Textbooks and geopolitics

And you thought textbooks caused problems in the U.S. (see The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption). This week, violent protests erupted in China upon the release of new Japanese history books that Chinese authorities claim whitewash Japanese atrocities committed on the mainland before and during World War II. The textbooks ignore Japan's seizure of some 100,000 to 200,000 "comfort women" as prostitutes for the Japanese troops, the nation's treatment of Chinese prisoners, and the Rape of Nanjing, where tens of thousands of Chinese civilians were killed. The vice chairman of the organization responsible for the textbooks did little to quell the upset when he remarked, "In actuality, there is no evidence proving that Japanese war crimes were any worse than war crimes committed by other nations." With regard to "comfort women" taken in China and Korea, he said, "prostitution in itself is a tragedy, but there is no evidence to indicate that the women were forced into it by the Japanese military. If this had been the case, I am sure [their countrymen] would have been so outraged that they would have stood up to kill all Japanese, no matter what the consequences." South Korea is also upset over the new textbooks' treatment of a string of islets in the Sea of Japan (called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in Korea). In 1905, Japan took the uninhabited ocean specks when it was expanding its influence in Asia, but South Korea claims historical ownership because it has essentially governed the islands since the 1950s. A new Japanese textbook claims that South Korea illegally occupies the islands. Astonishingly, the controversy has apparently threatened the quest for permanent Japanese membership on the U.N. Security Council. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said, "Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for its past, and wins over the trust of the people of Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibility in the international community." Truly, the textbook is mightier than the sword.

"Japanese minister defends use of textbooks," by Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press, April 8, 2005.

"Japan's nationalism risks its power position," by Erich Marquardt, The Power and Interest News Report, April 13, 2005.

"Textbook controversy may cost Japan permanent U.N. seat," by Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com, April 13, 2005.

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