[OUTLOOK]Textbooks That Encourage Militarism

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[OUTLOOK]Textbooks That Encourage Militarism

The Japanese government authorized eight new history textbooks despite strong protests by neighboring countries and conscientious intellectuals in Japan. The controversial textbook written by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform was approved in its existing overall form, with only partial revisions and corrections of contentious parts. Moreover, other textbooks endorsed earlier also adopted a more right-wing position by deleting or abridging facts about the "comfort women" Japan conscripted to provide sexual services for its military during World War II.

The textbook endorsed by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform has fundamental problems in its tone and concept of history, rather than in the authenticity of the facts contained in the book. The biggest problem is that it conceals a design of justifying Japan's past history with the goal of highlighting the divinity and eternity of Japan as a nation centered on the emperor. This is why it spawns concern about being directly linked to an attempt to revive Japan's militarism.

The recently authorized textbooks established the claim that Japan had once ruled Kaya, the ancient Korean kingdom Japan calls Mimana, as a historical fact, even though such evidence exists nowhere but in Japan's own historical documents. The textbooks depict Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who invaded Korea in 1592, as a warrior of great ambition who attempted to conquer the Asian continent. They describe the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War, whose ultimate purposes were to invade Korea, as unavoidable choices to ensure Japan's independence and survival. They say Japan's annexation of Korea was legitimate based on international law, and also give the impression that Koreans consented to the annexation. They embellish Japan's colonial rule by claiming that it contributed to Korea's modernization. While introducing only an extremely limited version of its conscription of Koreans for military service and forced labor after the Sino-Japanese War, the textbooks justify the conscription by saying that the Pacific War made it inevitable. They conceal the aggressive nature of Japan's invasion of China by using the term "entry."

Such slants and claims were exactly what Japan used as the theoretical basis for justifying its invasion and colonial rule of Korea in the past. They are also the fundamental roots of the countless provocative statements about its history that Japanese politicians have made since its defeat in World War II. The logic that the politicians used for their blunders is now carried in the nation's history textbooks.

Militant Japan, which consistently pursued aggression and war in modern times, had appeared to be confronting its past after its defeat in World War II. An emperor with real powers became a symbolic leader, and Japan's conglomerates and military were dissolved. Many aspects of the nation underwent reforms, at least outwardly. But as the Cold War structure spread across the world, the dissolution of a militant Japan lagged as a part of U.S. strategy for East Asia. The bureaucrats who deified the emperor and called for invasion of the Asian continent made a comeback as politicians and bureaucrats. The efforts to preserve the militant spirit of deifying the emperor as a living god steadily and stealthily continued. In short, the movements to return to the past never once ceased to take place behind the scenes. After Japan successfully rehabilitated its economy and emerged as a strong economic power, it sought a correspondingly greater role in international politics and military affairs. The result is an undisguised concept that Japan is a divine nation.

The textbook issue is not simply a matter of inaccurate descriptions of history, but a part of the movement to veer to the right, based on the goal of reviving militarism. It is a crystallization of its long-held political intentions. Those holding a right-wing concept of history (the concept of Japan's national divinity) insist that earlier national history textbooks were based on a masochistic and anti-Japanese concept of history. They also claim that such concepts were the result of an international conspiracy conceived by the Allies after their victory in World War II. Such claims can easily trigger a sympathetic response, especially in a society that is economically strong but morally insensitive to its horrifying recent history.

I do not believe the authorization of the textbooks will lead to immediate and major changes in Japan because the region is at peace. But peace does not last forever; no one can guarantee when the times will change. This is why we are gravely concerned about the future of Asia when generations educated with distorted history texts come to lead Japan.

Admitting to being wrong takes courage but will lead to better policy in the future. The government and private sector have to make efforts to change Japan's perceptions of history over the long term, not just when controversies take place. Sharing correct perceptions of history based on accurate historical facts is a task for Japan and all of us.


The writer is a professor of international relations at Paichai University.

by Kang Chang-il

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