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A Double-Standard Of Revisionism

Dennis Wu

The recent controversy over the class materials of “Visualizing Cultures” has generated much discussion. Being unfamiliar with this class and the professors, I am not in a position to comment on the issue, but it does remind me of perhaps a more important topic, namely, historical revisionism.

Historical revisionism refers to the manipulation and distortion of history. A noted example is Holocaust denial. Among the Holocaust deniers, David Irving is one of the most notorious — he described Adolf Hitler as a rational and intelligent politician while blaming Winston Churchill for the eventual escalation of the war. He also claimed that the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was a “preventative war” forced on Hitler to avert an impending Soviet attack. On February 20, 2006, he was sentenced to three years in prison for the denial of the Holocaust, which is illegal in Germany and Austria.

Germany not only outlawed the denial of the Holocaust but also repeatedly repents over its war-time crimes. As German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said when he paid tribute to the victims of the Auschwitz death camp on January 25, 2005, “I express my shame in the face of those who were murdered — and above you all.… Remembering the era of National Socialism and its crimes is a moral obligation — we owe that not only to the victims, the survivors and the relatives, but to ourselves.”

Unlike Germany, which views the war crimes as shame, revisionism is not only legal but common in Japan. The Japanese prime minister and congressmen even worship war criminals at the Yasukuni Shrine. Can you imagine the German government worshiping Hitler? However, this behavior gains support from the Japanese people. For example, here is a quote from the book Yasukuniron by Kobayashi Yoshinori:

“The Allies’ International Military Tribunal for the Far East was not based on international laws and was a barbarian revenge ritual … those executed were illegally sentenced and were not criminals.” There are many other books full of this kind of revisionism, including school textbooks.

Some argue that Japan has apologized many times for the war. That is perhaps true, but the deepest possible apology “shazai” was never used in their statements. In addition, Japan’s actions contradict its apologies — for example, Japan still claims sovereignty over the Korean island Dokdo that it incorporated on February 22, 1905, even though the island is currently under Korean control. Also, Japan still occupies the Chinese Diaoyutai islands, which along with the island of Taiwan, were annexed from China to Japan after China lost the Sino-Japan war in 1895.

Comparing German and Japanese attitudes towards their past, it is not hard to see why trauma from the past is still deeply imprinted on Asians and why people would have such fierce reactions to images depicting Japan’s war-time crimes. Before the history is thoroughly understood, how can we hope for a better future?

Of course, few things in the world escape the influence of the U.S. It was the U.S. which decided to spare Emperor Hirohito from execution, whether for an easier occupation of Japan or for the emperor’s alleged lack of control over the military. (Recent evidence produced by Pulitzer-prize winner Herbert P. Bix indicated that the emperor worked through intermediaries to exercise a great deal of control over the military, and that he may even have been the prime mover of most of the events during the war). It was the U.S. that made the ownership of Dokdo a controversy by not returning the sovereignty of the island to Korea along with the islands of Ullungdo, Kommundo, and Chejudo at the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty. It was also the U.S. that turned the administrative control, but not sovereignty, of Diaoyutai islands to Japan along with Okinawa, leaving Diaoyutai a territorial dispute.

America has been a strong ally to Japan after the war for strategic reasons such as the containment of Russia and China’s influence in the Far East. Drawing the line between interests and morals is a task not only for policy makers, but for each of us.

Dennis Wu is a graduate student in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.