Tags: Shinzo Abe | japan | congress | hirohito

Japanese PM's Speech to Congress Ill-Timed: Veterans' Group

Japanese PM's Speech to Congress Ill-Timed: Veterans' Group
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Wednesday, 01 April 2015 07:18 AM

An invitation extended by House Speaker John Boehner to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to address Congress has been criticized by a veterans' group as insensitive for its timing — it's set for April 29,  the birthday of Japan's wartime Emperor Hirohito, The Washington Times reported.

While Japanese leaders regularly visit the U.S., this is the first time a Japanese premier has been invited to address both chambers of Congress. Japan and Germany both waged war against the U.S. during World War II, but only postwar German leaders have addressed joint sessions of Congress and on several occasions, according to the South China Morning Post.

"His address will provide an opportunity for the American people to hear from one of our closest allies," Boehner said.

The birthday of Emperor Hirohito, who ordered the bombing of Pearl Harbor that brought the U.S. into the world war, is marked in Japan as Showa Day, the Times reported. Hirohito reigned from 1926 to 1989.

"The members of our organization are fully aware of the significance of the date chosen for Prime Minister Abe's address. The POWs all had to bow in the prison camps to honor the emperor on that date," said Jan Thompson of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society. The group represents surviving prisoners of war and their families, the Times reported.

April 29 is also the date in 1946 when the allied international military tribunal condemned Hideki Tojo, Japan's prime minister in World War II, and other key officials of Hirohito's government for war crimes and sentenced them to death.

Hirohito was treated as divine during the war, but afterward renounced his divinity and helped to transition the country into a democratic nation and Washington's key ally in the region. He visited the U.S. in 1975.

The Japanese Embassy in Washington told the Times that Abe's visit was intended to underscore the reconciliation between the two countries.

Thompson also criticized Abe for his visits to a shrine for Japanese soldiers who served the emperor, and for not taking proper responsibility for Tokyo's wartime atrocities. The shrine visits caused indignation in China, South Korea, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Abe said, "There is criticism based on the misconception that this is an act to worship war criminals, but I visited Yasukuni Shrine to report to the souls of the war dead on the progress made this year and to convey my resolve that people never again suffer the horrors of war," according to media reports.

The conservative-leaning Abe is due to arrive in the U.S. on April 26 for an eight-day visit. President Barack Obama will meet with him for talks and host a state dinner on April 28. The premier is scheduled to travel to Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Abe's grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, a wartime cabinet minister, addressed Congress in 1957. The last time a Japanese leader spoke to Congress was in 1961 when Hayato Ikeda, then the country's prime minister, spoke briefly to the House, according to the Morning Post.

As the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, some 54.6 percent of Japanese polled said Abe should apologize for Japan's conduct before and during World War II, the Morning Post reported.

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The speech by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe marks the first time a Japanese leader will speak to both houses of Congress, but it's set for April 29 — the birthday of Japan's wartime emperor, Hirohito, a point that has some veterans upset.
Shinzo Abe, japan, congress, hirohito
Wednesday, 01 April 2015 07:18 AM
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