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'Aggression' Disputed : Textbooks-- Japan Splits on War Role

September 10, 1986|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

TOKYO — Future historians will have to judge whether Japan's role in World War II should be called aggression.

That is the view of the National People's Council to Defend Japan--and of the textbook that it is offering Japanese high schools next spring.

"Historians believe that evaluations of history cannot be made until at least 100 years have passed," Yuzo Kabashima, the conservative group's secretary general, said in an interview.

In the council's 258-page textbook, the "New Edition of Japanese History," the word aggression appears only once--in a footnote. And it is there only because of yet another rerun of an imbroglio that has plagued the Japanese at home and their relations with their Asian neighbors since the end of World War II.

Education Chief Fired

This time, the controversy has led to the dismissal of a member of the Cabinet, the outspoken education minister, Masayuki Fujio. Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone fired Fujio on Monday after Fujio, for the third time since taking office July 22, had criticized China and South Korea for complaining about the textbook.

In a magazine interview, Fujio asserted that the slaughter of tens of thousands of Chinese civilians by Japanese troops in 1937 was just "part of war" and blamed Korea for accepting colonization by Japan in 1910. The latter remark drew a diplomatic protest from the South Korean government and that led to his dismissal.

Once again, the controversy pits conservatives--people such as Fujio and the National Council's members who seek to play down Japanese war brutality and put Japan's aggression into a larger picture of international aggression in Asia--against leftists who seek to emphasize the brutality of Japan's militarists and the evils of the capitalist system that they say produced it.

Left, Right Criticized

"Japanese ideologues on both the left and the right always seem to get things wrong," the Japan Times complained in an editorial. Rightists, the newspaper said, seek to whitewash history to promote patriotism, while leftists distort it on behalf of pacifism.

All nations tend to view history from their own perspectives, and domestic disputes about what they should say are not uncommon either. But Japan's textbooks appear to have attracted particular international attention, partly because of the long, and historically recent, period during which Japan inflicted suffering and death upon its neighbors. Although World War II lasted only four years in Asia and the Pacific, Japan's intrusions into China and Korea began in the late 19th Century and continued until Japan's surrender in 1945.

Most of all, though, because textbooks may not be used by schools unless the Ministry of Education approves them, they acquire an official aura, as if they represent the views of the national government.

Only four years ago, there was a diplomatic flap with both China and South Korea when the Education Ministry expunged the word aggression and substituted the word advance for invasion in textbooks describing Japan's military moves against its Asian neighbors.

Those textbooks were written by authors with a Marxist point of view who attempted to play up Japan's military brutality and aggression, which they attributed to the country's capitalist system.

This time, however, there was a new twist. The ministry, which in the past has allied itself with the conservatives on behalf of softer descriptions of Japan's military actions, was ordered into the "enemy" camp by Nakasone. Officials charged with screening textbooks were instructed to insert harsher language about Japan's war role.

Nakasone acted to fulfill a promise the Japanese government made to China and South Korea in 1982 that, in screening history texts, it would "take into consideration the feelings" of Japan's neighbors.

Controversy Revived

After the changes were made, Japan declared the issue closed, although both China and South Korea said they were still dissatisfied. Now, Fujio's comments, and the protest from South Korea that they triggered, have reheated the controversy.

Seoul's diplomatic note came just 12 days before Nakasone is scheduled to visit South Korea on Sept. 20-21. In the words of Korean Foreign Minister Choi Kwang Soo, the new statements "seriously aggravated the emotions of the Korean people."

The National People's Council, which was forced to accept 800 revisions in its original text, also remains unhappy. So, too, are moderate Japanese, disturbed by the precedent that Nakasone set in his intervention, and leftist Japanese, who complain that the Education Ministry should not have approved the book at all and that Nakasone should not have named Fujio to the Cabinet in the first place.

The National Council's textbook was the first since the end of World War II in 1945 written by a self-avowed conservative group. Words like aggression and invasion were absent from the start.

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