Mitsubishi and World War II

Last June, the Mitsubishi company of Japan, known by its iconic trademark composed of three symetrically positioned diamonds, celebrated its centennial.  Yes, the company which manufactures motor vehicles, elevators, and escalators known for their durability is 100 years old.

The Mitsubishi centennial was marked in the Philippines with a paid, two-page, full-color newspaper advertisement published in another daily newspaper.  Accompanying the paid advertisement is a publicity article purporting to be a news story on the occasion.      

As expected, the advertisement carried a detailed account of how the Mitsubishi automotive business started, and how the enterprise became successful.  

Small photographs of all the vehicles manufactured by the company through the decades were prominently featured in the advertisement.  Not much was said, however, about the company’s elevator and escalator business.  Although the company also manufactured electric fans late in the twentieth century, there was no discussion of this business, either.      

Surprisingly, however, the advertisement was conspicuously silent on the role the Mitsubishi company played during World War II. 

The historical record reveals that the Mitsubishi company manufactured the aircraft which Imperial Japan used in its surprise attack against the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941—the event which started the World War II in the Pacific—and which Japan used in conquering territory in mainland China, and in East and South East Asia, including the Philippine Islands.    

Those planes were called “zeroes” because of the red circle painted on them, representing the rising sun of Japan.

Allied pilots grudgingly recognized the speed and maneuverability of the Mitsubishi zero.  Precisely for that reason, the War Department of the United States saw the need to manufacture aircraft to match and, hopefully, outfight the zero.    

 Japan was so proud of the Mitsubishi zero that its propaganda corps broadcast a radio program called “the Zero hour,” which was named in honor of the aircraft.  The radio program emanated from a Tokyo studio and was broadcast throughout the Pacific by a powerful transmitter.  Although the radio program was named in honor of the zero, its programming was not just about the aircraft.  The broadcast focused on Japanese propaganda and disinformation.

Why the Mitsubishi centennial advertisement published in the Philippines is silent on that important chapter in world history is unexplained.

 The silence in the local Mitsubishi advertisement is merely another example of Japan’s controversial silence on the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army in mainland China and in the territories it occupied during World War II. 

Many history textbooks used in elementary schools in Japan today do not even mention the war.  In the rare instances when the war is actually mentioned in the texts, some sugar coating is employed to dilute the intensity of the military atrocities committed.  For example, the notorious Rape of Nanking, where many women and infant children were massacred mercilessly by Japanese troops, is referred to as the Nanking Incident, while the infamous Bataan Death March, where American and Filipino prisoners of war were forced to march for days under the summer sun without food, water, and sufficient rest, is called the Bataan Prisoner Trek, or words to that effect.   

Even the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which compelled Japan to surrender in 1945, has been controversial.  The atomic bombs are mentioned in the history textbooks, but the atrocities of the Japanese troops are downplayed.   

This historical revisionism in Japanese textbooks has been the source of friction between Tokyo on the one hand, and Beijing, Taipei, and Seoul on the other.  

It may be reasonably said that the Philippines has no quarrel with present-day Japan.  Tokyo has been a reliable friend of the Manila since the restoration of diplomatic ties after the war.  This friendship notwithstanding, it would still be in the better interest of historical truth had the role of Mitsubishi in the war been mentioned in the centennial advertisement.  The war may be over, but it is only in remembering its horrors can war be effectively avoided by future generations of Filipinos and Japanese alike.   

Perhaps, Japan can take its bearings from post-war Germany.

Despite Nazi Germany’s villanous role in World War II in Europe, post-war Germany readily acknowledged the atrocities Nazi troops committed during the war.  Moreover, the German government has outlawed national socialism (Nazism) anywhere in its territory.

Because post-war Germany demonstrated remorse for what happened during the war by openly admitting its erroneous ways, the world did not find it difficult to accept post-war Germany back in the community of nations. 

By reason of its contrite, post-war stance, German goods and products also found international markets rather quickly. 

Although Mercedes-Benz provided Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler with quality vehicles, the brand is sought today by motorists all over the world who look for quality vehicles. 

Bayer manufactured the zyklon poison gas used in the extermination camps of the Nazis, but its household insecticides are still sold worldwide today. 

The Adidas and Puma brands of athletic shoes are world-renowned in present times, even if their creators were staunch supporters of the Nazi government. 

Hugo Boss designed the uniforms of Nazi soldiers, and yet the clothes bearing this trademark are bought by those who seek sartorial elegance from fashionable haberdasheries in Paris, Rome, and New York.

The Germans have shown that there is liberation in the admission of one’s faults.  Perhaps the Mitsubishi company ought to follow the example led by the post-war Germans. 

There is no doubt that despite its dark role in World War II, Japan has been well-behaved for the entire post-war period.  Contemporary ties between Manila and Tokyo remain warm.  More importantly, post-war Japan has never threatened any Asian neighbor with aggression.

As the leading industrial giant in Asia with a remarkable deportment in its international relations, Japan should not find it hard to openly denounce its role in the war, so as to establish itself as a benevolent leader in this part of the world.

Topics: Victor Avecilla , Mitsubishi , centennial , World War II
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