Frustrated Japanese Revise Past
In some ways, Japan is still fighting World War II.Skip to next paragraph
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This summer the battle is being waged in movie theaters, where film buffs can revisit the postwar trial of Gen. Hideki Tojo, the architect of Japan's militarism. "Pride, the Fateful Moment" portrays the general as a loving family man, devoted to emperor and nation, and the victim of a vengeful victor's justice engineered by the US.
The film has been roundly criticized by the Chinese government for its "whitewash" of history. It downplays the Nanking massacre, in which the Japanese Army killed as many as 300,000 people, Chinese historians say.
In Japan, the film has been endorsed by members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. More tellingly, it has become a resounding success. Despite foreign and domestic complaints about the film's revisionism, moviegoers have made it the country's most popular film.
"Pride" is the latest sign of a growing frustration in Japan about the way the war is seen, the endless apologizing the country is asked to do for the war, and how that still shapes the country today. The film's timing and popularity point to a political and social shift that has profound implications for Asia and the United States.
On a popular level, guilt is giving way to indifference and aggrieved pride, while politicians and academics are pushing for a reevaluation of the war.
"Pride" is part of a movement to foster patriotism in young Japanese by showing them, in the words of one proponent, a "correct" version of history. For Asian nations that have long warned about the dangers of a nationalistic Japan, these are troubling words at a troubling time.
In the last few years the disastrous Kobe earthquake, a terrorist gas attack on Tokyo's subways, soaring teen violence, and economic recession have left Japan demoralized and primed for a movement that can make it feel good about itself.
At the same time, a series of political missteps have left the Socialist Party, Japan's traditional watchdog on war-related matters, powerless to counter a campaign to introduce a more palatable history designed to foster greater national pride.
How to promote patriotism
World War II underlies modern Asian politics with all the immediacy of this season's election campaign. The war still determines Japan's relationship with the US, guarantor of its security, and shapes its self-image.
The political left and right in Japan agree that boosting patriotism is an important goal, but the war divides them as to how this should be done.
Japan fought World War II on behalf of its emperor using symbols of state - the rising sun flag and the "Kimigayo" national anthem that calls for the emperor's long reign - that are still in place.
For many, those symbols have been sullied by the acts committed in their name. This perceived violation strikes deep chords in a culture where the indigenous religion, Shinto, is built on concepts of purity and pollution. The left-wing national teacher's union strongly resists attempts to use the flag and anthem at schools. On the right, the reaction has been to correct the perceived contamination.
Nobukatsu Fujioka, a Tokyo University education professor, leads the Liberal View of History Study Group that calls for the deletion of textbook references to the Nanking Massacre or the Japanese army's use of sex slaves, euphemized as "comfort women" at the time.
These scandals, Mr. Fujioka argues, are manufactured for political and economic reasons. "The Nanking Massacre is a totally made-up case," he says.
Japanese textbooks contain little about the war that would help students understand Asia's lingering resentment toward Japan, and this has certainly affected the response to "Pride." Yet Fujioka's group says these texts teach children a "masochistic" view of the past and want it replaced with "correct" history that inculcates pride. "It's extremely important to look at our history with properly balanced eyes, not oppressed by the forces of Western countries," he says.
Fujioka and his group have support in high places. "Japan's postwar education, in terms of fostering patriotism, is a complete disaster," says Kenzo Yoneda, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The victor's postwar policy, he adds, was to deprive Japan of its pride.