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.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora