Rewriting history with the stroke of a pen

PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images Who knew that a history textbook could elicit anything more than a couple yawns from disinterested schoolchildren? On the Japanese island of Okiwana, the site of a bloody battle between U.S. and Japanese troops in 1945, a short passage in a new high school textbook brought more than 100,000 angry protesters out into ...

598966_071001_japan_05.jpg
598966_071001_japan_05.jpg

PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Who knew that a history textbook could elicit anything more than a couple yawns from disinterested schoolchildren? On the Japanese island of Okiwana, the site of a bloody battle between U.S. and Japanese troops in 1945, a short passage in a new high school textbook brought more than 100,000 angry protesters out into the streets this past Saturday, the largest the small island has ever seen. For critics, the textbook dishonestly distorts the facts in its discussion of the several hundred Okinawa citizens who committed suicide during the U.S. invasion. The textbooks originally disclosed that the imperial army had handed out grenades to residents and ordered them to kill themselves rather than surrender, but Japan's Education Ministry instructed publishers to delete these references from the book's pages in March. The Ministry, reflecting the revisionism of recently ousted PM Shinzo Abe, cited divergent views of the event and said there was no real proof for either viewpoint.

Current PM Yasuo Fukuda's approach seems a bit more cautious. There is talk of Fukuda's government overturning this decision in an effort to "respect the sentiment of Okinawan people."

PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Who knew that a history textbook could elicit anything more than a couple yawns from disinterested schoolchildren? On the Japanese island of Okiwana, the site of a bloody battle between U.S. and Japanese troops in 1945, a short passage in a new high school textbook brought more than 100,000 angry protesters out into the streets this past Saturday, the largest the small island has ever seen. For critics, the textbook dishonestly distorts the facts in its discussion of the several hundred Okinawa citizens who committed suicide during the U.S. invasion. The textbooks originally disclosed that the imperial army had handed out grenades to residents and ordered them to kill themselves rather than surrender, but Japan’s Education Ministry instructed publishers to delete these references from the book’s pages in March. The Ministry, reflecting the revisionism of recently ousted PM Shinzo Abe, cited divergent views of the event and said there was no real proof for either viewpoint.

Current PM Yasuo Fukuda’s approach seems a bit more cautious. There is talk of Fukuda’s government overturning this decision in an effort to “respect the sentiment of Okinawan people.”

Europe has its own problems with history. Greek officials recently scrapped plans for a new sixth-grade history textbook that critics said downplayed the suffering of Greeks at the hands of the Ottoman empire. The book’s depiction of events like the 1821 war of independence and the Greeks’ 1922 flight from Smyrna (the modern-day Turkish city of Izmir) was apparently too unpatriotic for the country’s Orthodox church and right-wing nationalist party Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party.

Finding an objective account of history anywhere is easier said than done, it seems. Especially when the facts don’t agree well with national pride.

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