Aggression: a textbook case
Any casual visitor to Japan these days (the rare, better-informed Spectator readers excepted) could easily be forgiven for concluding that preparations for World War Three are already under way. Bands of uniformed right-wing toughs, a common sight in Tokyo's over-busy streets, are at a Post-war peak with, according to the na- tional police, 120,000 members in 840 separate organisations. Already this year 265 of these hoodlums have been arrested for offences ranging from illegally parking their wired-in, flag-draped propaganda trucks to the attempted murder of a clerk at the headquarters of the All-Japan School- teachers' Union. Any afternoon in the Gin- za, Tokyo's Bond Street, you can hear a speech by veteran terrorist Bin Akao, 78 Who was already plotting to kill cabinet Ministers in the Thirties — urging Asians to unite behind the Japanese flag in his sacred crusade against communism. On a fine day Bin draws as many as ten listeners, only half of them tourists.
The rightists' sound trucks, their orators and the loudspeakers outside Japanese pin- ball parlours blare out the old wartime Choruses: We'll dye the Japanese flag red with blood And conquer the world; We'll pee on the Great Wall of China And eat raw seal steaks in snowy Alaska.
In the Ganges river trickling from the Himalayas • The lads of Great Japan will fish for alligators.
We'll wipe out all the Chicago gangsters, And their grandchildren will pray to us.
Meanwhile, from billboards throughout the country, harking, perhaps, to the music, beams the bearded, kindly face of General Hideki Tojo, Japan's wartime prune minister, hanged as a war criminal in 1948. The General is advertising a current smash-hit film, The Greater Japanese Em- Pire, in which we learn that he burst into tears after ordering the attack on Pearl Har- bour, suspecting that all might not end well, but that considerations of honour left a Japanese gentleman of the old school no Choice. The film shows British troops using the old white-flag trick to ambush trusting Japanese, flamethrower-armed Americans making sport with a Japanese skull, and similar nasty unJapanese behaviour. Now, cresting what looks very like a na- tionalist groundswell, we have the affair of the school textbooks. The officially approv- ed texts set for Japanese junior high school students, we learn, now say that Japan in
the Thirties 'advanced' into Manchuria and China proper, rather than 'committed ag- gression' in these places, as in earlier ver- sions of the same books. Koreans, some 7,000 of them, who died at Japanese hands in the 35 years that Japan governed Korea, are now described as having perished in `riotous incidents' rather than as members of various independence movements. An earlier textbook asserting that Koreans were `forcibly sent to mines and other hard- labour camps' has now disappeared, to be replaced by a statement that many Koreans suffered unavoidable hardships while doing their duty under the (Japanese) Citizens Appropriation Law.
These pedagogic disclosures have, to put it mildly, caused uproar among Japan's neighbours, near and far. In Seoul, Korean taxi-drivers are refusing to drive Japanese businessmen to their favourite houses of ill repute in the South Korean capital; and in- fluential political figures have called for diplomatic relations to be broken off. A Hong Kong businessman has put a sign, 'No Japanese', in the window of his long- playing record shop. In Peking — Beijing in the new spelling — a team of Japanese of- ficials hastily sent to 'explain Japan's posi- tion' have been rudely rebuffed by the Chinese, who want new textbooks, not 'ex- planations'.
The wave of protests has spread further: as far, in fact, as Japan's armies managed to reach in 1941-45. Manila has complained that Japanese atrocities committed in the Philippines no longer figure in Japanese textbooks, while Pravda says that the Japanese are laying the 'ideological basis for renewed imperialism'. The Vietnamese of Hanoi, nice ones, we might think, to talk, have warned of the menace of Japanese militarism, while even as far afield
as Thailand (Japan's loyal, if unreliable ally during the second world war) protesters, mainly of Chinese origin, have demanded that the offending textbooks should be rewritten.
Some of the loudest protests have come from inside Japan. 'Aggression is aggres- sion', says a lapidary leading article in the Asahi, Japan's biggest newspaper, calling for prompt revision of the textbooks, while an important citizens' group in Okinawa, which is part of Japan, wants the butcher- ing of 800 Okinawan civilians by the Japanese Imperial Army written back into their textbooks. To compound matters, we are right in the season for remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki, accompanied by disclosures that work on Japan's own atomic bomb was ordered to be speeded up after Hiroshima (too late of course) and that 3,000 Chinese and other prisoners of war were murdered by a secret Japanese ar- my unit working on chemical and biological warfare during the same conflict.
Predictably, some Japanese have begun counter-reading other people's textbooks, in search of anti-Japanese slurs. American textbooks, complains writer Kiyoaki Murata, defend Hiroshima and Nagasaki `because the atom bomb helped make an in- vasion of Japan unnecessary', while the Encyclopaedia Britannica 'describes opium as a medicine, not a narcotic, and fails to condemn the importation of opium into China by unscrupulous British traders or by the British government behind them'.
Nor, we might add, does Murata himself condemn the Japanese authorities for sell- ing opium in their puppet state in Man- churia in the Thirties. He does, however, describe Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka's apology to China in 1972, 'Our country has caused the Chinese people a great deal of trouble', as 'undoubtedly the understatement of the century', and shrewdly adds: 'The current furore over textbook revision may be due partly to the impression of Japanese arrogance that, buried under the superficial exchange of good will, has persisted for the past decade in Chinese minds.'
As to the Koreans, a Japanese politician, Yukiyasu Matsuno, has complained to the Japanese cabinet that Korean textbooks describe Prince Ito Hirobumi, modern Japan's first prime minister, as 'the ringleader of Japanese colonialists' and ac- claim the Korean youth who assassinated the prince in 1909 as a national hero. (The assassin's monument in Seoul in fact calls Ito 'an atrocious Japanese'.) Why this sudden exchange of barbed compliments between neighbours who have been, more or less, rubbing along together for decades? Before we start losing our heads, or renovating our air raid shelters, a refresher is called for on some elements of the Japanese social system. The contestants in the current dispute are not revanchist Japanese generals, neo-imperialist ideologues or other nasties from the bestiary of the Asian Left, but rather two much more durable features of Japanese life, the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Education on the one hand, and the All- Japan School-teachers' Union on the other.
Japanese have been fretting and fussing over education for at least a century, ever since the same Ito Hirobumi and his col-• leagues, deeply impressed by Prussia's vic- tory over France in 1870, decided on the PruSsian school system for their new Japan. To this day Japanese schoolboys wear black, high-necked military uniforms long since mothballed in Germany, and treat their teachers as unquestioned fountains of authority, not to be doubted or questioned. At inculcating a difficult writing system and a basic knowledge of mathematics and science, Japanese education, stiff and laborious, may be the most effective in the world. Turn on your flicker-free Sony and see.
The education system was, in fact, one of the stoutest props of the nationalist-military regime which led Japan to disaster, teaching the myths about descent from the sun god- dess and the invincibility of Japanese arms. Perhaps because of the role they played in- the catastrophe, perhaps from a sense of guilt towards the pupils they sent to their deaths, or perhaps simply because they are intelligent men, Japanese schoolteachers have on the whole been well to the left politically ever since 1945. The current chairman of the teachers' union, Motofumi Makieda (the right-wing thug who invaded the union office was trying to kill him), is concurrently chairman of the Japanese Trade Union Federation, Sohyo, which bankrolls the Japan Socialist Party.
The Education Ministry, on the other hand, is staffed by bureaucrats who are among the stuffiest, not to say most reac- tionary in Japan. Being Education Minister offers few prospects of profitable contacts with businessmen, and so the post is not eagerly sought by Japanese politicians, and has mostly gone to dim backwoodsmen whose main role has been to get out the farmers' vote on behalf of the Liberal Democratic Party, in power for nearly 30 years. Under weak ministers the education bureaucrats, in a hierarchy unbroken for more than a century, have waged a long and cautious campaign to get the educational system back under their control.
After 1945 the American occupiers did their best to decentralise the schools, the teachers were free to choose their own text- books, and often wrote them. The Americans naturally encouraged the publication of disclosures about the crimes of the military regime they had defeated (while censoring any reference to the suffer- ings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as long as they controlled the Japanese press) and the Japanese people got most of the story con- cealed from them during the war. One book, for instance, called Three A/Is (`burn all, loot all, rape all'), a collection of per- sonal statements by Chinese survivors of Japanese massacres, went through 23 edi- tions in Tokyo before a former military policeman threatened to kill the publisher and the book was withdrawn. Much of this material found its way into the school textbooks and Japanese schoolchildren for years had as honest a presentation of their country's past as anyone in the world. This partly explains the profound dislike of the military still widespread in Japan, the continuing accep- tance of Article 9 of the American-written Constitution which forbids Japan maintain- ing any armed forces at all, and the resulting low profile and modest financial demands which the Japanese defence forces have been compelled to adopt.
The openness of the Japanese textbooks was, perhaps, too good to last in any state- financed system. Two Japanese attitudes are at war here: respect for the teaching profession (to call someone 'teacher' is the highest compliment you can pay a Japanese and is the title bestowed in fact on suc- cessful politicians and gangster bosses, as well as genuine teachers) and respect for constituted authority — the positive and negative sides of the Japanese personality, in fact. In 1963 the Japanese government agreed to supply all school textbooks free, on condition that they were first 'approved' by a 'screening committee' set up by the Education Ministry.
Normally, to keep them out of politics, and possibly to reduce the opportunities for bribery, the names of the screening commit- tee are not made public, although they are presumed to be bureaucrats either en fonc- tion or, more likely, retired and thus even more reactionary. They do not rewrite sub- mitted textbooks themselves but issue ellip- tical 'guidelines' like, 'Be more objective here'.
Thus the present textbooks say, quite ac- curately, that many nuclear power stations have been built in Japan because the coun- try has few natural sources of energy. However, the further information that many Japanese citizens' movements, in- cluding the teachers' union, oppose the nuclear plants because of the danger of fallout is no longer 'approved'. Similarly, a flat statement in a social studies textbook that the existence of the Japanese self- defence forces contravenes Article 9 of the Constitution ceased to be 'approved' last year.
The authors and publishers of Japanese school textbooks have a lot to gain from `approval'. An unapproved book is useless, even to balance an uneven leg on the dining- room table (Japanese tend to eat on the floor), while an 'approved' text has a guaranteed sale of between two and three million copies. To keep up with what is be- ing approved, the Japan Textbook Publishers' Association puts out quarterly `textbook notes', with commercial rather than ideological motives in mind. This modest publication, monitored by the Japanese press, has been the ultimate source of all the present fuss. The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper in fact maintains a ten- person `Problems of Education' team, a human-wave approach to journalism popular in the Far East as well as in the
Gray's Inn Road, precisely to turn out a long-running series minutely dissecting the changes demanded and approved in the new season's textbooks.
Until recently, the changes concerned in- ternal Japanese matters and attracted no in- terest outside — the Hanoi politburo being, for instance, rather too busy with their own military adventures to have time to study Japanese school books. Hoyiever, in July 1980 the ruling Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide election, itself brought on by treachery inside the party, and for the first time in decades got total control of the parliamentary education committee. Earlier this year a Liberal Democrat brought to the attention of the Prime Minister, Zenko Suzuki, a reference in 8 school textbook to 'the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power too long in Japan, and spends too much time in fac- tional fighting and not enough on the pro- blems of the country'. This admirably suc- cinct summary of Japanese politics was, the Prime Minister said, 'outrageous' (he is also chairman of the party), and among the par- • ty chiefs it was decided that something should be done about the 'leftist' school textbooks, as well as Article 9 of the Con- stitution, and the thorny problem of state support for the shrine in Tokyo where Japan's war dead are in principle revered as gods. All this represents a swing, still a very modest one, to the Japanese Right, which parallels the decline of parties of the Left ail over the world where people get a choice. Whereas in Germany the seedy band of adventurers surrounding Adolf Hitler were available to take the blame when things went wrong, Japan's lost war was con- ducted by the products of Japan's top universities and the sons of the oldest families — by the Japanese nation, in fact, all but united, whatever may be said now. The same bureaucrats sit in the same chairs, Emperor Hirohito is still emperor, although he has done a remarkable job since the war in demilitarising his office and leading his subjects in the paths of peace. What is in the textbooks is thus much more a matter of face-saving for the Japanese establishment than an attempt to show that the war was 10 any sense a good idea, which even the dullest Japanese schoolboy is unlikely to swallow. Thus the gruesome massacre conducted by the Japanese army in Nanking in 1937 is not ,denied, but the Ministry now requires the textbooks to say that Japanese military men were killed before the massacre (quite true, as at Oradour, Lidice and the rest) and that the incident took place in 'abnormal circumstances', like, come to think of it, most massacres. As to 'advance' rather than 'invade', this raises the old semantic problem of what the Japanese were up to in China. They can hardly deny that they were making war on the US and Britain, as Emperor Hirohito himself brushed his signature on the declaration, but the Japanese throughout insisted that they were in China to purify that ancient land from
bandits and communists, strictly by invita- tion of right-thinking Chinese.
The same pattern runs through all the changes in the Japanese textbooks: they are not strident denials of Japan's horrendous Past, but mealy-mouthed bureaucratic nit- Picking, as if the people who lost the war still think they can win the argument in front of a captive audience of schoolchildren. We have the testimony of two shame-faced professors, Yoshio Ko- Jima and Shun'ichi Uno, who admit that they allowed the chapter heading 'Japan's Invasion of China' in their world history book to be changed to 'Manchuria Conflict and Shanghai Conflict', because, as they Put it, 'the men at the Ministry were very Persuasive, and we felt we had a duty to our Publishers'.
The penitent pair now want the book altered back, and to hell with the royalties, while their publisher says he must consult seven other authors first, and has instead offered erratum slips to be inserted in the books (and presumably discarded when the storm blows over).
Similarly, Prime Minister Suzuki himself Points out that Japan accepted responsibili- ty and expressed regret for past misconduct when relations were normalised both with China and South Korea, and has suggested that these declarations could be read out to the children before each history lesson deal- ing with the topic. Koreans, Chinese and the rest are, of course, totally uninterested in this offer, and want the offending text- books withdrawn, pulped, and reissued with appropriate Japanese mea culpas.
We now have a severe split in Japan on the issue. The Japanese Foreign Ministry wants the textbooks withdrawn and rewrit- ten, and so does a far more potent voice, that of Shigeo Nagano, chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce, who is wor- ried about a Hong Kong suggestion that everyone in Asia should boycott Japanese Products. Today Asia and tomorrow, Perhaps, the world.
Why not, then, just burn the books and start again? The Prime Minister, an expert at pleasing everyone, or 'eight direction beauty' as we say in Japanese, would love to, but he dare not. In Japanese eyes the supreme sin is to break national ranks, to allow one group of Japanese to use foreign help against another group of Japanese. It was precisely to prevent such conduct that the Shoguns sealed Japan off from the world for centuries. To burn the books now would be to allow Japanese schoolteachers, Journalists and lefty intellectuals to team up with foreigners, some of them communists like the Chinese, others Koreans, Filipinos and other riff-raff, and dictate to the Japanese bureaucracy. This is not going to happen as long as tea flows in a Japanese government office, and without the bureaucrats (as Macarthur discovered) the country is ungovernable.
So we have a total stalemate which the Japanese system cannot, within itself, resolve. In the old days someone would have split his stomach by now. A
scapegoat, if one can now be found ready to take the blame, will certainly lose his job: a likely candidate is the Education Minister, Heiji Ogawa (whose brother was the first post-war ambassador to China) or possibly Suzuki himself, despite the obvious fact that neither of them has opened a textbook in 40 years. A few resignations will not, however, placate the indignant Chinese, who are now bellowing about 'attempts to prettify aggression against our country' and generally using language about the Japanese which they normally apply only to Russians, hegemonists and other foreign devils.
But are the textbooks, after all, a sign that Japan is going back to the old ways? No. National self-confidence is certainly rising, and so would yours be if your coun- try had managed to stay employed, pros- perous and peaceful in a disintegrating world. Many Japanese like to see films with their own deceased relations as the good guys, which means there is money in mak- ing them. Romantic Japanese nationalism is alive and well, an enduring manifestation of the national personality, like being a foot- ball hooligan nearer home.
But Japanese romantic nationalists are harmless as long as they lack a military arm, and the other Japanese are far too hard- headed and stingy to buy them one. This is the other side of• the national personality, the side that makes Japanese such for- midable trade rivals. Making war in Asia once looked like good economic sense to the Japanese establishment — look how well the British, French and Dutch were do- ing out of it — and now it looks like lunacy.
Japan now has the barest home defence; it is incapable, for instance, of mounting a Falklands-type operation, or even of resisting one, should someone take a fancy to some outlying Japanese islet. Consider- ing whom they would have to fight to get there, the prospects of Japanese peeing in the Ganges, hanging out their washing on the Great Wall or cleaning up Chicago are about as realistic as our own.
If this needed proof, the almighty growl roused in Asia by a few smarmy words in some school textbooks has, if nothing else, provided it. An interesting item, indeed, for next year's Japanese textbooks.