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May 9, 2001
12:40 AM   Subscribe

Not merely content to invent the future, Japan is also hard at work inventing the past.
posted by lagado (25 comments total)

 
Japan's unwillingness to face up to it's past has always been one of the more appalling aspects to the country and its culture. I'll ignore the "those who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it" speech. Japan's recalcitrance is as galling to Americans as it is to Asia.
posted by darren at 4:19 AM on May 9, 2001


one lousy, lying archaeologist doesn't officially or accurately represent an entire country or its people.
posted by kv at 4:19 AM on May 9, 2001


It is unfortunate that politics has to interfere with education. But, every country to a certain extent writes their own history to make themselves look better. It would be interesting to lay history books on the American revolution from the US and the UK side by side and compare them.

KV has a good point as well. One persons opinion is not an accurate representation of an entire nation. There is no doubt that there are citizens in Japan shaking their heads over the distorted history books. Probably parents who look at what their kids are being taught and are disappointed in the public education system.

Be excellent to each other
posted by a3matrix at 5:07 AM on May 9, 2001


It would be equally interesting to see what the UK and Indian (insert long list of countries here) text books have to say about the British Empire.
posted by vbfg at 5:12 AM on May 9, 2001


I've read a lot on this, mostly history books that not only skip over some 90% of all things Japan did wrong, but even lies a bit here and there.

I recall a post on the raping and looting, during ww2 in China, and how Japan hasn't even acknowledged it. I recall a lot of people were killed.

But then again that's how most of the world is, they won't applaud their messups, they'll cover it up by other's mess ups. The United States does so by having it's History curriculum stay the same from grade 1-12, oppressed people that were not allowed to practice their religion escape from England, come here, live with the Indians, fast forward to WW2 where they defeat evil Hitler, and have a cold war.

Why does Japan need an army anyway? Didn't Mothra defeat Godzilla last time? Or is MEGA-Mothra back on earth again?
posted by tiaka at 5:19 AM on May 9, 2001


How much better are we here in America? I'm seriously asking.

In my school experience I can remember hearing the usual crap about Columbus & Co. being noble explorers and slavery/civil rights movement only slightly hinted at depth-wise.

But, by the time I got to high school it seems things changed. We heard about the crappy things America has done (slavery, WW2 internment, native american massacres, etc.) along with the good.

Now is this progression currently going on? Meaning are middle/elementary kids getting the whitewash or as much of the "real" story that they can handle at that age?

(Middle school was over 11 years ago for me, so something has to have changed - right?)
posted by owillis at 5:19 AM on May 9, 2001


American history itself is divided, based on what side of the gun/fence/pen/dollar/etc. one is resting--we don't even have to look at other countries' interpretations of American history, we can start within our own country. Charles Beard wrote _An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution_ in 1908, challenging the notions most Americans had (and still have) about the Founding Fathers' intentions surrounding American government. Even before PR became an institutionalized industry, the concept of spin has always dictated the way a nation describes her own history to her own people.
posted by one.louder.ash! at 5:25 AM on May 9, 2001


Btw, that ww2 bit should have read where they defeat evil Hitler singlehandidly, free all those from the death camps, and no non-jews were harmed anywhere during this time. The French were sissies, Russia didn't come to existence until Stalin, and English were drunk, apparently until the war was over.
posted by tiaka at 5:29 AM on May 9, 2001


tiaka: Your earlier reference is about the city of Nanking, China. Many atrocities committed there.

Owillis; I doubt if anything has changed much at all. That would mean having to print new text books and the school districts would have to buy the new books, so they would need more money, so taxes would go up, so there is a vote on the school budget, does the budget pass? It didn't here in Mass where I live.

I think that it is becoming harder for histories to be covered up as there are a lot more methods available for gather information these days. Todays histories are recorded as they happen, which should make it harder for text book writers and governments to sanitize in the future.
posted by a3matrix at 5:59 AM on May 9, 2001


Hmmm . . . a little too cynical there about the U.S., tiaka. I remember seeing the traveling Vietnam memorial thing in Huntsville, Ala. not long ago, seeing huge crowds come out to see it, crowds blocking the roads. And Huntsville is a NASA/military town. That's a rather large mistake acknowledged in the most somber way imaginable, in the heart of the nation's capital. I heard about plenty of errors and crimes, etc., the slaughter of the Indians, the denial of civil rights to blacks (bigtime, but maybe its because I'm from Mississippi), slavery again and again. Still far from as honest with ourselves as we could be, history at least until the high school level will be seen as means of socialization (taught by teachers who just want to get through that part of their job), but denying the absolute worst? I don't think so. And please no talk about pollution. Also, Columbus was also not a resident of the United States.

The worst comparable denial of U.S. history was the loathsome conservative shutdown of the atomic bombing of Japan exhibit at the Smithsonian. If I remember correctly, all that was left, after the pics of screaming children and whatnot were taken out, was the Enola Gay. But it's not like plenty of people didn't scream as loudly as possible about it here, only to be called PC and unpatriotic in return. Some of them surely were PC and unpatriotic, but that didn't excuse the right's behavior.
posted by raysmj at 6:06 AM on May 9, 2001


I don't know that America can be considered ideal in this respect. There's still a large contingent that gets up in arms whenever you want to discuss things like slavery or the gradual genocide of the Indian. On the other hand, our more free-form educational system with local control means that there isn't even one single state where all the students are learning the exact same thing. Even if there's a sanitized curriculum, good teachers often feel it's their duty to cover uncomfortable topics. The Japanese, on the other hand, have a hierarchical and rote system of education where what gets into the official textbook is -- from what is described -- basically what's learned.

As the IHT article notes, there used to be a vibrant and vocal progressive left in Japan, but I wonder where it is today. How accessible is this history in the larger culture? If it isn't taught in school, is it ever addressed in the media (even defining the media as alternative newspapers such as the Village Voice)? I know there are controversial books published from time to time, but how much does the controversy replace the education? These are questions I can't answer.

Ray added an excellent point in regard to the Enola Gay exhibit. The original exhibit simply tried to address the complicated questions; the censored exhibit was reduced to showing the plane and telling the story of the crew in a war-hero context (saving American lives and all that). Today the Smithsonian is run by a former military man, and a recent article (WPost?) indicated that "wounds have healed" between it and veterans. Apparently, there is only one version of history that is Politically Correct (and this is an excellent example of how "political correctness" is not a characteristic solely of the left).
posted by dhartung at 6:12 AM on May 9, 2001


I recall a post on the raping and looting, during ww2 in China, and how Japan hasn't even acknowledged it. I recall a lot of people were killed...
Actually, tiaka, it was far worse than that.

How much better are we here in America?
Most history texts up until 1990 tended to gloss over America's abuses, but the current ones my kids are using are pretty upfront about how the westward movement brutally decimated the Native American culture.

The loathsome conservative shutdown of the atomic bombing of Japan exhibit at the Smithsonian. If I remember correctly, all that was left, after the pics of screaming children and whatnot were taken out, was the Enola Gay.
The complaints about the exhibit were not an attempt to censor any of the images or information. The complaint was that it failed to note anywhere what led up to the Atomic Bombing -- Japan's brutal subjugation of Asia, the attack on Pearl Harbor, it's failure to adhere to any civilized rules regarding care of prisoners. The argument was a balance issue, not a content issue.

Here's one other example of selective reporting of Japan's history.

And for those who want to re-start the fallacious argument that the atomic bombings of Japan were unjustified and immoral, first listen to someone who was affected by the decision.
posted by darren at 6:24 AM on May 9, 2001


Hmmm . . . a little too cynical there about the U.S., tiaka. I remember seeing the traveling Vietnam memorial thing in Huntsville, Ala. not long ago, seeing huge crowds come out to see it, crowds blocking the roads. And Huntsville is a NASA/military town. That's a rather large mistake acknowledged in the most somber way imaginable, in the heart of the nation's capital.

I really hope that this thing went a little further than "duh..we made a big mistake there. a lot of our boys came home in body bags. we're real sorry about that."

How about "we turned a country in a parking lot because we thought were really fighting Russia at the time". "We ignored the legitimate desire of the people for national reunification and and end to colonization".

America has, in my opinion, a long, long way to go before it understands anything about what it did to Vietnam and the Vietnamese people.
posted by lagado at 7:05 AM on May 9, 2001


I think you're wrong lagado.

I think America realizes how badly we messed up Vietnam. The ripple effect of Vietnam has touched practically every dealing we've had with other nations since then. As a country, the thing we ever want least is "another Vietnam".

Look how quick we pulled out of Somalia, and the "China Crisis" we just went through? That's Vietnam's legacy. We only ever fight wars we're absolutely, positively sure we can win (Iraq, Serbia) because of Vietnam. And even in Serbia, ground troops were ruled out of the question before we had even begun - because we didn't want another Vietnam.

Look at this recent Kerrey thing, once again we're saying - "did you see what we did? did you see what the hell we did?"

One of the most humbling, humiliating, and just plain wrong episodes in America's history, and we're not over it yet.
posted by owillis at 7:16 AM on May 9, 2001


Lagados is right. I too thought we have seen our beast in vietnam and combated the fallout demons from said war. I dont think we have. Most vets I know thought it was a waste. Ive studied the war, talked to vets. It is up to them. Those who were not there, have very little to offer and those in-country during the conflict, keep your dam hands off the history or least to yourself....japan did many bad things (even in vietnam) Read 'devils brigade' about legonaires in vietnam, circa1948-1951. comprised of mainly former SS, they had no problems with the vietmihn, cause they used the same tactics as the enemy and took it further. THEY WERE scared of this Brigade. Look at the French-indian war, the diplomactic nightmare, the utter brutal tactics... need i say more...
posted by clavdivs at 7:44 AM on May 9, 2001


I think America realizes how badly we messed up Vietnam.

At least two "lessons" to choose from: 1) the US should only pick fights with a moral imperative (shoring up the S. Vietnamese regime?), or... 2) the US shouldn't pick fights it might lose.

Compare Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq, Grenada etc.
posted by kurumi at 9:59 AM on May 9, 2001


I haven't seen a recent history book, but the ones i had in high school definately painted americans as the de facto winners of WWII and barely mention the Soviets. All you have to do is look at the numbers and its easy to see who did most of the fighting.
posted by th3ph17 at 10:30 AM on May 9, 2001


kurumi: Grenada and Iraq I'm not about to defend, although the latter could at least be considered a case of national interest. I never agreed with that myself, though, but a couple of things to keep in mind: 1) there was an anti-Gulf War movie which came out last year and did fairly well at the box office, won rave reviews, etc. and 2) those who opposed the war at the time were not censored. I read plenty of anti-Gulf War views at the time, plenty later. And it didn't help Bush keep the White House then, wasn't a factor in his son's, er, quasi-victory either. Grenada was absurdist and started without the knowledge of anyone in Congress. It was one man's decision, who knew damn well that the action would have to be brief. What can be done about this, I don't know, but teaching history differently will have zero effect.

Somolia and Kosovo I won't get into, except to say that it's obvious to me that neither were Vietnam. Also, if you don't know what you're doing, if you go into something blindly, and you end up with a maximum of damage to the enemy and thousands of casualties on your own side and you lose . . . well, please recall the metaphorical Lincoln line about 10,000 angels being on our side's meaning nothing if you lose? And the "domino theory" was not enough of a moral imperative, nor was it much justifiable under "national interest" terms.

If you're a pacifist, then all war is bad. You should say so, and expect the history books to reflect this fact. Do not, however, fault America or any other nation for any military action taken if you believe war is ever justifiable except in immediate self-defense. Even then, by the way, the morality can be too sticky to bear.
posted by raysmj at 1:40 PM on May 9, 2001


owillis, the lesson to learn from Vietnam wasn't that we should only fight wars we can win. The lesson we ought to have learned is that we can easily wind up on the wrong side and are capable of massive atrocities under the cover of governmental lies.

I suggest a viewing of Hearts and Minds, a documentary that explains America's slide into the dark side as well as any other book or movie. As Daniel Ellsberg says therein: "We weren't on the wrong side. We were the wrong side."

And of course those who didn't fight the war have a right to comment on it. In fact, they have an obligation. Unless I misunderstood your point, clavdivs.
posted by argybarg at 2:05 PM on May 9, 2001


Yes, there are lessons learnt although I still think that they're more about how to keep those body bag counts down so that the folks back home don't lose their stomach over it again.

Not so much about: "who were those towel heads/gooks we were bombing, again?"

Just use more air power and televise the video game footage (it's a TV ratings gold mine).
posted by lagado at 5:00 PM on May 9, 2001


yes, my point was rather rabid. those in-country have their own experience seperate from "outbound" vets.I have lived in households that have had Veterans of four wars, all combat, all from various branches and i get a little edgy at those try and give a view of the war when they have never seen the green demon.Hearts and Minds is excellant. of course Caputo and Hasford..Ellesberg makes me sick(He should have used classified stuff-made a good show)
posted by clavdivs at 5:06 PM on May 9, 2001


a3matrix: I think that it is becoming harder for histories to be covered up as there are a lot more methods available for gather information these days. Todays histories are recorded as they happen, which should make it harder for text book writers and governments to sanitize in the future.

Something to remember here is how difficult it might have been for you to accept that the first history you were taught is wrong. It took me a while to realize that there might be truth to the bit about how a bunch of Europeans came to the New World, called themselves "Americans" and proceeded to, as the kids say, open a can of whup-ass on the locals. And I grew up in the U.S., where as someone else said, every school district (or state or wherever curriculum is set) has a slightly different curriculum, so you can have friends learning a widely different history than you are. So for someone to undergo a change of view when everybody is getting the exact same history (but see below) it`s going to take a bit more to open their eyes to the fact that someone has been fibbing to them.

raysmj: Grenada was absurdist and started without the knowledge of anyone in Congress. It was one man's decision, who knew damn well that the action would have to be brief.

maybe off topic and for the record, I saw a documentary (I think on BBC, but I`m not at all sure)about how the whole Iraq war thing started with the U.S. persuading Saudi Arabia to let us defend them. Then one day Bush said, while there were no advisors to stop him or silence him, that there was a line in the sand and the coalition was going to go on the offensive. So it was pretty much a one man thing too.

owillis: Certainly the U.S. learned some things from Vietnam. But mostly, like argybarg and lagado said, we learned that we need popular support for a war, popular support is difficult to come by when people keep getting killed, and that jungle fighting is very tough. What the government/society didn`t learn was that stopping commies in other countries does lots of damage to the other countries and that other countries don`t like it when we play shoot-em-up on their land.

Something else to note is that this is just one of eight books approved for use in schools, with the decision of which books to use and how to use them left at a district level, I think.

As to kv`s original post: if this were just one person in Japan who was saying this stuff, it wouldn`t be a big deal. But it`s not. This book is not just some self-published ego trip. It`s a textbook written by committee approved by the government. There is a large percentage of the population that supports . And we`re honestly talking about textbooks that are as bad as tiaka`s writeup of American history books. "There were some years of feudalism, then there were black boats, then there was that whole meiji restoration, then america dropped a couple of bombs on us for no good reason. Soon we developed hello kitty and pickachu." I`ve met Japanese kids who didn`t know Japan was really fighting. Of course, I`ve also seen the shocked looks on their faces when a Japanese war veteran tells them they`re wrong.

Things are changing, though. The new government is fairly progressive and things are looking quite interesting, if not good.
posted by chiheisen at 10:37 PM on May 9, 2001


good points, chiheisen
posted by lagado at 1:12 AM on May 10, 2001


chiheisen, i wasn't disputing that subjective/warped accounts of history are being taught in japan (why restrict the complaint to one country, though?) - i was implying that the subject of this thread was too general an accusation.

very sensational, and not very tolerant.
posted by kv at 11:24 AM on May 10, 2001


very sensational, and not very tolerant.

Actually I'd argue that Japan's ability to totally ignore its crimes during the war is an order of magnitude worse than most countries (including the USA's) nationalistic whitewash.
posted by lagado at 7:30 PM on May 10, 2001


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