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EDITORIAL | The Asahi Shimbun Gets Stuck in 1950s Occupation History, Forgets Free Speech

Demanding an end to public use of the war's Japanese name, the Asahi Shimbun justifies itself by citing a postwar Allied Occupation order that expired in 1952.



The exterior of the Asahi Shimbun Tokyo headquarters at Tsukiji, Chuo-ku in Tokyo on May 22, 2022. (© Sankei by Yoshinori Saito)

Although it has been 79 years since the end of the Pacific War, the Asahi Shimbun still wants to dictate what terms people can use to refer to that great conflict. Specifically, they have taken exception to the use of the term Dai Toa Senso, meaning "Greater East Asia War." 

This is shameful behavior that seeks to suppress freedom of expression. 

In an April 5 post on its official  X (formerly Twitter) account, a spokesperson for the Ground Self-Defense Force's 32nd Infantry Regiment (based in Saitama City) used the expression Dai Toa Senso

Thereafter on April 8, the Asahi Shimbun published an article concerning this post. It included the following critical statements: "The government does not use this term in official documents to refer to the Pacific War." In addition, it said, "After the war, the Occupation Forces issued an order banning the use of Dai Toa Senso."

To avoid misunderstanding, the 32nd Infantry Regiment subsequently dropped the expression from its post. However, Japan is supposed to be a land of free speech. Therefore, it is unfortunate that the self-appointed Asahi "language police" prompted the change.

An official X post of the Ground Self-Defense Force's 32nd General Regiment using the words "Greater East Asia War" that Asahi Shimbun objected to. (© Kyodo)

An X Post About a Joint Memorial Ceremony

Precisely, the April 5 post reported on regiment members' participation in the Japan-US Joint Memorial Ceremony on Iwo Jima Island. According to the report the ceremony was designed "to honor victims of the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the fiercest battles of the Greater East Asia War." 

The term was a standard expression at that time of the war. Its use in the post highlighted the ferocity of that battle. There should be no objection since it was clearly not intended as a glorification of the conflict itself. 

Asahi Shimbun revealed its malicious intent when it ended the article by referring to the Occupation order banning the term. As the Asahi article pointed out, this was the official Japanese name for the conflict adopted by the Cabinet in December 1941. That was immediately after the start of the Pacific War.

Revised version of the X message from the GSDF 32nd Infantry Regiment posted on April 8. In this version, it's reference to the "Greater East Asia War" has been deleted. (© Sankei)

Stuck in the Postwar Occupation 

The Japanese government does not currently proscribe the use of the term. Nor has it formally decided that only the term "Taiheiyo Senso" (Pacific War) should be used. 

It is true that the Occupation Authority (GHQ) did issue a memorandum on December 15, 1945. That order prohibited Japan's use of the term "Greater East Asia War" (Dai Toa Senso). However, after the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1952, this improper order became null and void. That is also when Japan recovered its lost sovereignty. 

The Asahi article inevitably gives the mistaken impression that the GHQ order remains in effect even today. 

During the war, the Japanese people fought in the "Greater East Asia War." No one thought they were fighting in a war going by a different name. It would be too narrow-minded and self-flagellating to view the term "Greater East Asia War" as problematic just because the expression "Pacific War" is more common. 

Status of the Term Today

The Japanese government generally does not use the term in official documents. Nevertheless, it is not prohibited and there was no reason to delete it from the official X posting. 

For example, the term is commonly used in the series of volumes on military history published by the Center for Military History of the Defense Research Institute of the Defense Agency. (One such example is The History of the Start of the Greater East Asia War.) 

Even in the National Diet, the highest organ of state power, government ministers and legislators of both the ruling and opposition parties have used the term without it becoming a problem. For example, it was used in a May 12, 2020 meeting of the finance committee of the Upper House. Taro Aso, who was deputy prime minister and finance minister at the time, used the term "Dai Toa Senso." Furthermore, his statement remains in the official record of the proceedings. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun