Saturday, April 07, 2007

Revising History is No Torture

It’s that time of the year again when our children have to revise for their mid-year exams. I am not sure about kids these days, but for me revising for the History paper was always sheer torture. I remember mugging into the wee hours of the morning trying to memorize all those dates and events and names.

But apparently, revising history is no sweat for the folks at the Japanese Ministry of Education. Each year, around this time they will revise their history books. In 2005, the focused on the Nanjing Massacre (or Incident as they prefer to call it). In 2006, they turned their attention to the sex slaves (or 'comfort women' as they prefer to call it) issue. This year, they come closer home to the Japanese islands of Okinawa. Japanese textbooks are being revised to modify references to soldiers ordering civilians to kill themselves to avoid capture in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

This battle, in which up to one-third of the island’s inhabitants died, has previously been described as a futile sacrifice ordered by Japan’s military leaders to delay a US invasion of the Japanese mainland. The history books have always recorded that fanatical Japanese soldiers ordered thousands of civilians to commit suicide rather than surrender to the Americans.

“We were told that if women were taken prisoner, we would be raped and that we should not allow ourselves to be captured,” recalls one survivor, Ms Sumie Oshiro.

Mr Masahide Ota, a former governor of Okinawa who was one of the local students mobilized to defend the island, says soldiers gave civilians two hand grenades – “one to throw at the enemy and one to use on themselves”.

But now, Japanese rightists have re-asserted that such civilian suicides were voluntary acts of patriotism.

But it is not just the Japanese educators who are adept at revising history. The Japanese prime minister too had demonstrated this ability last month when he declared that Japanese troops did not directly coerce thousands of so-called ‘comfort women’ from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and the Netherlands to serve as sex slaves in Japanese army brothels. But being the magnanimous person that he is, PM Shinzo Abe continued to offer his apologies to these unfortunate women. The BBC article above, quoted Abe-san as saying,

"As I frequently say, I feel sympathy for the people who underwent hardships, and I apologise for the fact that they were placed in this situation at the time," he said.

Since the Japanese prime minister is so fond of making apologies, may I suggest that he also apologise to the hundreds of thousands who suffered from the great 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Although Japan was not responsible for that disaster, other than contributing the name, like the comfort women, these people too “underwent hardships”.