TOKYO -- The death of Emperor Hirohito brought back painful memories of World War II for many nations victimized by the Japanese, saddling their governments with the touchy issue of who to send to his funeral.
President Bush quickly jumped at the invitation to attend the Feb. 24 state funeral in Tokyo, despite being shot down over the Pacific in 1944 by Japanese imperial forces fighting in the emperor's name.
'I feel you look ahead, don't always look back,' Bush said in defending his decision.
But in other capitals the decision to bury the past was not so quick.
War veterans in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands clamored for their governments to snub the funeral.
China and South Korea downgraded their representation, reflecting bitter memories of the Japanese occupation of their homelands long before Tokyo's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Many South Koreans have demanded that Japan mark Hirohito's death by issuing a formal apology for Japan's 36-year rule of their country which was brought to an end after the war.
North Korea, which has no diplomatic relations with Japan and is boycotting the funeral, has called Seoul's decision to send Prime Minister Kang Young-hoon to Tokyo a 'traitorous act.'
The Soviet Union, still technically at war with Japan, delayed its decision before finally agreeing to send Vice President Anatoli Lukyanov. Tokyo and Moscow never signed a peace treaty after the war and are still arguing over ownership of four Soviet-held islands off the Japanese coast.
High-level representatives from 138 countries, including 51 heads of state, are expected to attend the elaborate 13-hour rites in Tokyo. Hirohito died Jan. 7 of intestinal cancer at age 87, the last of the major leaders of World War II.
Anti-Hirohito sentiment also rung loudly in Australia and New Zealand which failed to get U.S. backing for prosecuting Hirohito as a war criminal.
New Zealand Defense Minister Bob Tizard said, 'Emperor Hirohito should have been hanged as a war criminal and executed at the end of War II.'
'I am more concerned about a few hundred of my friends and thousands of others who were butchered by the Japanese after being taken prisoner, than about protocol,' Tizard said.
New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, saying Tizard did not speak for the government, has named the non-political head of state, Governor-General Paul Reeves, to attend the funeral along with Foreign Minister Russell Marshall.
War veterans in Australia also put pressure on Prime Minister Bob Hawke to boycott the funeral.
'Hirohito was the biggest war criminal on earth -- he would have made Hitler look like a Sunday school teacher,' said Bruce Ruxton, fiery president of the Victorian State Returned Servicemen's League, or RSL.
'He condoned the slaughter of as many as 40 million Chinese in the years leading up to World War II.
'Going to Hirohito's funeral would be like going to the funeral of the devil.'
Hawke also decided to send Australia's governor-general, Bill Hayden, as well as Trade Minister Michael Duffy.
'The level of representation at the funeral reflects the importance which the government attaches to Australia's relationship with Japan,' Hawke said in rejecting opposition calls to attend himself. 'While it is appropriate to remember times of war, it is more appropriate to realize Japan is our major trading partner.'
'We Have Not Forgotten,' was one of many headlines in British newspapers in recent weeks condemning the decision to send Prince Philip and Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe to the funeral.
In defending the move, Howe said that although 'nothing can obliterate what happened there,' the decision was made in 'the light of the fact that Japan today is an important, democratic member of the free world.'
Despite Howe's explanation, several veterans groups said they opposed sending such a senior member of the royal family to the service.
'With all these high dignitaries going, the Japanese will assume they are being exonerated for all the dreadful things they did in the war,' said Harold Payne, president of the Federation of Far Eastern Prisoners of War Association.'