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Japan's Rightists Doomed to Failure?

Monday, August 30, 2004 Posted: 03:02 PM JST

China's official news agency Xinhuanet continues to beat the drum on the Japanese text book issue in an editorial published today. The article's conclusion is that the "reattempt of Japan's rightists to gloss over the history of aggressive wars" is "doomed to failure". According to the editor this is thanks to "profound concerns and strong protests from the public in Japan and the countries that fell victim to the wars." But there is one more important thing to consider.

The way Japanese textbooks and the educational curriculum is scheduled most students never ever get to modern history in Japanese schools. Final graduation from high school arrives before history lessons come into the modern period. Few Japanese students have studied anything later than 1900.

It is relative easy to get the information from other sources. The information is freely available, and definitely not hidden. There are countless books about Japan's actions during the war and the news media also regularly publish articles and air documentaries. The problem however is that most young Japanese hardly read books and newspapers, and find documentaries and serious news programs terribly boring.

The result is a populace that is increasingly ignorant of Japan's role in history during the first half of the 20th century. When I interviewed former WWII ace pilot Saburo Sakurai several years ago he told me he had overheard some high school kids talking on the subway. One told the other that he just found out that the USA and Japan had been at war. The other was flabbergasted. And so was Sakurai. He gave his eye and almost his life for his country, and spent much time after the war writing books and giving speeches about his experiences. He thought war was "stupid" and affixed responsibility to the emperor. Often there was a police guard in front of his house because of fears of rightist attacks. Yet the younger generation, he discovered, didn't even know Japan and the US had fought each other.

What will the consequences be of this ignorance? I don't believe in the old maxim that history repeats itself. However people do forget and make the same mistakes. Pacifism still appears strong and widely spread in Japan, and there are no voices of renewed imperialism. With the present geopolitical situation that is probably impossible anyhow. So the consequences of this ignorance will not be a renewed threat. But it will, without doubt, make for bad and unstable relationships with Japan's former victims in Asia.

Japan will need to find a way to make younger generations aware of the nation's history so they may not become insensitive to neighbors who will never forget.

Keywords: opinion_item

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
Stone Bridge Press

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