Maintain impartiality of textbook screening
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura’s latest call for rewriting revisions to some Japanese history textbooks can only be regarded as a form of extremely unreasonable intervention in the textbook screening system by the government.
The drafts of the high school textbooks to be used from next academic year stated that the Imperial Japanese Army forced local residents to commit mass suicide during the Battle of Okinawa toward the end of World War II. In the process of the latest textbook screening, the Education, Science and Technology Ministry suggested revisions to these textbooks’ publishers concerning such historical descriptions. The publishers duly rewrote the descriptions.
Machimura has instructed education minister Kisaburo Tokai to consider whether it would be possible to correct the rewritten references to the Battle of Okinawa in a manner consistent with the publishers’ initial descriptions.
Details of incident contested
On Saturday, about 110,000 people attended a rally held in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to protest the ministry’s initial move to have the textbooks revised. The massive rally adopted a resolution demanding the ministry rescind its action.
The resolution claims the mass suicide would have never taken place had it not been for the Imperial Japanese Army’s “involvement.” It also argues that the changes in the references to the Battle of Okinawa can only be seen as an attempt to negate and distort testimonies taken from a large number of local residents who experienced the fierce battle.
It should be noted, however, that the ministry’s suggested revisions were not intended to deny the army’s “involvement” in the mass suicide.
For example, the draft of one textbook stated that “the Japanese Army drove local residents out of trenches, murdered some on suspicion of spying and forced others to commit mass suicide and kill each other, using hand grenades that the army distributed to them.” In the screening process, the first half of the description was kept intact, while the latter part was rewritten to read that “mass suicide and mutual killing took place, using hand grenades distributed to local people by the Japanese Army.”
The ministry’s decision to suggest revisions to the descriptions in question reflected its belief that it was not necessarily evident whether the mass suicide had occurred as a result of coercion by the army.
For years, it had been believed that residents in Tokashikijima and Zamamijima committed mass suicide under orders issued by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Battle of Okinawa. Since the 1970s, however, a number of people have testified against that view.
In 2005, a former Imperial Japanese Army commissioned officer and a brother of a deceased former captain filed a defamation suit against writer Kenzaburo Oe, who had published a book describing those soldiers as responsible for issuing mass suicide orders.
The ministry’s suggested revisions reflected all these developments in recent years.
A ministerial ordinance stipulates that revisions to textbooks that have been approved under the screening system should be made possible only if objective facts that have surfaced clearly contradict descriptions given in these publications.
Machimura said, “I wonder if it’s possible to correct [the rewritten descriptions], respecting the sentiment of people in Okinawa Prefecture.”
Facts over feelings
The Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties are considering submitting to the Diet a motion concerning history textbooks in consideration of the wishes of Okinawan residents.
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda may want to prevent the dispute from becoming a contentious issue in the current Diet session. However, history textbooks must be written entirely based on historical facts. Their contents should not be rewritten just to avoid hurting people’s feelings and smooth out Diet proceedings.
The foundation of textbook screening–a system that must be neutral and fair–could be shaken if descriptions in textbooks are subject to any changes in the political situation.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 3, 2007)
(Oct. 3, 2007)