Thursday, April 14, 2005

Facing Up to History II

The problem of textbooks, and of nations facing up to their histories, is hardly exclusively a Japanese problem. I'm pretty certain the U.S. occupation of the Phillipines, or the Vietnam War are not given unvarnished treatment in our textbooks. (But then, any smart teenager knows where to look for the rest of the story. Who is the Chinese Howard Zinn, and where are his books sold?) There's also the problem with textbooks that highly motivated single - issue groups can often have their way at the expense of the many who know better - that's how creationism comes to have equal treatment with Darwinism in some textbooks.

Armenians are still acutely aware of Turkey's disinclination to face up to the Armenian genocide - yet, when Turkey seeks to join the EU, I don't see young Armenians in the streets burning Turkish flags. It was said of Wilt Chamberlain's one hundred point game that one hundred thousand people would tell you that they saw the game in person, even though only a few thousand actually were at the game. French resistance fighters are like that. The French have never really faced the reality of how many of them collaborated - inside and out of Vichy - and how few resisted. Austria was labelled a conquered ally nation, rather than an enthusiastic ally of Nazi Germany, so they were exempted from post-war de-nazification programs. That might account for the persistence of far-right racism in their country. Poland's status as a victim of Germany has allowed the mass of people to avoid the degree of anti-semitism and cooperation with the Holocaust that existed in their country during the occupation.

And China? Frank Ching has managed to write an entire column about China, Japan and textbooks without once mentioning Chinese history, or its treatment in Chinese textbooks. He does, rather piously, offer this: "To the Chinese it often appears that the Japanese side has not learned lessons from history. The fact that Japanese schoolbooks that whitewash the country's wartime behavior appear regularly suggests that there is little acceptance of the reality of history." But to take this sentiment seriously, one would have to believe that there is a sincere approach to facing, and learning from, the lessons of history in China itself. Otherwise the raw, fresh anger of many Chinese over events that occured sixty or seventy years ago might be dismissed as cynical and manipulative nationalistic behavior.