News

Political Pressure Makes History Textbooks Biased

Multimedia

Audio

Japan’s education ministry recently approved a textbook that refers to the 1937 Nanjing Massacre as an “incident” during which “many” people were killed. Most historians agree that hundreds of thousands Chinese were killed during Japan's occupation of the city, which began with a six-week rampage of looting, raping and gruesome torture. Japanese atrocities in China during World War Two included infecting members of the occupied population with plague for medical experiments and forcing thousands of women to become sex slaves for the occupying soldiers.

But there is no mention of that in the new book, which portrays Japan as a reluctant warrior defending Asia from Western colonialists. Japan’s neighbors are outraged and rightfully so, says Derek Mitchell, an Asia analysts at Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.  But, he adds, that’s not the whole picture.

“It’s a minority of textbooks. The education ministry authorizes a series of textbooks to be accepted by local school districts. So the local school districts have the choice of taking or not taking a particular textbook.”

Mr. Mitchell says very few schools are planning to use the controversial book, which has also been denounced by the head of the Japanese Teachers Association. But Derek Mitchell says books glossing over Japanese war crimes do crop up every few years at the insistence of Japanese nationalists.

“There is a lot of political pressure in Japan by the far right wing, telling the prime minister and others, ‘You must take care of history and Japan’s past and don’t criticize us too much because it was a patriotic war and we were victims, etc., etc. ,‘” says Mr. Mitchell.

Most analysts of history textbooks say aggressor nations tend to portray themselves as victims. California historian Peter Utgaard addressed the problem in his 2003 book, Remembering and Forgetting Nazism: Education, National Identity and the Victim Myth in the Postwar Austria.

“After the war, the government embraced what many historians refer to as a ‘victim myth,’ where basically Austria was portrayed as the first victim of Nazi aggression, and Austrian participation in the war and Austrian support for Nazism was ignored outright or downplayed,”  says Professor Utgaard.

Textbooks are often subject to pressures from politicians, parents and other interest groups.  Claudia Schneider of the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Germany says history books are most often targeted.

“Textbooks -- and especially history textbooks -- are a part of politics, so every government will ensure that the textbooks give an account that is to some degree positive of ‘our nation.’ So yes, textbooks are the medium that is the most controlled and the most politicized because they are to educate future citizens of the respective nations.”

As a result, students in different countries learn different accounts of the same historic events. Textbooks in China, for example, glorify communism, while in Taiwan, they revile it.  But international and domestic pressures have forced many countries to talk more openly about their past.  Julian Dierkes, an Asia scholar at the University of British Columbia in Canada, says many textbooks reflect that.  But the transition from a biased to an objective presentation of history is usually gradual.  Professor Dierkes says in Japan it took almost two decades.

“Really, the first mentions of Nanjing show up in the 1970s, in the very late 1970s. And

Thousands of Chinese protesters took to street demanding a withdrawal of the Japanese history texbook that glosses over war crimes.  as a result, Japanese PM Koizumi publicly appologized for Tokyo's war crimes.
by the time you get to the 1990s, you get fairly direct references to Nanjing with estimates of the number of victims.”

Germany, which is often cited as having committed the worst atrocities of World War Two, has produced the best history textbooks, says Professor Dierkes.  Germany invites scholars from other countries to help tell their common history.  Professor Dierkes says these joint commissions of textbook writers help ensure objectivity.

“Perhaps the most successful has been the German-Polish one that’s been meeting for over thirty years now and has been significant on both sides in the portrayal of Germany as a perpetrator of atrocities.”

Professor Dierkes says history textbooks tend to perpetuate conflicts among nations because they focus on wars, invasions and casualties, rather than on periods of peace.  He says countries that share a turbulent history, such as China and Japan, should form joint textbook commissions in an effort to ensure that the past is presented accurately on both sides.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs