Allow history to speak for itselfAny country is entitled to issue protests about depictions or statements concerning its history in educational textbooks. But the complaint would only be justified and persuasive if the country has consistently taken responsibility for its past. Under the Shinzo Abe administration, Japan does not fit into this category, according to a statement recently issued by 19 American historians.
In November, the Japanese government via its Consulate-General in New York, asked major U.S. textbook publisher McGraw-Hill to correct the depiction in its world history textbook concerning comfort women - the thousands of women forced to serve in Japanese military brothels during World War II. In January, the U.S. publisher refused to erase the paragraphs that Tokyo protested, stating that the historical facts about the comfort women were sound and had been historically established by scholars. Tokyo was mainly upset by the statements that declared that the Japanese army forcibly recruited approximately 200,000 Asian women to work in its military brothels, where some were killed after attempting to escape.
The historians in the statement said they were dismayed at the attempts by the Japanese government to suppress these excerpts in history textbooks, both in Japan and elsewhere, concerning comfort women, who suffered in a “brutal system of sexual exploitation in the service of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.”
They argued that careful research by historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki as well as the testimonies of survivors throughout Asia have rendered, “beyond dispute, the essential features of a system that amounted to state-sponsored sexual slavery.”
They also noted that the Abe administration had vocally questioned established comfort women history and attempted to eliminate references to them in school textbooks.
But the scholarly statement bears another meaning. Historians and intellectuals in Japan have voiced their opposition to Japan’s distortion of history and its unapologetic tone concerning atrocities. Yet, it is unprecedented for intellectuals beyond victim countries like Korea and China to join forces to condemn the Japanese government’s stance.
Although they are waging a complaint over Japan’s interference in American textbooks, the central issue is Japan’s distortion of history and the fact that no governments should have the right to censor it. More academics are addressing the dispute over history between Korea and Japan. And in terms of human history, the record must be set straight.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 7, Page 30