Japan's junior high schoolers learn (again) of their nation's militarism

It is official again: Japan invaded its neighbors before and during World War II. Starting next April, junior high school students will again learn this fact in their history textbooks.

Thus, government officials hope to put to rest the diplomatic row that flared last year over complaints by China, Korea, and Southeast Asian states that Japan was trying to rewrite history to gloss over its military actions in their territory.

This ranged from forcibly turning Korea into a Japanese protectorate in 1905 and brutally suppressing subsequent independence movements to the occupation of large parts of China beginning in the early 1930s and military domination of a wide swath of the Asia-Pacific region from 1941 to 1945. The Japanese school textbook authorization system became the focal issue when it was revealed that under pressure from the education ministry, publishers were revising history texts to tone down or even eliminate sensitive issues or critical comments about Japanese wartime actions.

This was symbolized by the disappearance of the word ''invasion'' and its replacement by statements that Japan merely ''advanced into'' its neighbors, a much milder, less emotive, and less accusatory phrase.

Actually, the ministry's anti-invasion campaign began in 1955. Critics complained that subsequent editions of high school history texts contained fewer and fewer descriptions of Japan's military expansionist era. For some reason this became an international issue only last year.

Concerned that many years of patient diplomatic fence-mending were about to be undone, the Tokyo government revised the textbook authorization standards to give more consideration to ''international understanding and cooperation'' in screening descriptions of modern historical facts involving neighboring countries.

In the new textbooks, the word ''invasion'' makes a significant reappearance. It is used up to 20 times in articles on the Japan-China war.

But the education ministry is still insisting that the books should be balanced to reflect the Japanese case and not merely continue to propagate the victors' version of war history.

For example, if descriptions of the alleged massacres at Nanking and Singapore by Japanese troops are to be included in textbooks, great care should be taken not to use casualty figures inflated by the requirements of wartime propaganda, asserts the ministry.

Not everyone is happy with the change. Three members of the Textbooks Authorization Research Council resigned citing government submission to foreign pressures. Meanwhile, critics led by the left-wing teachers union still maintain the government is bent on inculcating in the nation's young acceptance of the idea of Japan as a military power once again.

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