On 50th anniversary of peace, opinions divided on need for Japan war apology

By Justin Pritchard Associated Press Writer
Thursday September 06, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — More Californians think Japan should atone for atrocities its troops committed during World War II than believe the United States should apologize for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, according to a new survey. 

State residents hailed the important connections — political and economic — between the two countries, though by a small margin said America’s relationship with China is “more important” than ties to Japan. 

The survey’s release comes as the city prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the treaty that officially ended hostilities between two countries that are now close allies. Those festivities culminate Saturday with meetings between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka. 

In anticipation of the anniversary, on Wednesday the San Francisco-based Public Policy Institute of California released its survey, which was based on telephone interviews of 2,007 state residents. 

On Sept. 8, 1951, Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty. It ended the American occupation of Japan, which enjoyed a hasty postwar recovery. 

Since then, Japan and the United States have grown steadily closer. 

The poll reflected that cultural bond in California, the state with the largest Japanese American population. Nearly three quarters of respondents reported a favorable opinion of Japan and 65 percent said Japan has a “major influence” on the United States. 

But the poll also reflected what critics decry as the treaty’s weakness — it never forced Japan to apologize for wartime atrocities, much less help repair countries it attacked. Still simmering are questions over how Japan should answer for the forced labor of American POWs, the sexual enslavement of Korean women, and massacres and alleged germ warfare in China. 

Just over 50 percent of respondents said they thought Japan should apologize for war crimes, while 41 percent said Japan should not apologize. 

So fresh is the issue that Japan critics have organized a conference to parallel this week’s treaty signing celebrations. 

“The Japanese government has been invoking the U.S.-Japan San Francisco treaty signed 50 years ago as the proof of having settled its obligations to the invaded countries,” said conference organizer L. Ling-chi Wang, a professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. “Fifty years of denial must end.” 

Despite believing Japan should repent, 59 percent of respondents said the United States should not apologize for dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That is down from the 73 percent of people who rejected such an apology in a 1995 national poll. 

“It is a contradiction that Californians would be asking Japan to think about its role in World War II and apologize while at the same time not having the same point of view on the U.S. activities,” said survey director Mark Baldassare. 

Among Baldassare’s other findings: 

• 43 percent of respondents said the United States’ relationship with China was more important than its relationship with Japan; 40 percent thought Japan was more important. 

• 47 percent of respondents said the United States should withdraw troops stationed in Japan since the war’s end; 45 percent said the troops should stay. 

• Only 13 percent of respondents said they thought the two countries had “not much” in common. 

California adults were interviewed from July 1 to July 10, 2001 and the survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.