Japan Continues to Sanitize History

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Japan Continues to Sanitize History

I am one of millions who have read Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. The book told the story of the 300,000 Chinese (the vast majority of whom were unarmed civilians) who were summarily executed in 1937-38, frequently by the most brutal and disgusting means imaginable.

At the end of her book, Chang lamented the fact that Japanese textbooks say virtually nothing about these atrocities. It has been quite a few years since Chang's book was published, but, apparently, little has changed in Japan.

As the Washington Post reported:
[Japan's] Education Ministry on Tuesday approved a controversial new series of school textbooks that critics say whitewash Japan's militaristic past. The move ignited immediate outrage among some of the country's World War II-era victims.

... Critics, mostly in the two Koreas and China, contend that Japan has consistently denied its wartime aggression.

The outcry intensified in 2001 after the Education Ministry here approved a new junior high textbook that was drafted by a group of Japanese nationalists and that omitted key details about Japan's wartime atrocities. The book has since been adopted by a handful of Japanese schools.

On Tuesday, the Education Ministry approved a newer edition of the same text that critics say further distorts the past and portrays imperial Japan as a liberator rather than an occupier of its Asian neighbors. The text shuns the word "invasion," for instance, and leaves out critical accounts of events such as the Japanese army's massacre of civilians in Nanking, China, in 1937.

Other texts for the 2006 school year were toned down. The term "comfort women" -- a euphemism for wartime sex slaves, mostly from Korea and China -- disappeared from all eight junior high history books approved by the national government Tuesday. One book maintained a reference to wartime "comfort stations" for Japanese soldiers. In contrast, all 2001 editions of the books had specific references to the practice of sexual slavery, according to Japan's Kyodo news service.

The Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, which drafted the most controversial of the new books, hailed the approvals as in step with current thinking in Japan.

Some schoolbook publishers and government officials have argued that it is time to remove "self-deprecating" historical references. That argument has troubled Japan's neighbors because it comes at a time when Japan continues to move away from postwar pacifism and is considering changing its U.S.-drafted constitution, in which it renounced the right to maintain a military.

The government approved "the textbook that most faithfully reflects the goal . . . of deepening love towards our country's history," the society said in a statement.
I have always had this crazy notion that a country's "goal" in providing education and writing textbooks was to instill knowledge and understanding.

How could I forget about that all-important "deepening love" part?

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