YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections
(Page 2 of 6)


May 03, 1992|KARL SCHOENBERGER | Karl Schoenberger, a former Times Tokyo correspondent, now covers the Asia-Pacific region for the business section

What follows are four stories from the front lines of Japanese quixotism, from a realm where individuals tilt bravely at windmills. These four have little in common except for a stubborn streak of persistence and a refusal to be pounded down. Each knows the odds of success are terrible; each holds onto the belief that he or she might be the one whose struggle becomes a catalyst for change, a force that shifts, in inches, the powerful flow of the Japanese current.

THE GODFATHER OF JAPANESE QUIXOTISM IS A DIMINUTIVE, dignified historian named Saburo Ienaga, who is renowned for his 27-year war of litigation against the powerful and ultraconservative Ministry of Education. His aim is to thwart the government's attempts at whitewashing Japanese history. One would never guess this courteous and shy man in horn-rimmed glasses is the scourge of the Establishment, from the Education Ministry to the courts to the perennially ruling Liberal Democratic Party (which, it should be noted, is neither liberal nor democratic).

In 1952, Ienaga, who is now 79, wrote a popular high school history textbook that engaged in some straight talk about Japanese aggression and military atrocities during World War II, topics that conservatives have long targeted for selective amnesia. The textbook was published uncensored that year, but in later editions, the mandarins of the Education Ministry forced Ienaga, through a system of pre-publication textbook certification, to make hundreds of changes and deletions. A section debunking the notion that the Emperor was a direct descendant of a god was omitted. The adjective "reckless" was stricken from a broad characterization of Japan's role in the Pacific war. Perhaps the most notorious example was when revisionist bureaucrats forced him to rephrase Japan's "invasion" of China as a mere "advance," raising vociferous diplomatic protests from Beijing.

Since 1965, Ienaga has filed three lawsuits against the ministry, claiming the textbook screening system--which dates back to 1886--deprives him of due process and violates constitutional guarantees of free speech and academic freedom. He has been fighting in court ever since, serving as a beacon of hope for a growing number of writers, professors and artists who fear that the rise of historical revisionism may make it impossible for Japan to face its past honestly.

"I was raised on the kind of history textbook where the Imperial genealogy went back to Amaterasu, the sun goddess. Supposedly, Japanese history all began with the gods," says Ienaga, sharing a cup of tea in the cozy library of his home in northern Tokyo. "But I had a bitter awakening when I learned the truth was different. I want to spare future generations of our children from this same kind of deception by the same kind of authoritarian bureaucrats. I myself have deep regrets I wasn't able to resist the tyranny before the war. That's why I'm trying to do what I can to prevent it from happening again."

His conservative foes dismiss Ienaga as a radical leftist whose vocabulary betrays a streak of Marxism, but he and his supporters insist that the textbook crusade is fueled by principles of academic integrity, not a political or ideological agenda. "If you had to put an 'ism' label on me, it would have to be 'liberalism,' " says Ienaga, professor emeritus at the Tokyo University of Education. He is the author of dozens of books, including the classic "The Pacific War," which was translated into English. "My ideology is to protect the constitution, and to defend my conscience as a scholar."

Ienaga has been joined in his battle by the National League to Support the School Textbook Screening Suit, which claims 27,000 members and supports Ienaga's team of 30 volunteer lawyers. Since 1965, he has scored one small victory: A lower court in 1989 ruled that the government had abused its power in forcing him to rewrite an obscure passage about 19th-Century political intrigue. It awarded Ienaga $700 in damages. The same court, however, ruled that the Education Ministry's edict to rewrite a description of the Rape of Nanjing was justifiable.

Ienaga's lawsuits are a striking anomaly in a country where the government restricts the number of lawyers to discourage litigation, where tort suits are a rarity. This is a land without a product liability law, and most citizens would not think of seeking legal redress for injustices or personal damages. "Lots of people would go to court to clear their name of false criminal charges," says Yamato Kobayashi, director of Ienaga's support group. "But it's extremely rare for someone to fight so long for his principles."

Los Angeles Times Articles