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Japan's young minds innocent pawns in gov't's politicization of textbooks

The Japanese government upping the ante on its revisionist agenda by intervening in the screening and authorization of the content of humanities textbooks to be used in high schools has scholars and experts up in arms over more potentially distorted views being passed on to youngsters.

Last week, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, himself a hawkishly rightwing politician with an openly revisionist agenda, ensured that textbooks authorized by the Education Ministry's screening process, particularly emphasized Japan's disputed territorial claims with South Korea, China and Russia.

The government, as has been broadly reported here, has ordered the education ministry to not only revamp its own editing guidelines, but also the process by which books are screened and selected, with publishers wishing to have their books used in schools being forced to make sure that descriptions in the books, such as those pertaining to controversial wartime and territorial issues, reflect the current viewpoint of Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

"Besides changing the guidelines for editing textbooks, the ministry also revised its screening standards to require publishers to ensure descriptions on issues about which the government has announced an official position reflect that view. These changes were made in response to demands from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party," the Asahi Shimbun said in a recent editorial on the matter.

Two points in case are a 160 percent increase in references made in the newly- authorized textbooks to Japan's sovereignty over islands and islets currently at the center of disputes with Japan's neighbors, the majority of whom were also victims of its brutal WWII occupation.

The education ministry's screening process has been kneaded to ensure that the government's revisionist view that the South Korean-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan, for example, known as Dokdo there, yet claimed by Japan and referred to as Takeshima here, is upheld, and the islets described in the books as "an inherent part" of Japanese territory.

Similarly, China's Diaoyu Islands, referred to as the Senkaku islands in Japan, are presented in the books as being inherently Japanese.

Secondly, Abe's government has ensured that history textbooks screened here portray a distorted view of atrocities committed by the Imperial Army of Japan during WWII, with the accuracy and objectivity of some of the incontrovertible facts largely whitewashed.

Such misrepresentations include the number of murders in the 1937 Nanjing Massacre and the number of Korean lives lost in the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. One textbook, as well as saying reparations for the "comfort women" issue had been resolved, was forced to revise its content to also say that Japan's forced labor of Chinese nationals during the war had also been resolved.

"In one case, an article in a textbook about war reparations had to be rewritten after the ministry criticized the text for failing to reflect the government's stance on compensation for wartime forced laborers from China," the Asahi Shimbun said, adding that the ministry also demanded that the descriptions on other controversial topics, such as the Self-Defense Forces, the Constitution and nuclear power generation, be in line with the positions of the Abe administration.

Experts on the matter also took aim at the Abe administration for its continued and unrepentant quest to, quite literally, rewrite history, and in particular the attempts of the government to try and manipulate the minds of young people, who themselves could grow up and collectively hold a warped view of their own country's history and territorial issues.

"It's deplorable that the government is continuing on this path of miseducation and we saw exactly the same thing happen with new textbooks to be used in junior high schools last year," anthropologist and sessional lecturer, Keiko Gono, told Xinhua.

"We want our children to be taught correctly, regardless of the subject, and, as one of my peers pointed out recently disputes over land or territory are nothing new in the world, but in terms of education, progressive countries tend to firstly concede there is a dispute occurring in the first place, as a point of historical fact, and then present a balanced view of the situation to better inform the students, rather than simply dictate to them," Gono said.

She, along with her fellow academics, added that the social sciences are supposed to develop critical thinking and interpretation, not to spoon-feed children rewritten governmental indoctrination. She said her peer group concluded, as they did with the junior high school text book debacle, that the government's intentions were not just extraordinarily irresponsible and dangerous, but a very real threat to the best interests of raising and educating children to become balanced global citizens.

"Tensions in this region are needlessly high and most of us desperately want to see them diffused and one way is though the proper education and enlightenment of young minds, but it would seem that Abe is intent of passing on his seeming abhorrence for his closest neighbors onto the future generations here. It's disgusting and we won't sit idly by and let it happen," lamented Gono.

The major textbook publishers themselves such as Shimizu Shoin, Suken Publisher and Jitkyo Publisher, have come out recently to state how they were remonstrated with over particular historical or territorial details and finally browbeaten by the powerful education ministry to make numerous amendments, until the details in their books finally perfectly matched the government's stance.

In fact, Jitkyo Publisher said it had argued as many as five times with the screening examiner over the details of the Nanjing Massacre and was forced to repeatedly amend its text again and again. The textbook, according to the vexed publisher, only just passed the screening process ahead of the deadline, after it had to accept an amended version of events that were insisted on by the examiner.

"From what I understand, the screening process has really led to some key issues being diluted along the lines of the government's revisionist agenda," political commentator and Shizuoka-based author Philip McNeil said.

"The 'comfort women' issue, for example, along with the junior high school books last year, has been rewritten to make the war crime(s) seem far, far less severe, far less heinous and brutal than they really were, and the Japanese teenagers will be taught that the events were less related to the brutal regime of the Imperial Army of Japan, as has been historically proven, and involved less coercion by the IJA, which is another monumental distortion of facts," McNeil said.

He added that along with the clear distortion of facts, one of the biggest tragedies of the government's latest revisionist moves was that young children would also grow up believing that not only were these heinous war crimes not so serious, but that Japan had made suitable reparations and, hence, they no longer remained an issue to be faced up to and dealt with, which, is far from the reality of the situation.

"The administration's approach to textbook screening is more and more coming to resemble the prewar system of government-designated textbooks," the Asahi Shimbun added, further blasting the government's latest provocative moves to manipulate the minds of the young masses.

The politicization of textbooks here and the attempt by the government to cruelly brainwash the younger generations are an example of the lengths the Abe administration will go in its obstinate bid to not face up squarely to history.

But in doing so, being that the international community is well aware of both historical and territorial truths, the only effect the move will have is to ensure an undeservedly ignorant, regionally estranged and potentially volatile future for Japan's now innocent young lives.

[Source: By Jon Day, Xinhua, Tokyo, 21Mar17]

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small logoThis document has been published on 27Mar17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.