Japan Society of Fairfield County

Culture Watch, Society Watch (19)
by Dr. Ikuko Anjo Jassey

     The descriptions of the Battle of Okinawa in authorized Japanese school textbooks have elicited much criticism in Japan and neighboring countries. According to The New York Times (April 1,2007), the government mandated publishers to delete the depiction clarifying who was responsible for civilian mass suicides during the battle. Thus, the Ministry of Education again disclosed that it has no pillar of educational philosophy. The government, it is apparent, has not learned anything from Professor Ienage's bequest; namely, the Ministry of Education's mandate to delete the well-researched descriptions of historical events is illegal.
     Against the world trend of seeking freedom in textbook production, "a new backlash" rose again in Japan in 1996, after a political party's intervention in 1955 and 1980. Since then, a group of people, including scholars, national and local politicians, mass media, and radical rightists, have been criticizing the textbooks depicting Japanese brutality during World War II. A leader of this movement once declared that "Japanese troops are no worse than those of any other fighting nation in World War II and should not be singled out as especially brutal" and that current history textbooks filled with self-loathing depictions and photographs are nothing but a way to implant in pupils' minds national shame rather than pride. Moreover, he asserted that since the educational aim was to nurture a proud national identity in children's minds, any textbook counterproductive to this purpose should not be authorized. The group actually requested and demanded that the Ministry of Education and publishing companies rewrite or eliminate "shameful" descriptions and photographs of the wars in history textbooks. It is still fresh in our memory that history textbooks glorifying Japan were published by the same group. Thus, after a short period of time-approximately for ten years-when Japanese textbooks were sensibly freed from government censorship, the government manipulated the screening system, once again pressing its interpretation of wartime crimes in the newest high school history textbooks.
     Indeed, no completely objective history textbook exists. And it is natural for human nature to show hesitation to cover the historical truths that reflect "the dark side" of their nation. As James W. Loewen writes in his 1995 book, however, without understanding our national past, we can neither understand ourselves nor the world around us. In fact, textbooks in some countries, such as Germany, France, Russia, and South Africa are said to have begun to deal more honestly with unpalatable truths, thus encouraging critical thinking. The United States has been moving toward that direction, too. As far as I compared some newer American history textbooks (2003, 2005, and 2006) with those published ten years ago, just for my curiosity, it is obvious that these newer versions clearly attempted to deal more honestly and bilaterally with war crimes Americans had committed.
     Japan should not follow an educationally wrong path, imitating or challenging any country that fabricates its history with eliminating inconvenient truths as if they had never occurred and with creating a wealth of fantastic stories for one's own nation. A war is never glorious. Instead, a war is cruel, brutal, and destructive. For this very reason, students have to be taught crucial facts of historical events with moral compass as well as rational thoughts so as to develop and sharpen their abilities to ponder, to assess, and to value life. Concealing or twisting historical facts is more shameful than teaching the grim realities.
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