Can we tolerate education which indoctrinates children into believing that Japan fought a just war? -- On the core issue of 'new history textbook'

Fuwa Tetsuzo

Fuwa Tetsuzo, Japanese Communist Party Central Committee chair, has published a critique of "New History Textbook" published by Fusosha for use in junior high schools. The following is a translation of the article published in the JCP daily Akahata (July 15, 2001), entitled, "Can We Tolerate Education Which Indoctrinates Children into Believing that Japan Fought a Just War? -- On the core issue of 'New History Textbook'":

In a speech I made in Osaka on July 12, I referred to the contents of the "New History Textbook" published by Fusosha, which is now a major international issue. I said, "The textbook was edited by people who have the outrageous view that Japan fought a praiseworthy war, and that children should be taught to accept it." I pointed out that the textbook has a viewpoint that the war was for Japan's security, survival and self-defense, and that the war had the aim of liberating Asian countries. I raised the question: "What will happen if the children who learn from that textbook are indoctrinated to have a conviction that the war was for liberating Asia, and what will happen to Japan's relations with Asian countries? I blame the Koizumi Cabinet for its serious responsibility in defending the history textbook by rejecting the calls made by China and South Korea for amendments."

In this article I want to make the problems clear through the explanation of how the textbook describes the war, focusing on its historical depictions after 1941.

Events that Led to War

Rehashed version of prewar "ABCD encirclement" doctrine

Let me begin with examining how the "New History Textbook" describes Japan's course up to the attack on Pearl Harbor in order to show how Japan opened war on the U.S. and Britain on December 8, 1941.

The prewar Japanese government and the military explained it away by saying that the U.S. A (A), Britain (B), China (C), and the Netherlands (D) formed an encirclement against Japan, and Japan had no choice but to go to war to break through the "economic blockade."

The "New History Textbook" in subsection 67 "Outbreak of World War II" includes a column under the headline "Japan cornered by an economic blockade." The column used the term "ABCD encirclement (against Japan)," which is a rehashed version of the explanation given by the prewar government and the military.

"Japan negotiated with the Netherlands which possessed Indonesia for oil imports, but was declined. Thus an encirclement against Japan's economy was set up by the U.S.A (A), Britain (B), China (C), and the Netherlands (D)" (p.274).

Japan at that time was in need of oil to continue its war of aggression against China, but both the U.S. and the Netherlands refused to provide Japan with oil. The Japanese military tried to use the oil issue as a pretext to go to war with Indonesia to obtain oil by force. It was the burglar's logic and was unacceptable even in the world at that time. The textbook callously rehashes this burglar's logic.

Is the U.S. to blame for making war on the U.S.?

What's more, the textbook emphasizes its view that amounts to blaming the United States for the breakdown of the Japan-U.S. negotiations.

"Japan-U.S. negotiations began in Washington in the spring of 1941 to mend the worsening Japan-U.S. relations. Japan placed great hope on the negotiations with a view to avoiding war. The U.S., however, outwitted Japan by monitoring and decoding Japan's secret telegrams and steered the negotiations to their advantage" (pp. 274-275).

During the negotiations, in July 1941 Japan militarily occupied the southern part of Vietnam, which was French territory. This means that Japan came in possession of a stronghold to launch southward operations. The textbook refers to this fact, but it one-sidedly stresses the U.S. responsibility for making an unreasonable demand on Japan in the Japan-U.S. negotiations.

"Japan kept on negotiating with the U.S., with a possible Japan-U.S. war in mind. In November, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull proposed an unreasonable demand on Japan. It is called the Hull Note. The Hull Note called for an unconditional and immediate Japanese withdrawal from China. The Japanese government thought that complying with this demand meant surrender to the U.S., and finally decided to declare war against the United States" (p. 275).

The fact is that the Japanese government insisted on not withdrawing its troops from China in arguing that the war of aggression against China was justifiable. This was the major problem in the Japan-U.S. negotiations, but the authors of the "New History Textbook" has no intention of criticizing the Japanese government for such a position.

It was Called 'Greater East Asia War'

Joy of victory at an early stage of war

Japan achieved "major war results" at an early stage of the war, including the surprise attack on U.S. ships in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the landing operation on the Malay Peninsula and the fall of Singapore, and occupation of the Philippines and Indonesia. The textbook uses phrases of highest tribute to describe the major war results.

"The task force of the Japanese Navy air raided the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchoring in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. U.S. ships sank one after another and aircraft caught fire one by one. This was a major victory. The public mood brightened at once at the reports of these results, which was a sudden change from the gloomy mood of the prolonged Japan-China War. At last Japan, which had built up its strength since the First World War and the U.S. came to a showdown" (p. 276).

Then the textbook extols the victory of the operations in Southeast Asia, from the landing operation on the Malay Peninsula to the fall of Singapore. It says that the victory was significant in bringing about the liberation of Asia.

"At last Japan undermined the British rule over Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, Java (presently Indonesia), and Burma (Myanmar), Japan defeated the U.S., Dutch, and British forces. In about a hundred days, Japan prevailed in the early stage of the war.

"The victory owed a great deal to cooperation from the local people who had suffered under the white colonial rule for several hundred years. Japan's victory in the early stage of the war nurtured dreams and gave courage toward achieving independence among many people of Southeast Asia and India" (pp. 276-277).

The textbook says the name 'Greater East Asia War' is associated with the war objective: 'liberation of Asia'

The textbook then dwells on the significance of the designation by the Japanese government of the war as the Greater East Asia War.

"The Japanese government designated the war as the Greater East Asia War (*After the war the U.S. side banned this designation, and the war came to be generally known as the Pacific War). The aims which Japan had in going to war was declared to be its own survival and self-defense, liberating Asia from U.S. and European rule, and building a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Following in Japan's footsteps, Germany and Italy declared war against the U.S. Thus the Second World War developed into a full-scale war in which Japan, Germany, and Italy was challenged by the allied forces of the U.S., Britain, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, and China" (p. 277).

This isn't simply a historical description. The "New History Textbook" intentionally gave the heading of "The Greater East Asia War (Pacific War)" to subsection 68 which covers the period from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Okinawa. This heading reflects the authors' unequivocal evaluation that the designation "the Greater East Asia War" by which the prewar Japanese government called the war expresses the war's nature more accurately. They think this as a more accurate designation because the authors of the textbook see the Greater East Asia War as the war to achieve the aims upheld by the name, to ensure Japan's survival and self-defense, to liberate Asia from Europe and the U.S., and to establish the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

It is interesting to note that the textbook keeps completely silent about the most publicized slogan for Japan's war objectives, that was, "the whole world under one roof." This was a slogan which shows Japan's intention to unify the world under the rule of the Japanese emperor. This was a blatant expression of pursuing hegemony in which the divine nation Japan should preside over the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Even the textbook's authors apparently hesitated to use this slogan, and opted to keep silent about it. This reveals the opportunist approach these authors make in deleting from history what is inconvenient to them.

What did the Japanese Army do in Southeast Asia?

The textbook shows its intention more blatantly in subsection 69 "Greater East Asia Conference and Asian countries," which is particularly devoted to playing up Japan's role in liberating Asia.

"That the Japanese forces in the initial stage of the war defeated the Allied Forces encouraged the people of Asia who had for a long time been placed under the colonial rule of Europe and the United States" (p. 280).

The textbook many times stated that Japan's victory encouraged Asian people and elevated their moods toward achieving independence. No statement is more removed from historical fact than such an assertion.

Japan's war objective was anything but to liberate Asia. Its aim was to rid the region of the old colonial rulers such as France, Britain, and the Netherlands, and to replace them as the new ruler. The government and the military tried to gloss over this war aim by the rhetoric of "Asian emancipation." In areas which Japan occupied, the Japanese army immediately set up a severe system of military rule, and perpetrated atrocities such as massacring local residents in many places. For example, in Singapore where I visited in 1999, thousands of Overseas Chinese were massacred following the start of the occupation. A monument called the Memorial to the Civilian Victims of the Japanese Occupation is erected in the center of the city.

'Greater East Asia Conference' used to conceal Japan's territorial expansionism

It is very absurd for the"New History Textbook" to refer to the 1943 "Greater East Asia Conference" as the best proof that the Pacific War was a war of liberation of Asia as follows:

"Many of the Japanese leaders at the time believed it would be better for Japan to keep the occupied regions under Japan's military rule in order to prosecute the war. But, in order to meet the expectations of the region's people, Japan allowed Burma and the Philippines to achieve independence in 1943, and approved of the establishment of the Free India Provisional Government.

"Also, in a move to seek Asian countries' cooperation with Japan in the war and show off the region's unity, Japan convened a 'Greater East Asia Conference' in Tokyo in November 1943, attended by representatives of the region's countries. The conference launched a Joint Greater East Asia Declaration calling for the independence of the region's countries, economic development through mutual cooperation, and abolition of racial discrimination. This was how Japan's ideas of war were made clear. The joint declaration was aimed at confronting the Atlantic Charter issued by the Allied Powers" (pp. 280-281).

In effect, the holding of the "Greater East Asia Conference" was decided by the Imperial Headquarters' inter-governmental meeting in May 1943. At that time, Japan's defeat was seen to be almost certain.

The meeting in the presence of the emperor was held to discuss ways to reorganize Japan's war preparedness, specifically a Greater East Asia strategy to get the Asian occupied regions to cooperate even more closely with Japan in the war.

The meeting certainly decided on particular measures for each of the Asian countries; some were to be granted independence and others to remain under military rule. But those decisions were not for the liberation of Asia; they were about the forms of existence of these countries that would help Japan effectively mobilize war materials including human resources, as stated in the Outline of Guidance on Greater East Asia Strategy.

For example, the meeting decided to grant "independence" to the Philippines and Burma. But their "independence" was in name only; these countries were to have Japan's puppet governments, like Manchukuo, and declare war against the United States and Britain, to which the people would be mobilized. The meeting also decided that "Malay (now Malaysia and Singapore), Sumatra, Java, Borneo (Kalimantan), and Celebes (these islands now belong to Indonesia or Brunei) should be part of imperial Japan, and that New Guinea and some other islands were to be dealt with in a similar matter.

This is how the meeting in the presence of the emperor officially decided to directly rule the greater part of Southeast Asia as part of imperial Japan.

The meeting thus decided to hold the "Greater East Asia Conference" to deceive international opinion as to the implementation of its territorial aggrandizement policy. But the "New History Textbook" exalts the "Conference" as being very significant.

Far from mapping out the path toward the independence of Asian countries, however, the Greater East Asia Conference was totally devoted to war cooperation with Japan under the slogan, "Completely prosecute the Greater East Asia War with the region's countries cooperating with each other" ("Joint Greater East Asia Declaration").

Asian nations will never allow history to be rewritten

The "New History Textbook" admits that there were some inappropriate acts in relation to the "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere" policy, referring to education in the Japanese language, worship at Shinto shrines, and local mobilization to harsh labor in the midst of the worsening war situation. However, these descriptions are just intended to depict the war as being waged for distinguished war objectives and being forced to on some negative aspects. The textbook thus carries no criticism of the war as aggression.

Also, in dealing with changes that took place after the War's end, the "New History Textbook" continues to relate history in a manner that makes one believe that Indonesia or India are indebted to Japan for helping them achieve independence. The textbook then concludes the relationship between Japan's war (southward expansion) and Asian countries achieving independence as follows:

"In these regions, there were movements seeking independence since the prewar days, and the Japanese Army's southward expansion helped Asian countries achieve their independence earlier" (p. 282).

The textbook depicts the war of aggression in Asia as a war of liberation of Asia. What an extreme distortion of the history of Japan's war it is! Japan was the aggressor which used every means available to put Asian people under brutal oppression. The Asian peoples will never tolerate any attempt to gloss over the aggression to present Japan as the liberator of Asia without making any reflection on what Japan did in the past.

How the 'New History Textbook' Describes the War's Ending

Both 'tokko' (suicide attack squads) and 'Ground Battle of Okinawa' are extolled as an epics of war heroes

With the sea and air battles in the vicinity of the Midway Islands and the Guadalcanal battle in 1942 as a turning point, Japan, which was victorious in the early stages of the war, began a process toward defeat.

In describing this process, the "New History Textbook" is extraordinary. During the War, a radio news report on Japan's defeat in a battle used to be preceded by the melody of "Umi Yukaba" (a song dedicated to fallen soldiers), and followed by an eulogy of the heroic Japanese Army in courageous war efforts. Equally, the structure of the "New History Textbook" is devoted to praising Japanese soldiers' "deaths for honor" as heroic resistance.

"In August (1942), the U.S. Forces landed on the Guadalcanal islands (Solomon islands). In February 1943, the Japanese Forces withdrew from the islands after a desperate battle. The Japanese garrison, with just 2,000 men on Attu Island of the Aleutian Islands, continued resistance even after their supply of bullets and rice ran out, and refused to give up fighting the 20,000 U.S. troops. Thus, in areas ranging from the South Pacific to New Guinea and the Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific, Japanese forces died in honor without surrendering to the enemy" (p. 278).

This way of glorifying description in the textbook does not stop here. When it comes to the description of suicide attackers, it goes as far as to take on exactly the same tone the military used in its wartime propaganda to raise the nation's morale.

"In the autumn of 1944, the U.S. Forces advanced into the Philippines... in October, the Japanese Army carried out operations that took the world by surprise. In the naval battle off Leyte Island, the 'Kamikaze (Divine Wind) tokko-tai' dealt an organized blow to U.S. naval warships. Driven into a corner, the Japanese Army, using aircraft and submarines repeated tokko operations against enemy ships. More than 2,500 aircraft were used in these attacks" (pp. 278-279).

The same tone extends into the description of the Battle of Okinawa.

"In April 1945, Okinawa's main island became the battleground between Japanese and U.S. forces .... In Okinawa, boys of the 'Iron-and-Blood Service for the Emperor' and girls of 'Himeyuri (red star lily)' units courageously fought the enemy. The death toll rose to 94,000 civilian residents and nearly 100,000 soldiers" (p. 279).

For "New History Textbook" authors, the tragedy of tokko or the 'Battle of Okinawa' is just an object of heroic war tales.

Two notes left by tokko soldiers are carried by the'New History Textbook'

Also, it is appalling that the "New History Textbook" carries notes two young soldiers left when they took part in tokko attacks firmly believing that it was a just war, the aim being to commend children to study these notes to help think of war.

One of the notes, written by a 19-year-old man to his sister who he does not know (presumably because she was born after the young man was called up). The note said as follows:

"You must be scared of airstrikes every day. Your brother will take revenge by crashing into enemy aircraft carriers. Then, you will sing 'Sink enemy ships instantly" with Fumiko (an elder sister), which will please me so much."

Another note, written by a 23-year-old man, was titled, "Going to attack." In definitive words, the man states his firm determination to abandon every desire to serve the "eternal cause," which means laying down his life for the emperor. It says as follows:

"My old hometown. My old friends. I am now about to abandon myself to my desire to save the nation. To devote myself to the eternal cause, I'm launching an attack. My soul will return to the country. My body will be gone like cherry blossoms falling, but I'll return to this world forever in incarnation to defend the country. So long. As a glorious wild cherry blossom, I will return to Mother in full bloom."

People may take heart to read this note. Totally believing that the war was a holy war, so many young men laid down their lives in that wrong war.

A dangerous attempt to let children think of war through soldiers' notes

What's more, the textbook asks the following questions of children in connection with the two soldiers' notes:

"Review the lesson and answer the question: Why did Japan wage the war with the U.S.? Read these notes and other related memoirs and learn what people had in mind during the war" (p. 279).

The textbook authors use these notes as the concluding part of the section which explains their views on the last War as a war in the cause of justice, and a holy war "for survival and in self-defense" and a war for the "liberation of Asia." The textbook seems to raise this question to ask children to understand the war not by reading history written afterwards but by sharing the feelings of those who lived and died in war. Presumably, the authors put these questions alongside the soldiers' notes believing that in attracting children, nothing is more powerful than notes of tokko soldiers who gave their young lives to the holy war. They may hope that this is the way to have children empathize with the tokko soldiers.

What a terrible and dangerous tactic this is! The Asahi Shimbun of July 2 reported that there is an example that confirms that what the textbook authors had in mind was effective for education. The report is as follows:

"I owe my life to the special attack corps. I must really thank those who gave their lives for Japan."

This is a comment written by a second-year student after a video show in which a tokko soldier's note was read.

The video was shown last February in a history class by a 38-year-old male teacher in a municipal junior high school in Yokohama City in Kanagawa Prefecture. That was the concluding part of his lesson on the 'Greater East Asia War.'

Although there were some who stated, "We must remake Japan and the world in which tokko soldiers are not necessary," the majority regarded that tokko soldiers are "Japan's heroes who devoted their lives."

I may not be the only person who was appalled to read this report as an interpretation that has a serious bearing on the future of Japan and the rest of Asia.

Call for Sense of Guilt to be Discarded

They say that the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was held without grounds backed by international law

The "New History Textbook" is even more outspoken in relating postwar history.

The "Textbook" devotes subsection 73 in "Section 3: Japan's rehabilitation and the international community" to "the International Military Tribunal for the Far East." A greater part of this section is given to criticism of the war crimes tribunal, saying it was not justified by international law.

It concludes the section by stating, "Some cast doubts about the legitimacy of the International Military Tribunal in light of international law but others give an affirmative view that it marked a new development of international law toward world peace" (p. 295). Apparently, this description is intended to pretend to be fair by stating the two opposing views. This is nothing less than a formal attachment aimed at having the textbook clear the government screening. In fact, the text argues in detail how the International Military Tribunal was unjustifiable in light of international law as follows:

"This trial was based on the charge that Japan violated the 9-nation treaty or the anti-war pact. However, these treaties did not have any provisions that allow state leaders who violated them to be put on trial that way.

"'Crime against peace' was intended to state that it is a crime to wage war which is not in self-defense. However, never in the history of international law had state leaders been subjected to punishment for this kind of crime. ...Judges [for the International Military Tribunal] were all selected from victorious nations" (p. 294).

Only after these 12 lines of criticism of the International Tribunal comes a conclusion which refers to the two opposing views on the Tribunal in three lines. It's a trick to implant in children the belief that the International Tribunal was held unilaterally by the victorious nations without any legitimacy.

This could help bring forward an argument that calls into question the criticism of government officials' visits to Yasukuni Shrine in connection with Class-A war criminals being enshrined in Yasukuni along with other war-dead on the grounds that the trial which punished particular individuals as Class-A war criminals was illegitimate.

Call for sense of guilt about the country's war to be discarded

"New History Textbook" authors favor the use of the term "self-accusatory historical view." By this term they mean that Japanese people only blame themselves for the war, saying that the war was wrong, and call on the nation to break with such a historical view which has been brought into Japan from abroad.

But a country which inflicted enormous damage to other countries through its war of aggression must reflect on the act. To do so is not only the responsibility the country must accept as it exists in the international community; such a reflection is indispensable for the country to go its own way in the cause of peace and democracy. To call it a "self-accusatory historical view" and try to misrepresent the history of Japan's aggression against other nations as the nation's pride is an act that runs counter to fact and justice. It is tantamount to causing irreparable damage to the Japanese people's future and their relations with other Asian peoples.

The "History Textbook" concludes subsection 73 "The International Military Tribunal for the Far East" with a paragraph under the heading, "The sense of guilt toward the war." We cannot overlook the following paragraph which can be taken as a concluding statement of the textbook's view on war.

"Sense of guilt toward the War The GHQ used the media organizations, including newspapers, magazines, radio, and movies, to try to let the people know how unjustifiable Japan's war had been. This publicity campaign, along with the International Military Tribunal, only helped to foster the sense of guilt toward the war among the people and influenced the Japanese people's historical view after the War" (p. 295).

Although the term "self-accusatory historical view" is not used, that's what it implies. The authors are saying: The view that Japan's war was a war of aggression is based on the unilateral propaganda by the victorious nations; Japanese people do not have to have this sense of guilt toward its war as a result of being misled by the after-effect of such propaganda. The natural consequence of this view should be a call on the nation to get free from such a sense of guilt and instead to take a pride in the praiseworthy war waged by Japan. What a dangerous argument this is!

This being the essence of the present problem, it is impermissible to reject outright requests or opinions concerning the textbook from the countries concerned on the grounds that education of children is a domestic matter. The Japanese government must listen to these countries seriously. Also, the "History Textbook" question is not just a question to be dealt with in diplomatic negotiations with China or South Korea.

The biggest question now is whether Japan's education system can accept such a view that would virtually call back the holy war argument which prevailed during the last war through flagrant distortion of history regarding the past Japanese war. This is a question Japanese government, and more broadly, the Japanese people must answer.

* * *

I wrote this article for the purpose of revealing in detail the dangerous parts of the "New History Textbook," hoping that it will contribute to the development of a national discussion on this issue. As I stated at the beginning of this article, I confined my argument to events after 1941. But the "New History Textbook" also relates historical interpretations of the imperial eras of Meiji, Taisho, and Showa from the standpoint which has something in common with the view which I have just examined, the affirmative view of the Greater East Asia War, which is foreshadowed in many respects.

I hope to have another opportunity to examine these points. (end)


The Central Committee of the Japanese Communist Party
4-26-7 Sendagaya,Shibuya-ku,Tokyo 151-8586

© .JCP