German Chancellor Angela Merkel was made an honorary citizen of Israel by President Shimon Peres at a ceremony in Jerusalem on Tuesday. The presidential medal she was given is the highest honor Israel bestows on foreign citizens.
Merkel had visited Israel with 16 of her officials to mark the 50th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations. The two countries even held a joint meeting of their cabinets. This was made possible by the sincere apologies and acts of repentance of German leaders over the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime during World War II.
But in Japan, the government chooses the opposite path. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe personally thanked an opposition party lawmaker who has called for a review of a statement made in 1993 by then Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono admitting imperial Japan's responsibility for forcing women into sexual slavery.
At an exhibition hosted by rightwing Japanese groups, a cartoon has been put on display claiming that pimps should be considered sex slaves if the "comfort women" are viewed as victims. Also shocking is the mysterious mutilation of hundreds of copies of the Diary of Anne Frank and books about her in public libraries across Tokyo.
A global effort has already begun to address the suffering of the sex slaves. The Holocaust Museum at Queens Community College in New York, for one, plans a permanent exhibition about the horrors suffered by these women. It will be the first overseas exhibition of that kind and mark the inclusion of the atrocities committed by imperial Japan in a space dedicated to remembering the holocaust.
Until just a few years ago, international attention to the plight of the sex slaves was limited to UN and EU resolutions urging Japan to repent. Only recently have these efforts spread to academia and the private sector.
In the U.S., several groups support setting up statues remembering the former sex slaves. Officials at the Anne Frank's Museum in Amsterdam plan to visit Korea in May to gather materials. These developments show how the world regards the atrocities committed by imperial Japan.
Japan's attempts to whitewash its past are unlikely to stop. It will take the concerted efforts of people around the world to get Japan to finally swallow its twisted pride and apologize for forcing innocent young girls to suffer such a horrible fate.