TOKYO (AFP) — Japan's sacked air force commander on Tuesday defended his view of the country's militarist past and called for an overhaul of the pacifist constitution.
"I do not think I was wrong in any way," said former general Toshio Tamogami, who was fired last month after writing an essay in which he denied the country was an aggressor in World War II.
The essay "was necessary in order for Japan to head in the right direction," he said during a parliamentary hearing in which he was harshly criticised by opposition lawmakers who said his views were a challenge to the legislature.
"Freedom of speech should be guaranteed, even for Self Defense Force personnel," Tamogami responded, using the official name for Japan's military.
"Would it be a democracy if public discourse is suppressed?"
Tanogami said Japan should amend its constitution, which bans the use of force as a way to resolve international conflicts, because views are currently divided on how to defend the country.
The government has insisted that the essay was contrary to its official views.
But Ichiro Ozawa, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said the government was aware of Tamogami's views before he wrote the essay.
"The government appointed him (as air force chief) and hastily forced him to retire after his thoughts came to the fore," Ozawa told reporters, saying he would challenge the government on the issue.
China, the two Koreas and other Asian nations still have searing memories of Japan's aggression and colonial rule. China was quick to voice "strong indignation" over the comments.
Tamogami wrote in the essay that many Asian countries "take a positive view" of Japan's past militarism, seeing Tokyo as a bulwark against Western imperialism.
"It is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation," he wrote.
The scandal came at a bad time for Prime Minister Taro Aso, who criticised Tamogami's remarks but has himself previously caused controversy by defending aspects of Japanese colonialism.
Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has himself caused controversy by defending aspects of Japanese colonialism, repeated his view that the essay was "inappropriate" for a senior official in Tanogami's position.
"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression as long as they are Japanese," Aso told reporters. "But his remarks were inappropriate for someone in the position of a chief of staff in Japan under civilian control."
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