November 10, 2004
Japanese textbook toxicity

From time to time I purchase a copy of the news digest magazine, The Week (although I'm afraid that link is only to puff telling you to buy it in paper form), and thanks to the November 6th 2004 issue I learned about an Asia Times article from last month about a toxic textbook which is being distributed in Japanese schools.

Says The Week, in its summary of this article:

If Japan, unlike Germany, has always been reluctant to take full responsibility for its crimes during the Second World War, says Tang Liejun, at least it used not to deny them. But that's what's being attempted in a new history book being distributed in Japanese schools. Far from acknowledging the rape and pillage carried out by Japanese troops, this "toxic textbook" insists Japan invaded its neighbours to "liberate" them from Western imperialists and to "bring prosperity to their peoples". By persisting in regarding this as a hostile occupation, China, Korea and other Asian countries show rank "ingratitude", the book complains. It calls into question the Nanjing massacre, in which Japanese soldiers raped and murdered 200,000 civilians, and fails even to mention the hundreds of thousands of Korean and Chinese "comfort women" forced into sex slavery for the invaders. We've given up expecting contrition from the Japanese, but this "ennobling" of their past barbarism is completely unacceptable. It might spare their children some "pain and guilt", but in the long run it will only perpetuate the hostility towards Japan felt by so many of its Asian neighbours.

The Asia Times article includes this quote from the book:

"It seems that up to now Asian people still mistakenly regard Japanese as invaders, [but they] risked their lives and cooperated closely with weak or strong peoples in Asia in fighting the Western big powers in order to advance the worldwide colonial liberation movement; Asian peoples' equating of Japanese with the Western imperialists is totally ungrateful and against morality, [since it was the Japanese] who came to their help and inspired them to get independence."

I know I keep banging on about the Internet and its effect on education, but it does seem to me that the Internet is bound to have an effect on little nationalised intellectual ghettoes of the sort that this textbook is trying to perpetuate and strengthen. As Tang Liejun says, the Japanese may never apologise, but it seems unlikely that it will be possible to keep them in universal and permanent ignorance of what it is their Asian neighbours are saying they should apologise for. They are bound at least to learn that their neighbours see things differently.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:32 AM
Category: AsiaHistoryThe internet