Japanese scholars pen letter over U.S. textbook

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Japanese scholars pen letter over U.S. textbook

A group of 50 right-wing Japanese scholars penned an open letter in a U.S. history journal alleging that an American textbook contains factual errors regarding the Imperial Japanese Army’s enslavement of young women in military brothels during World War II, a move that can be seen as yet another attempt at historical revisionism.

The scholars pointed to a textbook published by McGraw-Hill, saying it has eight factual errors in two paragraphs, or 26 lines, in a letter to the editor in the December edition of “Perspectives on History,” a scholarly journal published by the American Historical Association.

It went on to question the “credibility of the McGraw-Hill textbook as a whole” and added that the problem “affects the prestige of American historians as a whole.”

The passage in the publisher’s world history textbook, “Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past,” which was co-authored by historians Herbert Ziegler and Jerry Bentley, states that, “The Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted and dragooned as many as 200,000 women aged 14 to 20 to serve in military brothels,” from Japan’s colonies, including Korea, and details the brutalities they endured.

The Japanese scholars, including Eiji Yamashita, an economics professor at Osaka City University, said in the open letter that “if clear factual mistakes are found in textbooks, and if those mistakes have extremely negative effects on the dignity of a given country … then it is natural that such a country’s government request revisions of the errors.”

This is not Japan’s first attempt at historical whitewashing in the United States, and earlier this year, American history scholars issued a strongly worded letter defending the textbook in question.

In November 2014, the Japanese government, through its consulate general in New York, pressured McGraw-Hill to change its descriptions surrounding the “comfort women” issue in the textbook.

However, McGraw-Hill stood by its publication and refused to change the text.

The Japanese scholars’ statement was, in part, a response to an open letter issued by American historians earlier in February that expressed “dismay” at “attempts by the Japanese government to suppress statements in history textbooks both in Japan and elsewhere about the euphemistically named ‘comfort women.’”

A group of 20 historians, including Alexis Dudden, a modern Korean and Japanese history professor at the University of Connecticut, and Andrew Gordon, a modern Japanese history professor at Harvard University, stood behind the letter published in the March edition of “Perspectives on History.”

This prompted more than 180 Japanese studies scholars to issue a separate letter in May encouraging Japanese historians to seek “an accurate and just history of World War II in Asia.”

In March, a group of 19 Japanese scholars issued a document that demanded eight corrections in the McGraw-Hill textbook. They maintained that there was no evidence that the women were “forcibly recruited.”

Other purported errors were the estimated number of comfort women, the number of men the women serviced daily and minute details such as the age of the women to include those in their 20s.

They also claimed the passage stating that the “army presented the women to the troops as a gift from the Emperor” as being an expression too “impolite” to be used in a school textbook.

“We are closely watching these movements,” Cho June-hyuck, a spokesman for the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a briefing on Tuesday, adding that the international community already recognizes the plight of the victims as a “universal human rights issue.”

“Our government is also participating in multilateral efforts to allow these historical truths … to be known to the international community,” Cho said.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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