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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs