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Editorial: Japan gov't must move to enact relief measures for victims of US air raids

The fate of a bill granting relief to civilian victims in Japan who suffered from air raids carried out by the U.S. military during the Pacific War is uncertain.

    Air raid victims have heretofore received no compensation whatsoever, and a cross-party parliamentary league drew up a bill in autumn last year.

    However, as adjustments within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have not seen progress, the bill has not been submitted to the extraordinary Diet session, which ended last December, nor the current Diet session.

    With the House of Representatives election to be held this year, if the bill does not get passed by then, the future of the legislation will become unclear.

    Seventy-five years have passed since the end of World War II, and victims have been growing older. The LDP must immediately act to provide relief to these individuals.

    The draft proposes for a 500,000-yen (roughly $4,565) payment to be granted to all individuals with physical and mental disabilities, as well as injuries sustained due to air raids and other attacks during the war. The bill also requires the Japanese government to carry out a study on the nature of damage caused by such attacks.

    In March, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai had indicated a supportive stance and the desire to "carry it out as soon as possible," after Takeo Kawamura, former chief Cabinet secretary and head of the parliamentary league, asked for his cooperation.

    In spite of this, procedures to push forward the bill have not seen progress within the LDP owing to an understanding reached by the national government and ruling parties in 2005. It was agreed that with the execution of a project to send consolation gifts to people who were imprisoned in Siberia after World War II, among other efforts, the handling of postwar issues would be concluded.

    Policy Research Council Chairperson Hakubun Shimomura raised this point and has maintained a cautious stance on the matter.

    While annuity has been paid to former soldiers and other military personnel, as well as bereaved families, civilian victims of air raids had been abandoned on the grounds that they were not employed by the government.

    There is the concern within the national government and ruling parties that if air raid victims are added to the list of those eligible for relief measures, the scope of postwar compensation may be expanded without end.

    However, local residents at the time were in effect banned from leaving their residences and shouldered the obligation of extinguishing fires in the event of an air raid, due to the air defense law and other regulations. The national government has a responsibility for paying damages.

    Cities across Japan were subject to air raids during World War II, and in the March 1945 Tokyo air raid, about 100,000 individuals died.

    Even if the law is enacted, it is estimated that only about 4,600 people will be able to receive the benefits. Bereaved families and war orphans are not covered by relief measures. Nonetheless, the desire to offer relief to victims, even in the slightest, is contained in the bill.

    Investigations into air raid damage has been left to private organizations and local governments, and its actual nature has yet to be uncovered. Probes by the Japanese government are indispensable. The LDP should take the feelings of victims seriously.

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