Toshio Tamogami, head of the Japanese air force, was dismissed Friday after he claimed in a book that Japan should not be considered an aggressor in World War II, a sensitive issue in the country's relations with its Asian neighbours.
Japan sacked its air force chief Friday after he wrote an essay in which he denied the country was an aggressor in World War II, a stance likely to anger its Asian neighbours.
China, the two Koreas and other Asian nations still have painful memories of Japan's aggression and colonial rule, and there had been speculation that General Toshio Tamogami's comments could strain relations.
"What he said was inappropriate for an air chief of staff as it differs from the government's position. He should not remain in the job," Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada told a news conference announcing his dismissal.
Prime Minister Taro Aso, also known for his conservative views on history, told reporters: "Even if he expressed it personally, it is inappropriate."
Tamogami, chief of staff of Japan's Air Self-Defence Force, offered the opinion in an essay on the theme of "true views of modern history."
The general wrote, "Even now, there are many people who think that our country's 'aggression' caused unbearable suffering to the countries of Asia during the Greater East Asia War."
"But we need to realise that many Asian countries take a positive view of the Greater East Asia War," Tamogami said, according to the essay's English version.
"It is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation."
The Greater East Asia War was a term used by Japan to describe the conflict in the Asia-Pacific theatre, emphasising that it involved Asian nations seeking independence from the Western powers.
The thesis runs counter to a 1995 statement issued by then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama and endorsed by his successors which apologised for Japan's past aggression and colonial rule in Asia.
When Aso took office in September, he pledged to stand by the apology.
The Murayama statement acknowledged that Japan through its colonial rule and aggression "caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations."
But there has been a persistent nationalistic argument in Japan that the Murayama statement was part of the country's "masochism" aimed at accommodating Asian neighbours.
"Among the major powers at that time, Japan was the only nation that tried to incorporate its colonies within the nation itself. In comparison to other countries, Japan's colonial rule was very moderate," Tamogami wrote.
"We must take back the glorious history of Japan. A nation that denies its own history is destined to pursue a path of decline."
Japan renounced the right to wage war after World War II and calls its de facto military the Self-Defence Forces.
Despite its officially pacifist position, Japan has often come under fire for its perceptions of its wartime past with neighbours closely watching for any sign of a militarist revival.
China suspended top-level exchanges during the 2001-2006 premiership of Junichiro Koizumi, who paid homage each year to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, which honours the Japanese war dead including top World War II leaders.
Under Koizumi, Japan also deployed ground troops in southern Iraq, its first military deployment since the world war in a country where fighting is under way.
Tamogami, who at 60 belongs to Japan's post-war baby boomer generation, stirred controversy in April when he defended a Japanese airlift operation in Iraq which was ruled unconstitutional by a provincial court.
He said some of his troops might have been hurt by the ruling but, using a comedian's phrase, said that a majority of them felt "to heck with it."
Date created : 2008-10-31