Information Concerning New History Textbook

(Kanji Nishio et al., Atarashii Rekishi Kyokasho, certified
 by the Japanese Ministry of Education and Science
 on March 30, 2001, and published by Fusosha)

 (July 10, 2001)


1. Views on history as research and education

New History Textbook advances a perspective on history that is dubious, distorting, and manipulative. In the section entitled “Why We Study History” (pp. 6-7), it defines the purpose of history education narrowly as the study of “how people in the past viewed the facts of the past” as they experienced them  (p. 6). Rejecting any reference to contemporary value judgments concerning past events, the text rules out serious assessment of the historical record. However, the perspective is not only self-serving of the authors’ wish to justify Japan’s colonial and wartime behavior, but also conceals the fact that any representation of the past is necessarily selective and, hence, involves value judgments. Of course, in writing their textbook, the authors have made their own value judgment. Namely, they have chosen and stressed certain views of the past, in particular those views justifying Japan’s aggressive wars.

The section also discusses the impossibility of gaining exact, accurate historical knowledge and links it to the differences in interpretation of the same historical events by different nations. It suggests that it is “no wonder that there are as many histories as there are nations” (p. 7). While historical facts are of course subject to interpretation, it is wrong to suggest that the only or the most important viewpoints are necessarily those of different nations, or that a common understanding of historical events among different peoples is impossible. The result is to slight historical research, including the findings of Japanese researchers, and to reify, for example, Japan’s aggression in Asia during the Asia-Pacific War as if official views of that era constitute the correct way for Japanese today to assess it.

The section proceeds to call for multiple perspectives in history education, stating, “Let’s try to confirm the facts without haste, by looking at history with free, unprejudiced eyes and by considering multiple views” (p. 7). But this is inconsistent with the authors’ insistence on writing their textbooks from what they describe as a “Japanese viewpoint” (see, for example, their English booklet The Restoration of A National History: Why Was the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform Established and What Are Its Goals?). It is thus deceptive, for even while employing language suggesting that it will present multiple perspectives, the textbook for the most part presents a chauvinist history (see some of the examples below).

2. The modern history of Japanese colonialism

The textbook distorts the facts pertaining to Japan’s 19th-20th century drive to colonize Korea. In discussing events that took place before and after the Sino-Japanese war (1894-95) (pp. 216-219), it depicts Japan as aiding in the modernization of Korea, describes years of provocation on the part of China, and explains the Japanese military action that led to the war as “in accord with” China (p. 218). In short, it ignores aggressive Japanese moves to control Korea, which precipitated the conflict. In assessing the outcome of the war, the text disregards the fact that it was a significant step toward Japan’s colonization of Korea.

In discussing the annexation of Korea, the text states that “the Japanese government thought the annexation of Korea was needed for Japan’s security and to defend its interests in Manchuria” (p. 240). Presenting “the annexation” as a defensive act, it makes no mention of Japan’s territorial and economic goals. Furthermore, although the section contains brief references to the Japanese land survey and assimilationist language policies in Korea, it does not explain these policies as key steps in the subjugation of Korea.

The textbook barely mentions Japan’s colonization of Taiwan. In the section on the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, it mentions the “cession of Taiwan” from China to Japan (p. 218) without indicating that this marked the beginning of colonial rule. Taiwan then disappears from the text except for brief mention of Japan’s wartime labor requisition, military draft, and assimilation policy in a section on the worsening living conditions of civilians in the 1940s (pp. 283-284).

3. Japanese aggression in China

The textbook provides no adequate assessment of Japan’s military driven efforts to control China from the 1920s through the 1940s. Without explaining Japan’s expansionist ambitions and aggressive military behavior adequately, the text depicts the Japanese approach in the late 1920s as “dealing with China in a spirit of international cooperation” (p. 264) and repeatedly blames Chinese nationalism and anti-Japanese movements for provoking the conflicts that eventually led to war. Moreover, the text blames China for perpetuating the war in the late 1930s and presents a Japan that was powerless to stop the war. For example:

The Chinese Communist Party, joining hands with the Nationalist Party, had taken the policy of prolongation of the war as a strategy to seize political power. Japan, losing sight of the purpose of the war and with the policy of continuing the war rather than making peace having gained a dominant position, came to enter a war with no prospect of end. (p. 271)

The text never acknowledges the fact that the Japanese invasion of China and other Asian countries was aggression. For example, carefully avoiding the use of terms denoting aggression, the text uses the phrase sensen no kakudai (“extension of the battle line”) to describe the Manchurian Incident of 1931 (p. 267) and the term shinshutsu (“advance”) for the Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia (p. 272). By contrast, it uses the term shinko (“aggressive attack”) for German invasions of Poland and the U.S.S.R. in World War II (pp. 273, 274) and the term shin’nyu (“aggressive entry”) for the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in 1945 (p. 288).

In addition, the textbook in a subtle way denies the Nanjing Massacre. Referring to “the Nanjing Incident” of 1937 (pp. 270), it states that when the Japanese force occupied Nanjing “there were many casualties among the civilians [inflicted] by the Japanese force.” The reader is then referred to page 295 in the section on the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which is devoted to questioning the legitimacy of the tribunal and its findings, including those on the Nanjing Massacre (see below).  


4. The Asia-Pacific War

The textbook strongly suggests that Japan fought the Asia-Pacific War to liberate Asian countries from (western) colonization, ignoring not only Japan’s colonial goals but the heavy toll in human lives suffered by the victims of nations that Japan invaded. The text (pp. 276-279) calls Japan’s Second World War “the Greater East Asian War” (the Japanese government’s wartime term that remains favored by right-wingers). In stating that Japan declared that the purpose of the war was the liberation of Asia from western rule and the building of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, it leaves students with no guidance to understand Japan’s expansionist goals. Far from criticizing Japanese aggression, it states that “Japanese victories on various fronts fostered dreams of, and courage for, independence among many people in Southeast Asia and India” (p. 277).

In discussing the effects of the war on Asian countries (pp. 280-283), the text claims that Japan granted independence to Burma and the Philippines rather than imposing military rule on these captured regions. Referring to the Greater East Asia Conference (held in Tokyo in 1943), it states: “At the conference, Japan’s idea of the war was made clear by issuing the Greater East Asia Declaration, which spoke of economic development through the cooperation of each country and the elimination of racial discrimination” (p. 280). Here as in so many places, in failing to examine critically Japan’s wartime claims, the text leaves students without basis for understanding the reality that those claims masked, Japan’s subjugation of the invaded countries.

To be sure, the section mentions anti-Japanese resistance in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Japan’s “strict policy in dealing with it” (p. 281), and the fact that after Japan’s defeat, the idea of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was criticized as “justification for Japan’s war and occupation of Asia” (p. 281). But the merits of the criticisms are nowhere clarified. The section again stresses that the war became one of the factors triggering the independence of various Asian nations, with Indonesia and India as specific examples. While Japanese invasion throughout Asia did spur independence aspirations of the colonized nations, it is utterly misleading to suggest that Japan truly liberated nations such as Burma and Philippines or that it sought to end colonial rule in Asia. Historical research has shown that Japan acted to replace Western colonial rule with its own rule.


5. Japanese war atrocities

The textbook focuses on war atrocities committed by other nations, while virtually ignoring those committed by Japan. For example, in the section entitled “Considering War and Modern Times” (pp. 288-289), Japan’s war atrocities are referred to in a single sentence, which reads: “The Japanese military also committed unjust killings of, and ill-treatment of, captured soldiers and civilians of enemy nations in the regions which it advanced into and attacked during the war” (p. 288). The text does not specify what Japan did to POWs and civilians, millions of whom died in the course of Japan’s fifteen year invasion and war that began in China and extended across all East and Southeast Asia. By contrast, the text discusses in detail war atrocities committed by the Allied forces (e.g., the U.S. air raids against the Japanese civilian population, including the atomic bombings, and the barbarity of the U.S.S.R. forces invading Manchuria) (p. 288).

The section also describes in detail the Nazi Holocaust of Jews and other groups, including Poles, Russians, gypsies, and handicapped and ill Germans. The discussion of the holocaust is followed by a paragraph to discuss the deeds of two Japanese, Kiichiro Higuchi and Chiune Sugihara, who helped Jews flee during the war. The problem is that the section as a whole engages in no real discussion of Japanese war atrocities while claiming that two Japanese citizens performed heroically (not to mention that the section has no reference to the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 and so includes no heroes such as John Rabe and other members of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone).


6. The “comfort women”

The textbook completely ignores one of the most notorious abuses of human rights of wartime Japan, the enslavement of tens of thousands of “comfort women” as sex slaves of the Japanese military. This is contrary to the Japanese government’s promise to the world in 1993 that the nation would sustain remembrance of the issue of the comfort women through historical research and education (see remarks of August 4, 1993, by Yohei Kono, Chief Cabinet Secretary). It is also contrary to the Japanese government’s statements on the issue of comfort women given to the United Nation’s Commission on Human Rights, indicating that the subject is included in Japanese school textbooks (e.g., “Statement by Minister Yoshiki Mine at the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities on Item #6, Contemporary Forms of Slavery,” Geneva, August 14, 1998). In this respect the textbook is a step back from recent Japanese textbooks that address the comfort women issue.


7. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East

In the section on the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (pp. 294-295), the text questions at length the legitimacy of the tribunal. The text points out that the treaties Japan entered into did not include provisions for trying leaders of nations that violated them; that there was no prior history of trying leaders of nations for crimes against peace; that the judges were all from victor nations; and that the prosecution’s evidence was readily admitted, whereas defense requests to gather evidence were often dismissed. The text also introduces Judge Pal as the “only specialist of international law at the Tokyo tribunal” (p. 294), and discusses his across-the-board dissent and GHQ’s refusal to make public his opinion.

Much of this may be technically factual. But emphasis is all. The text devotes twice the space to discrediting the tribunal that it allocates to explaining (the former consists of twelve lines in small type; the latter six lines in large type). The only positive assessment of the tribunal is given in a single line, which reads: “[T]here are also some who affirm [the trial] as setting forth a new development of international law towards world peace” (p. 295).

The text refers to the fact that the tribunal recognized the massacre of numerous Chinese civilians in “the Nanjing Incident” of 1937, only to call into question the massacre, stating: “To be sure, regarding the reality of the incident, points of doubt have been raised in terms of the data, and various views exist, so the controversy still continues today” (p. 295). The text then proceeds to discuss GHQ’s “propaganda” through the mass media to “foster a sense of guilt among the Japanese about the war the nation launched” (p. 295). While it is true that there have been criticisms of the tribunal even outside Japan, it is erroneous to create the impression that the trial, along with the Occupation policies, brainwashed Japanese, and, therefore, that the truth of the war was otherwise (i.e., the Asia-Pacific War was just and the Nanjing Massacre did not occur).


8. Conclusion

The fundamental problem of the textbook lies in its approach to history. By appearing to present the past ostensibly without contemporary judgment, the authors mask their tenacious defense of Japanese colonialism and ignore the achievements of historical research exposing the heavy cost of empire on the peoples of Asia, including Japan. The result is the distortion of history. Although this information sheet has discussed only examples concerning the history of modern Japan, the textbook as a whole is replete with errors and misleading information, as revealed in a recent appeal jointly issued by several Japanese historical associations, dated May 26, 2001. In short, the textbook negates truthful education through which younger generations are introduced to both the achievements and the mistakes of the past and gain understanding of the importance of building a new global community based on values of democracy, peace, and justice.


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