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YASUKUNI SHRINE

The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo has in recent years become the centre of a major controversy. Founded in 1869 the name means 'peaceful country'. The shrine is dedicated to the souls of about 2.5 million Japanese men, women and children who died in the name of their country since its founding. Within the shrine, the souls of the dead are worshipped rather than the dead remembered, as is the case in western remembrance.

The shrine is frequently at the centre of a political controversy that has become more heated in recent years. Some argue that as the main wars the shrine commemorates are those with China and the US, it symbolises foreign invasions; for others it is a symbol of patriotism. Such ‘left-right’ divisions in attitudes to war memorials can be found in most countries.

The Yasukuni Shrine

In the case of the Yasukuni Shrine – a spiritual centre for Japanese nationalism in the 30s and 40s - the controversy is given additional force by the fact that those venerated also include 14 convicted class-A war criminals including Prime Minister Tojo.

Attempts in parliament to remove Prime Minister Tojo's name, have been made but have always been blocked by nationalists. The visits by members of the government including several visits by the present Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi have upset many people; such visits are taken to imply sympathy for the old nationalistic and militaristic ways. Mr Koizumi has repeatedly argued that his visits are to pray for peace and that Japan should never go to war again. But as Japan has pushed ahead with a more assertive international role for its military and sent some 1,000 troops to Iraq such protestations are not widely believed.

Japan's Asian neighbours, especially China and Korea, who were victims of the country's military aggression in the first half of the 20th century, are also concerned at what they see as growing nationalism.

As the United States sees Japan as its vital ally in containing China whose economic and military power is steadily growing and challenging US supremacy in the area, Japan's international outlook comes under close scrutiny. The outlook for the region depends on how the leaders of these major countries behave in the coming years. The growing militarization and nationalism are not good signs.

By looking below the surface meaning of Prime Minister Koizumi’s words his association with the Yasukuni Shrine signifies at the very least sympathy for nationalist and militaristic values the shrine represents.

Attitudes to war memorials accurately pinpoint people’s position on the war and peace spectrum.

It gradually became obvious to some doctors that that some men at the front were suffering from non-physical injuries from what became know as shell-shock.

Some doctors argued that the only cure for shell-shock was a complete rest away from the fighting. Officer were likely to be sent back home to recuperate but the army was less sympathetic to ordinary soldiers with shell-shock. Some senior officers took the view that these men were cowards who were trying to get out of fighting.

Between 1914 and 1918 the British Army identified 80,000 men (2% of those who saw active service) as suffering from shell-shock. many more soldiers with these symptoms were classified as 'malingerers' and sent back to the front-line. Some these committed suicide; some broke down under the pressure and refused to obey the orders, some deserted. Sometimes soldiers who disobeyed orders were shot on the spot, some were court-martialled. 304 British soldiers were executed.