Friday, July 13, 2007

Screening history textbook in Japan and in the U.S.: the mass suicide at Okinawa and the massacre at Vietnam

NAHA--The Okinawa prefectural assembly Friday unanimously adopted a statement urging Tokyo to retract its decision to omit from history textbooks the Japanese military's involvement in mass civilian suicides during the Battle of Okinawa.Asahi/06/23/2007

The Imperial Japanese Army forced the suicides on local residents.
Pros: Okinawa times wrote in 1950 that a military officer ordered to commit mass suicide and Oe kenzaburo, noble prize winner, quoted it in his book and he demonised the military officer. Sakei web(魚拓)Japanese
Sankei web(魚拓)Japanese

Cons:But it turned out that there was no such order and the story was made up in order to give the residents pension; No pension would have been distributed if the death had been due to suicide to avoid captured as POW, but being killed by order would have been qualified as killed in action and thereby qualified to receive pension. (There was a testimony)
"Civilians were “driven into mass suicide" would be an appropriate description.

Pros:But it is still true that hand grenades were distributed to the local residents, they were strictly ordered not to be captured by U.S.forces: They were told they would be raped, or killed if captured and were told not to live in shame.
And the Japanese at the times were told that ‘If the worst happens, kill yourselves.That adds up to ordering to kill yourself.

ConsThe grenades were distributed to defencive soldiers who had been mobilized from local residents since they were the regular army. In their panic, they handed the grenades to their families. In hindsight, it was a mistake that the grenades was distributed to soldiers who were not trained sufficiently.

References in English:

Japan’s Education Ministry edits textbook passages on the Battle of Okinawa/Japan probe
Officials seek to homogenize Japan by sanitizing Okinawa history(Liberal Japan)
(But I have a feeling that some of Egnlish articles in the newspapers do not exactly convey what has been told by witnesses.)

Do we have to decide which interpretation is "the right"?

History is furious debate informed by evidence and reason. page 16 "Lies my teacher told me/ James W. Loewen

If so, why can't government present both interpretations to the students? ---That makes history more exciting and I wanted to have been taught in that way.

It seems that there is the same kind of problem in American history textbooks, according to Loewen. For instance, as for the description of the massacre in Vietnam,

My Lai was the most famous instance of what John Kerry, formerly of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, now a U.S. senator, called "not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of common."...."Over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in South Asia". He went on to retell how American troops "had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads , tapes wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs , blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam." All this was "in addition to the normal ravage of war." page 245...Indeed, no book includes any photograph of any destruction, even of legitimate targets, caused by our side. Only Discovering American History, ...treats the My Lai massacre as anything but an isolated incident. In addition to leaving students ignorant of the history of the war, the silence of other textbooks on this matter also makes antiwar movement incomprehensible. page 246

And as for the cause of Vietnam War,

Some people still argue that the United States fought in Vietnam to secure access to the country's valuable natural resource. Others claim that we fought to bring democracy to Vietnam's people . Perhaps ore common are analyses of our internal politics:Democratic President Kennedy and Johnson, having seen how Republican castigated Truman for "losing China", did not want to be seen as "losing" Vietnam. Another interpretation bring forth the domino theory....Other historians take a longer view, arguing that our intervention in Vietnam derives from a cultural pattern of racism and imperialism that began with the first Indian war in Virginia in 1622....They point out that GI's in Vietnam collected and displayed Vietnamese ears just as British colonists in North America collected and displayed Indian scalps. A final view mi hgt be that there was no clear cause and certainly no clear purpose, that we blundered into the was because no subsequent administration had the courage to undo our 1946 mistake of opposing a popular Independence movement. "The fundamental blunder with respect to Indochina was made after 1945", wrote Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, when "our Government allowed itself to be persuaded " by the French and British "to restore France's colonial position in Indochina"
Perhaps the seeds of America's tragic involvement with Vietnam were sown at Versailles in 1918, when Woodrow Wilson failed to hear Ho Chi Mnh's plea for his country's independence. page 248

Textbook authors need not choose sides, ...They could present interpretations , along with overview of the historical support for each, and invite students to come to their own conclusion. Such challenges are not the textbook authors' style, however. They seem compelled to present the "right" answer to all questions, even unresolved controversies. page 249

The U.S. has been a good teacher. Let's learn the lesson from her.

All the authors of history textbook need to keep in mind, when writing the dark side of our hisotry, is that
textbooks should show that neither morality nor immorality can simply be conferred upon us by history. page 70

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