Acton Institute Powerblog

The New History Textbook

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Japan’s wartime atrocities have long been a source of tension and anger among various east Asian nations. Failure to admit guilt and continued veneration of wartime “heroes,” many of whom are convicted war-criminals, cause diplomatic stress between nations even today.

In fact there is speculation that Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi abruptly left Japan before meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi yesterday because of Koizumi’s stated intent to visit Yasukuni Shrine again this year. An article in The Japan Times today states:

Speculation immediately grew that China may have canceled the meeting because of Koizumi’s remark last week that he may go ahead with another contentious visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines the nation’s war dead as well as 14 class-A war criminals.

Koizumi’s intended visit to Yasukuni comes at an already tense time as anti-Japanese protests have been occuring in China due to the approval of the New History Textbook (新しい歴史教科書) published by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform. (An English version of controversial chapters is available from their website as a PDF file).

Chinese outrage is caused primarily by the textbook’s lack of attention directed to various events which occurred during wartime occupation of China. In particular the textbook provides one paragraph about the “Rape of Nanking,” an event which has been described as “the single worst atrocity during the World War II era in either the European or Pacific theaters of war” by the United Human Rights Council and “one of the worst massacres in modern times” by the BBC.

The New History Textbook has this to say about the Nanking Massacre, and NOTHING more:

Japanese military officials thought Chiang Kai-shek would surrender if they captured Nanking, the Nationalist capital; they occupied that city in December.* But Chiang Kai-shek had moved his capital to the remote city of Chongqing. The conflict continued.

A footnote reads as follows:

Note*: At this time, many Chinese soldiers and civilians were killed or wounded by Japanese troops (the Nanking Incident). Documentary evidence has raised doubts about the actual number of victims claimed by the incident. The debate continues even today.

The lack of any kind of detail provided is competely offensive, especially to the countries which suffered during the war. A BBC story which details some of the more gruesome accounts from the massacre states:

Based on estimates made by historians and charity organizations in the city at the time, between 250,000 and 300,000 people were killed, many of them women and children.

The number of women raped was said by Westerners who were there to be 20,000, and there were widespread accounts of civilians being hacked to death.

Yet many Japanese officials and historians deny there was a massacre on such a scale.

While the end of World War II is now almost 60 years in the past, perhaps there is still time to acknowledge the atrocities that occurred. We cannot learn from history if we deny that it ever happened, or that we ever participated. What occurred in China should be mourned by the Japanese, remembered as an example of what not to do, and forgiven.

Jonathan Spalink


  • Following up on my post yesterday about the controversial Japanese history textbook that glosses over Japan’s past wartime aggressions, a new textbook is almost complete which will act as a supplement to current Japanese history textbooks with a muc

  • bryan seely

    It is offensive to think that things are left out of history books to “save face” because a country is ashamed, or just does not want to regress into the past.
    The Japanese people have come quite a long way since that period, but they still should atone for the actions that happened.
    The bataan death march is an event that has haunted the memory of many of my fellow Marines, and is not documented well, if at all, by the Japanese history books. And quite a large part of me is Japanese at heart, and also american. So where I stand on the issue really becomes gray and confusing. To hear first hand from people in the bataan death march about the things that they saw and were forced to go through is unbelievable, and still brings tears to my eyes, but still being able to defend the japanese people is something i have to do.
    Currently i am involved in a war of sorts, currently on a mission in kuwait, but iraq is right down the road. Defending what is right and what is wrong is a no brainer, but no matter what happens, it should be recorded into history completely, correctly, and with as much clarity without bias.