito Party would never allow a simultaneous election. If a House of Representatives election took place one or two months after the one in the House of Councillors, the members of the Lower House would give enthusiastic support to the House of Councillors election as if it were their own. Some members of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) support constitutional change, and there is also the Osaka Restoration Association. It’s possible that such powers could gain two thirds of the seats in both houses through these elections. The issue is the national referendum; citizens age 18 and older are allowed to vote, so actions are needed to win over the young people. If young people understand that Japan is worthy of pride – and that they must protect their own country – it may be fully possible that the constitution could be amended. I think a precedent should be made by revising it one time, leading to further revisions.
Kobori Yes. We should first remove the worst parts from the Preamble and then get rid of the second paragraph of Article 9.
Motoya I agree. Thanks to people like you, the world is moving in a great direction. Young people pose a challenge, though. I wish there were conservative versions of groups like SEALDs. If we are careless we will be taken in by China, so there isn’t much time. Japan must become a decent country. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
Kobori I hope that young Japanese people will study the Japanese classics, starting with the Kojiki. This would teach them how the Japanese ethnic group has long cultivated excellent discernment and views about how to understand the world. Next, they should read the Manyoshu and monogatari stories from the Heian Period to open their eyes to the richness of classical literature as spiritual assets of the Japanese people. There are no other ethnic groups across the world that can read such a vast selection of works penned in the same language they speak every day.
Motoya In my opinion, the wonderful Japanese language is one reason for the fantastic qualities of the Japanese people. I think there are no other languages in the world that enable such precise expression. There is an amazingly large number of words that describe colors, and the wide variety of first-person expressions conveys different nuances.
Kobori Yes. I am also happy that people from other countries, like Gilbert, have such a good understanding of the Japanese culture and language.
Motoya People should be proud that they were born in such a wonderful country. Adults are responsible for teaching this to young people.
Kobori That’s why I don’t think English should be taught in elementary school – children should first gain a solid understanding of Japanese. This is my cherished opinion from long ago and I have written and spoken about it many times, but I believe the Japanese language is the most important part of elementary education. I don’t want to put a damper on the enthusiastic efforts of people who are working to enhance ethical education, but I actually think that, if we could return Japanese-language reading-books to the same level as the pre-World War II era, then we would no longer have to teach ethics, civics, history, and geography as subjects. If students had sufficient Japanese-language abilities, they would be able to understand everything – including arithmetic and science – just by reading textbooks. It is absurd to teach English in elementary school.
Motoya I feel the same way – shouldn’t people study a second language after gaining excellent Japanese skills? Thank you for joining me in such a meaningful discussion today.
Born in Tokyo in 1933. After graduating from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Letters in 1958, he studied abroad in Frankfurt (then West Germany). He completed a doctoral course at the University of Tokyo in 1968, and then worked in the University of Tokyo’s College of Arts and Sciences until 1994. He is currently an emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo and holds a Doctor of Literature with a specialization in comparative culture and the history of Japanese thought. His published works include Prime Minister Suzuki Kantaro (Bungei Shunju), A Reexamination of the Tokyo Trials (PHP Institute), and Yasukuni Shrine and the Japanese (PHP Shinsho).