Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Historical awareness

While talking about World War II with a group of Japanese high school seniors the other day, "Who started the Pacific War?" I asked. I got answers ranging from the Chinese to the Americans, but not the Japanese. They all knew well about the atomic bombings and the hibakusha's suffering, but none of them seemed to know much about invasions and acts of human cruelty committed by the Imperial Japanese Army.

I was saddened — but not surprised — by the fact these teenagers were unaware of Japan's militaristic past. Their ignorance reminds me of the content of controversial history textbooks and TV documentaries that condoned Japanese brutality:
— In 2001, the Ministry of Education approved a textbook titled "Atarashii Rekishi Kyokasho." It was published by a group of conservative scholars to present the Pacific War as a sacred struggle for Asian liberation, glorify Japanese imperialism, and promote nationalism.
— In April this year, a committee of the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization (BPO) criticized NHK officials for altering a 2001 program, "Towareru Senji-seiboryoku," in response to pressure from then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe. The program was about the Imperial Japanese Army's treatment of "comfort women."

For better or worse, it is indeed history from which we learn the irrevocable truth to help bring healing to war victims, and to promote human dignity, justice, freedom, peace and happiness. However, it does not just happen by waiting, erasing harm done to others, playing political games and ignoring responsibilities.

It's unwise to teach children about the U.S. Army's attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet neglect the Imperial Japanese Army's war crimes. It's beyond my imagination how much the A-bomb victims suffered, and everyone should learn about their pain. Atomic bombs are the most abhorrent weapons ever devised, mainly for the particularly cruel long-term effects of radiation poisoning, and we must all unite to abolish them. But if some Japanese media and texts continue to present an obviously biased view of historical facts to children, they will grow up believing that Japan hasn't done anything wrong before it was attacked by America, and this can be a serious threat to world peace.

Every belligerent nation needs to reflect on the war from an impartial standpoint. Japan has to sincerely regret its invasions and military sexual slavery system. Canada and America have to contemplate the atrocious treatment of Japanese immigrants during and after the war. America has to look back and feel deeply sorry about the misery it had caused the atomic bomb victims. And most of all, Germany has to feel guilty about the Holocaust. The only way we can stop such terrible things from reoccuring is to honestly teach our children about them, and hope they learn the valuable lessons offered by history. Otherwise, how can we ever hope to stop history from repeating itself?

By Joel Assogba Shukan ST: AUGUST 14, 2009 (Published in Japan Times ST)

No comments: