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A Fight over History
Is Abe Shifting Japan?

The tiny island of Taketomi, closer to Taiwan than Okinawa, has become ground zero in a fight involving Japanese politicians, teachers, and the question of how to present Japan’s wartime history to students.

The trouble began when the education minister in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government ordered the school board in Taketomi to use a right wing history textbook that whitewashes some of Japan’s wartime atrocities. Among other things, the book contends that Japan’s pacifist constitution was imposed by international occupiers who wanted to weaken the country. Led by their superintendent and supported by a leftist teachers union, teachers in Taketomi rejected the textbook and have stood strong against Tokyo’s attempts to foist the book upon the district’s ninth-graders, of whom there are a total of 32. Hawkish politicians in Abe’s government say the teachers are breaking the law.

The battle over history textbooks in Japan is not a new one, and it usually ends up rippling beyond Japan’s borders. In 2000, for example, a group of conservative Japanese scholars published the New History Textbook which downplayed some of the Japanese military’s aggression in the colonization of Korea and China and in World War II. Anti-Japanese demonstrations were subsequently held in China and South Korea to protest the book.

But this particular battle is part and parcel of Abe’s broader efforts to change the way the Japanese approach about a whole slew of issues. His administration has already raised defense spending for the first time in over a decade and has spearheaded an economic reform effort that halted years of sluggish growth. One of Abe’s abiding goals has been to change Japan’s pacifist constitution.

The last time Abe was prime minister, he was driven from office during another effort to whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities in history texts. This time, however, the response has been quite muted in comparison, suggesting many Japanese are coming around to Abe’s worldview at a time when external threats to Japan’s security are increasing. Abe’s long-running project appears to be bearing fruit.

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  • Federale

    Quite correct, MacArthur imposed the “no war” “no military” constitution on Japan. That is a fact. It is also a fact that such a constitution was not imposed on Germany or Italy. It was one of the major failings of the MacArthur Shogunate…ehr…regency…ehr…Occupation Government.

    • El Gringo

      But we needed the Germans and Italians to fight the commies. Oh, and the Japanese weren’t white. And still aren’t, as I hear tell.

      • Federale

        What does white have to do with it? Non-white people can fight communism as well.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I would much rather have a democratic nation like Japan as a strong military power, than the saber rattling and territorially ambitious China, or the crazies of North Korea. The US would be wise to admit that it made a mistake, and publicly withdraw the pacifist requirement in Japan’s constitution, provided Japan publicly admit to its atrocities, like America has to its many atrocities. This would help to make Japan a full partner in an Asian Military Alliance along the lines of NATO.

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