While the memory of a textbook revision in Japan in 1982 is still fresh, another textbook isuue in the country is happening. According to Japanese media, in April last year, the Ministry of Education approved the application by textbook publishers to revise social science textbooks, including historical ones, to be used beginning from 2002. Textbooks revision happens every four years.
In the drafts submitted to the ministry, several publishers have either altered, slashed or blurred a considerable number of important historical facts related to Japan’s wartime aggression upon Asian countries. Since the distortion had been publicized in Japanese media last September, a strong impact has been seen both inside and outside the country. Some Japanese newspapers described it as a “big retrogression”, and the South Korean media reported as “a trend of distorting history comes back”.
Both the Chinese and ROK Foreign Ministry spokesmen made remarks on this issue.
The current textbook issue involves two cases:
One is that, in all the current textbooks in which seven publishers are involved, Japan’s aggressive history is described in a positive way. For example, when recounting the history of “Japan’s all-around aggression against China” and “Japan’s aggression to China and Korea in modern times”, six publishers have cut out the word “aggression”, and instead talk only of “entering” and “leaving”, or use other anodyne words in the submitted drafts.
In the current textbook, major changes have been made about important facts like “comfort women”, the “Nanjing Massacre”, “Unit 731” (engaged the research of bacteriological weapons and experimented them on prisoners and civilians) and the policy of “burn all, kill all and loot all” once pursued by Japanese militarists in China.
The other issue is that a rightist organization named “new historical textbook compilation committee” published a “new historical textbook”, in which the facts are willfully distorted and the aggression reversed. The guiding principle of compiling such a textbook is to inculcate youth with the concept of “divine nation”.
In this particular textbook, the so-called “Great East Asia War” was described as Japan’s only choice for self-defense against the surrounding of ABCD countries (America, Britain, China and the Dutch). It was a “liberating war for Asia”. The “great victory” of Japanese military forces in South and Southeast Asia in the early phase, was described to have brought people there and even in Africa “hope and courage for independence”.
Also the beginning of all-out aggression upon China, the “July 7 (or Marco Polo Bridge) Incident of 1937” was said to be “aroused” by Chinese soldiers firing at drilling Japanese soldiers, and thus suggests that the ensuing all-out war was caused by China.
The “September 18 Incident of 1931” was unleashed by the Kanto unit, a troop under Japanese ground force in Manchuria, and “had nothing to do with the policies of the Japanese government”. The goal that Japan wanted to achieve then was to make “Manchukuo” (Manchuria) “the first modernized country under the rule of law”, and “the economy of Manchukuo was developed fast, the life of the people was improved.”
In relating the annexing of Korea, the textbook asserts it was conducted legally under international rule with the support of the big powers of America and Europe.
Japan’s massive war crimes are not mentioned even once in the textbook. The Nanjing Massacre was negated with a euphemistic term.
The textbook issue has existed since the 1950s. It was well known that, before WWII, Japanese youth were educated with government-assigned textbooks and the Emperor’s edicts. Those youth were trained to be militarists, and to exert their life in the service of Japanese military expansionism.
After Japan’s surrender, the United States, as the occupation power, took measures to enforce The Primary Education Law and The School Education Law, dismissed the government-assigned textbooks and the Emperor’s edicts from classroom.
From then on, Japan’s junior high school textbooks were compiled by non-governmental press and examined by the Ministry of Education.
In 1954, a wartime minister became the prime minister and it was during his term that the first requests were made for school textbook revision.
But it resulted that 80 percent of the textbooks were deemed as not qualified. In the following 20 years, references to Japan’s aggression and war crimes were sternly banned in history textbooks. Some Japanese scholars called this period the “winter of textbook writing”. In the late 1960s, a professor went to court to protest against being asked to make revisions to his textbook that referred to Japanese aggression and war crimes. In 1970, the ministry’s action was pronounced illegal.
For a while thereafter, Japan’s aggressive history was truly recorded in textbooks. But in 1982, a fresh crisis broke out again over textbook revision. The Ministry of Education ordered textbook publishers to make 600 revisions in history and economic textbooks.
But this aroused a great response inside and outside the country and under widespread condemnation and public protests, the government was forced to climb down and express its responsibility to “rectify its mistakes”.
A new crisis began in the summer of 1996, when an organization named “Liberal History Seminar” accused the description of Nanjing Massacre and the sexual exploitation of “comfort women” as crimes in those books of “anti-Japanese”.
Ten rightist organizations around Japan made further trouble over this. In collusion with some rightist congressmen, and with finance from Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and some enterprises, they started a “national movement” to revise textbooks, publish their own works, deliver speeches and present petitions. This resulted in the appearance of textbooks full of questions.
From the above, we can see that, whenever high school textbooks mention Japan’s aggression and crimes, a revisionist movement emerges. This gains greater momentum with the involvement of rightist organizations, the Ministry of Education and with financing from the LDP or big business. Why are these political forces so keen to revise textbooks? What is their real purpose? This provides us with much food of thought.
Indeed, the nature of textbook issue is how to view Japan’s aggressive history and from what historical point of view to educate Japan’s future generations.
Youth is the future of a nation, and the way to educate them has much bearing on the nation’s future. If they are taught “great East Asia war” as an action of liberation, , what lies in future for Japanese nation? It is self-evident.
(The author is a research professor of the Institute of Japanese Studies, CASS )