Revision and Revisionism

Deep in the middle of a roundtable about constitutional revision and neo-nationalism in Japan, comes a bit of discussion of historical revision and popular beliefs

John Junkerman: Returning to the Nanking issue, we were at a bookstore the other night, filming there. They have huge stacks of a new book by Higashinakano Shudo, who’s one of the key and very prolific Nanjing massacre deniers. His new book, which argues that a Guardian correspondent named Harold Timperley, who was responsible for many of the reports to the West of the massacre and wrote a book called What War Means, was on the payroll of the KMT and therefore he was writing propaganda. This is based on a fundamental historical error. Timperley was apparently hired by the KMT to write foreign press releases and such in 1939, but he wrote his book in 1938, before he was on the payroll. But that doesn’t really matter to Higashinakano. The point is that there were stacks of these books laid out flat at the end of the aisle with a big display, “the latest book by Higashinakano.” One of his other books has sold 80,000 copies. Another example of rising chauvinism is the recent Hate Korea manga that has sold 650,000 copies.

David McNeill: That to me is much more dangerous than academic books. I know that academic books have an influence, as well. We went on holiday last year, my wife and I, with her son who’s 21, and he’s a smart kid and his mother’s a progressive and his grandfather’s one of the most famous activists in Japan, so he has every reason to have a different take on the way things work in this country. But all of his attitudes and beliefs were pro-Koizumi. “Why should he not visit Yasukuni? The Nanking Massacre has been exaggerated, it was not a massacre. There were no comfort women.” All of it. Somehow he got all of these ideas, and he didn’t get them from school. Because, if you read the students’ essays, they say over and over again, “Well, actually, we don’t remember covering the war issues.” They spend so much time covering the long glorious history of Japan, for 2000 years that they often don’t have a lot of time to cover the war. So they get it from popular culture, they get it from manga, they get it from TV.

The core of the discussion is about Article 9 revision and the relationship between that, the Fundamental Education Law revision and the creation of a very restrictive constitutional amendment process (the outlines are in the Constitution itself, but concrete procedures have never been laid out in law). Junkerman sums it up pretty well here (emphasis added)

It depends in part on how the referendum law shapes up. The original versions of it were quite draconian, very restrictive/ But even the modified version, if it goes through, would prevent showing my film in Japan, for example. Public employees and teachers won’t be allowed to speak about the proposed revision, the media will be expected to observe self-restraint, all sorts of restrictions, which could create an environment in which people would be unable to discuss it in any substantial way. They will also be looking for the right, strategic moment. There is fundamental support for Article 9, but it’s very mushy and weak. If there were to be another incursion from a North Korean boat, or if there was a clash with Chinese forces over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, , that support would crumble overnight. Then they’ve got their referendum law, they take the revision to the Diet, you’ve got 60 or 90 days to hold the referendum, and the constitution gets revised in the heat of the moment.

I’m not sure how I feel about the Weimar comparison which comes shortly thereafter: I think there’s some more elements of comparison which could be made, but it’s too offhand to be a really serious historical analogy at this point. I don’t know why they don’t make the analogy to Japan of the 1920s instead: internationalist, democratic, cosmopolitan, but also Imperial, nationalistic, anti-Leftist, and politically adrift. Then you don’t need to posit a Great Depression — when the Japanese economy seems stronger than it’s been in fifteen years — to argue that things could easily go in the wrong direction (the Depression did contribute to the sense of crisis in Japan, but not to the mass mobilization the way it did in Germany).

The article ends with a statement of appeal from the “Article Nine Association,” signed by Nobel Laureate Oe Kenzaburo, “New Left” novelist Oda Makoto, literary critic Kato Shuichi and philosopher Tsurumi Shunsuke, among other luminaries. It’s an interesting ongoing discussion, but it’s very important to separate out the tendentious past, partial present and speculative future in this argument….

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