Irish Times: “Abe unleashes the deniers of history”, NYT on textbook revisionism


Hello Blog. Thought this would happen. It’s business as usual as Japan Inc. takes on the world’s political arenas with spin doctoring over “Comfort Women” etc., to feint with the left hand while fiddling with the right. Distract with snow jobs while whitewashing the historical record. Only this time I think we’ve got enough people on the ground over here who know what our government is doing for a change. David McNeill releases an excellent article for the Irish Times, while Norimitsu Onishi, on an incredible roll these days, continues unearthing for the New York Times (who’da thunk it, considering Nori’s articles when he first got here…?) Debito in Sapporo

Abe unleashes the deniers of history
David McNeill
Irish Times, April 2, 2007

One of the Japanese TV networks recently pointed out that some of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ministers no longer stood up when he walked into the Cabinet meeting room. Even worse, fumed one observer, they kept chatting as he tries to start the meeting. Such disrespectful behavior in a political culture where small acts carry enormous symbolic weight could only mean one thing, most concluded: Mr. Abe had lost the respect of his troops.

The unruly Cabinet coincides with a period of plummeting approval ratings for the government, which started last year at 63 percent and now speed inexorably toward the low thirties as elections loom. After a string of scandals and six months in office compared unfavorably to the rocket-fuelled years of Mr. Abe’s predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, that shuffling of ministerial feet may be the harbinger of a prime-ministerial lynch mob.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Mr. Abe is taking shelter under a political umbrella he has always found comfortable: nationalism. The man who coined the election slogan “beautiful Japan” and who will, if nothing else be remembered for re-injecting patriotism into the nation’s schools (in an education law approved Friday) is also unleashing the historical deniers and whitewashers who have long been kept tied up in the dungeons of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The deniers offer a startling historical counter-narrative: Japan was not the aggressor in the Pacific War but the liberator, fighting to defend itself from the U.S. and European powers and free Asia from the yoke of white colonialism; Imperial troops were not guilty, as most historians suggest, of some of the worst war crimes of the 20th century but the “normal excesses” of armies everywhere.

Mr. Abe’s cabinet is dominated by such revisionists. Even as the prime minister was trying to put out the diplomatic fires sparked by his assertion in March that the Japanese wartime state did not round up thousands of sex slaves, his No.3 minister, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hakubun Shimomura was again denying the military was involved. “It is true that there were “comfort women” said Mr. Shimomura. “I believe some parents may have sold their daughters. But it does not mean the Japanese army was involved.”

Foreign Minister Taro Aso claims a proposed US House of Representatives resolution demanding Japan apologise for the abuse of the women is “not based on the facts.” Mr. Abe himself still says there was no coercion of the women “in the narrow sense of the word.”

As one observer said, what part of “coercion” does Mr. Abe not understand? “I found myself imagining the international reaction to a German government which proposed that it had no historical responsibility for Nazi forced labour, on the grounds that this had not been “forcible in the narrow sense of the word,” wrote Tessa Morris-Suzuki, a professor of Japanese History at the Australian National University.

The ground zero of the revisionist movement is Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine and the attached museum, which offers the same Alice-in-Wonderland version of history. For decades, Yasukuni has generated controversy because among the 2.5 million ordinary troops enshrined there are the men – officially branded war criminals — who led Japan’s disastrous 1931-45 campaign. The government has always said that it had nothing to do with the decision by Yasukuni’s Shinto priests to honour the men but evidence released this week suggests this is a lie.

Papers released by Yasukuni and compiled in a new book claim the government was “closely involved” in the campaign to enshrine hundreds of A, B, and C-class war criminals, going back to 1958. The campaign was of course done in secret. “How about enshrining them in a way that would be hard to discover,” wrote one Welfare Ministry bureaucrat. The conservative Yomiuri newspaper concluded Thursday that the government and the shrine “shared the view” that war criminals should be honoured.

Mr. Abe is a well-known supporter of prime ministerial visits to the shrine. Confronted with evidence that successive governments had shredded Japan’s Constitutional ban on the separation of state and religion, however, he reverted to type by denying any such thing. “I don’t think there is any problem,” he told incredulous reporters, those big teddy-bear eyes darting nervously from side to side.

So far the prime minister has swatted away speculation that he will visit Yasukuni this year, but this is clearly a case of damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. If he goes, he will torpedo Japan’s slowly healing ties with China and South Korea; if he doesn’t his nationalist supporters will cry foul.

The fact that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is due to visit Japan early next month makes this political hire-wire act that much more fascinating for political watchers. Will the leaders of one of the world’s most important bilateral relationships discuss Japan’s undigested history? Will Mr. Abe continue to insist that politics and economics be kept separate? And will he keep the political forces he has helped unleash from destroying the hard-won respect Japan has earned since 1945?



April 1, 2007
Japan’s Textbooks Reflect Revised History

TOKYO, March 31 — In another sign that Japan is pressing ahead in revising its history of World War II, new high school textbooks will no longer acknowledge that the Imperial Army was responsible for a major atrocity in Okinawa, the government announced late Friday.

The Ministry of Education ordered publishers to delete passages stating that the Imperial Army ordered civilians to commit mass suicide during the Battle of Okinawa, as the island was about to fall to American troops in the final months of the war.

The decision was announced as part of the ministry’s annual screening of textbooks used in all public schools. The ministry also ordered changes to other delicate issues to dovetail with government assertions, though the screening is supposed to be free of political interference.

“I believe the screening system has been followed appropriately,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has long campaigned to soften the treatment in textbooks of Japan’s wartime conduct.

The decision on the Battle of Okinawa, which came as a surprise because the ministry had never objected to the description in the past, followed recent denials by Mr. Abe that the military had coerced women into sexual slavery during the war.

The results of the annual textbook screening are closely watched in China, South Korea and other Asian countries. So the fresh denial of the military’s responsibility in the Battle of Okinawa and in sexual slavery — long accepted as historical facts — is likely to deepen suspicions in Asia that Tokyo is trying to whitewash its militarist past even as it tries to raise the profile of its current forces.

Shortly after assuming office last fall, Mr. Abe transformed the Defense Agency into a full ministry. He has said that his most important goal is to revise the American-imposed, pacifist Constitution that forbids Japan from having a full-fledged military with offensive abilities.

Some 200,000 Americans and Japanese died during the Battle of Okinawa, one of the most brutal clashes of the war. It was the only battle on Japanese soil involving civilians, but Okinawa was not just any part of Japan.

It was only in the late 19th century that Japan officially annexed Okinawa, a kingdom that, to this day, has retained some of its own culture. During World War II, when many Okinawans still spoke a different dialect, Japanese troops treated the locals brutally. In its history of the war, the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum presents Okinawa as being caught in the fighting between America and Japan — a starkly different view from the Yasukuni Shrine war museum, which presents Japan as a liberator of Asia from Western powers.

During the 1945 battle, during which one quarter of the civilian population was killed, the Japanese Army showed indifference to Okinawa’s defense and safety. Japanese soldiers used civilians as shields against the Americans, and persuaded locals that victorious American soldiers would go on a rampage of killing and raping. With the impending victory of American troops, civilians committed mass suicide, urged on by fanatical Japanese soldiers.

“There were some people who were forced to commit suicide by the Japanese Army,” one old textbook explained. But in the revision ordered by the ministry, it now reads, “There were some people who were driven to mass suicide.”

Other changes are similar — the change to a passive verb, the disappearance of a subject — and combine to erase the responsibility of the Japanese military. In explaining its policy change, the ministry said that it “is not clear that the Japanese Army coerced or ordered the mass suicides.”

As with Mr. Abe’s denial regarding sexual slavery, the ministry’s new position appeared to discount overwhelming evidence of coercion, particularly the testimony of victims and survivors themselves.

“There are many Okinawans who have testified that the Japanese Army directed them to commit suicide,” Ryukyu Shimpo, one of the two major Okinawan newspapers, said in an angry editorial. “There are also people who have testified that they were handed grenades by Japanese soldiers” to blow themselves up.

The editorial described the change as a politically influenced decision that “went along with the government view.”

Mr. Abe, after helping to found the Group of Young Parliamentarians Concerned About Japan’s Future and History Education in 1997, long led a campaign to reject what nationalists call a masochistic view of history that has robbed postwar Japanese of their pride.

Yasuhiro Nakasone, a former prime minister who is a staunch ally of Mr. Abe, recently denied what he wrote in 1978. In a memoir about his Imperial Navy experiences in Indonesia, titled “Commander of 3,000 Men at Age 23,” he wrote that some of his men “started attacking local women or became addicted to gambling.

“For them, I went to great pains, and had a comfort station built,” Mr. Nakasone wrote, using the euphemism for a military brothel.

But in a meeting with foreign journalists a week ago, Mr. Nakasone, now 88, issued a flat denial. He said he had actually set up a “recreation center,” where his men played Japanese board games like go and shogi.

In a meeting on Saturday with Foreign Minister Taro Aso of Japan, South Korea’s foreign minister, Song Min-soon, criticized Mr. Abe’s recent comments on sexual slaves.

“The problems over perceptions of history are making it difficult to move South Korean-Japanese relations forward,” Mr. Song said.

Mr. Aso said Japan stuck by a 1993 statement acknowledging responsibility for past sexual slavery, but said nothing about Mr. Abe’s denial that the military had coerced women, many of them Korean, into sexual slavery.


3 comments on “Irish Times: “Abe unleashes the deniers of history”, NYT on textbook revisionism

  • BACKGROUND OF ‘COMFORT WOMEN’ ISSUE / Kono’s statement on ‘comfort women’ created misunderstanding

    The Yomiuri Shimbun

    This is the third and last installment on the so-called “comfort women” controversy. The U.S. House of Representatives has been deliberating a draft resolution calling for the Japanese government to apologize over the matter by spurning the practice as slavery and human trafficking. Why has such a biased view of the issue prevailed?

    What made the issue of “comfort women” a political and diplomatic one was an article in the Jan. 11, 1992, morning edition of The Asahi Shimbun. The newspaper reported that official documents and soldiers’ diaries that proved the wartime Japanese military’s involvement in the management of brothels and the recruitment of comfort women had been found at the library of the Defense Ministry’s National Institute for Defense Studies.

    The article said Koreans accounted for about 80 percent of comfort women from the time that brothels were established and that the women, said to have totaled 80,000 to 200,000, were forcibly recruited under the name of volunteer corps after the Pacific War broke out.

    As the newspaper’s report came out immediately before then Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa’s visit to South Korea, it triggered anger among the South Korean public. During his visit to the nation, Miyazawa met with then South Korean President Roh Tae Woo and was quoted as telling him, “It can’t be denied that the Japanese military–in some way–was involved in the recruitment of comfort women and the management of comfort stations.”

    On July 6, 1992, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Kato released the results of a study showing that the wartime military was directly involved in such things as the operation of “comfort stations,” but documents to prove that forcible recruitment actually took place were not found.

    But as South Korea’s criticism over Japan’s actions continued, the government issued an official statement on the issue on Aug. 4, 1993, which became known as the Kono statement, after the government official who delivered it, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.

    But Kono’s statement included ambiguous expressions and gave the impression that the government had acknowledged forcible recruitment by wartime Japanese authorities.

    Regarding the recruitment of comfort women, the statement said: “The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, and so on, and that, at times, administrative and military personnel directly took part in the recruitment.”

    The statement also said the recruitment, transfer and control of comfort women on the Korean Peninsula was “conducted generally against their will.” This expression became a strong indication that women, in most cases, were taken in a forcible manner.

    By issuing the statement, the government aimed to seek a political settlement over the issue, as South Korea pressed the Japanese government hard to recognize that forcible recruitment actually took place. Then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobuo Ishihara, who was involved in compiling the statement, said, “As there were no documents to prove forcible recruitment, it was concluded, out of comprehensively made judgments based on testimonies of [former] comfort women, that [recruitment] was forceful.”

    Kono’s statement did not resolve the issue. Instead, it spread misunderstanding both inside and outside the nation on the “forcible recruitment” by government authorities.

    A U.N. Human Rights Commission report, compiled by Radhika Coomaraswamy, referred to comfort women as sex slaves, and called on the Japanese government to compensate these women and to punish those responsible. The report reached these conclusions partly on the grounds of Kono’s statement.

    Mike Honda, a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives who led lawmakers in submitting a draft resolution denouncing Japan over the comfort women issue, also referred to Kono’s statement as a basis for the draft resolution.

    However, observers have pointed out, and The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on the morning edition of March 16, that there are certain factors regarding Honda’s electoral district–such an increase in the number of residents of Chinese or South Korean origins, while the number of Japanese-origin residents has decreased–that may be behind why the Japanese-American lawmaker of California is leading such an initiative.

    Given the Kono statement, the government in July 1995 established an incorporated foundation called the Asian Women’s Fund. It has provided a total of about 1.3 billion yen in compensation for 364 former comfort women. Letters of apology from successive prime ministers–Ryutaro Hashimoto, Keizo Obuchi, Yoshiro Mori and Junichiro Koizumi–also were sent to those women.

    On Oct. 5 at the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated a stance to “inherit” Kono’s statement in principle, while denying forcible recruitment by government authorities.

    (Apr. 2, 2007)

  • Actually, I don’t think Abe wants to unleash anything. Frankly? I don’t think Abe has a plan for anything and does what people in the background tell him. Take the “advisor council” (or was it called “expert council”? even more ridiculous) for the “reform” of the education law. None of these guys are really qualified to say anything about education other than “I’ve gone to school decades ago”. And to be honest, ever since he took over from Koizumi, Abe has made the impression to me that he’s an extremely weak leader. Personally, I can’t take him for full. It’s just not possible.

    Though, I think that’s where the problem lies. Abe didn’t lead the LPD to what it is today. That was Koizumi’s work, Abe just took over what somebody else achieved. Now Abe tries to get out of Koizumi’s shadow, but instead of emerging gloriously, he’s stumbling out of it like a drunk fool (which would be great if he was Jackie Chan making another “Drunken Master” movie, but sadly… he’s not Jackie, he’s just the prime minister of Japan).

    Basically, I like his “idea” of making Japan a “beautiful country”. It’s a good idea, basically. Really it is. But his “plan” to do so? Well, to be frank, that’s rather… amusing, at best. It’s not really a plan anyway. How is teaching children patriotism at school going to deal with the ever growing numbers of old people in the country (a problem even we in the West must face by now)? Or, remember the bullying-related suicides of junior high and even elementary school children? What has Abe and his band of old men done about that? Nothing. No, instead they’re going to teach patriotism at school. But I don’t think I’m not the only one who’s wondering how that’s going to protect, for example, my niece in Tokyo from bullies.

    As for the revision of the textbooks, well, who is really surprised? The irony of this is, that, for example, the old black and white Himeyuri movies from the 50s and 60s show how the girls are handed handgrenades in order to commit suicide. As a matter of fact, many Japanese movies and tv series show that. And I do believe that a military that is handing civilians military-grade weapons, is actually forcing them to -at least- consider suicide if not outright forcing them to it. No one can tell me that this was a measure of homeland defense, because no regular civilian would be able to properly operate a handgrenade on a battlefield. Or, let’s take the Tokkotai and how many of them considered themselves to be dead already, whether they’d volunteer for Special Attack Force or not (they believed that they would either die in a sortie as pilots, or -if they would not join the Special Attack Force and thus end up in a frontline unit- would end up getting killed by the Americans, or by overzealous officers and NCOs of their own units).

    Abe’s not doing anything new, but while Koizumi had the guts to say “this is the deal”, Abe seems to fiddel around without any plot, plan or real idea.

    I’d really like to see Abe go to Okinawa and talk with the survivors of the battle to learn what really happened there (just like I want to see Tokyo’s governor go to Okinawa and tell surviving Himeyuri and Shiraume members that the war and all the death was really necessary while looking them straight in the eyes, but I know he doesn’t have the courage to do that). Of course, he won’t do it, it’s easier to comment from the sideline or from your own couch instead of actually joining the game.

    Though, the whole “debate” over the “comfort women” shows another interesting point. All the Japanese politicians who are whining about the way of whether these women were forced or not (I can’t say “debate” or “argue”, because it really looks like whining to me), are men. I have yet to hear from one female politician who makes a statement about this issue, and to be honest, these male politicians make me ashamed of being male myself. Men, of course, who else? Men who have been raping women in every war ever since the beginning of history. Yes, of course, Allied soldiers have raped, too. And when we look at the early days of the Allied occupation of Japan and see the extreme numbers of rape cases, it’s extremely disturbing (interestingly, I don’t remember any statement by the US government about the behavior of their own soldiers in Japan, either; after all, reasearch by Japanese and Australian historians has brought up undeniable evidence that Australian and US soldiers have raped thousands of Japanese women; yet the US government seems to ignore this, but points its fingers on Japan, but that’s a different story). When Soviet troops entered Germany, they moved brutally against German civilians, yes. But the Imperial Japanese military were surely not angels either and we know, because of countelss evidence, that they had their military brothels. Denying this is pointless and makes the politicians, who do it, look extremely stupid. It was war, yes. And in war horrible things happen. Of course it’s easy for Abe to bitch and moan over the issue, a) he has never experienced war himself and b) most of his “minions” in this issue were either too young or were part of the privoledged group, aka officers (I seriously doubt that any of them, who are old enough, served as a common soldier or seaman).

    But then again, there’s the following joke: “Good morning!” lied the politician.

    What do we really expect from them? The truth? Yeah, right. And pigs can fly.

    Oh, I was just thinking of the Yasukuni issue. Here’s something to think about: Tojo (yes, the old warmongerer) is enshrined in Yasukuni as “victim” of the war. But here’s the catch: while he told people to die for his war, while the intellectual elite of the country was wasted in the Special Attack Force sorties, while schoolgirls on Okinawa endured things we today can’t possibly imagine (to be honest, visiting the Himeyuri no To on the island was my worst emotional experience ever, even worse than the Hiroshima museum)… Tojo was captured alive… Please forgive my words now, but what a bloody coward. What kind of leader tells his people that it’s better to die than to be captured alive, but then doesn’t have the guts to follow his own idea? Only a full scale coward would do that. And to be honest, that’s what Tojo was, in my opinion. While women and children perished in the firestorms created by American bombs, he was hiding in his bunker, feasting on the best food and alcohol, while the normal people were starving. Right, now I’m sounding like a post-war Sakai Saburo when he was attacking emperor Hirohito. Though, I have to give credit to Hirohito in one particular case: he stopped visiting Yasukuni when the Class A war criminals were added, he finally showed spine and courage, better late than never (that said, I’m glad that emperor Akihito also refused to visit Yasukuni, and well, I just don’t see the crown prince ever visit it in the future either).

    But anyway, I rather stop before I ramble too much.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>