December 10

Censorship & Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy

Textbook Censorship Challenged
The Japanese government repeatedly required history textbook authors to make changes on sensitive issues concerning the Asia Pacific War (from 1931 to 1945). The first textbook attack was in 1955 when Japan’s Ministry of Education decried textbooks as “too scientific” by which they meant too critical of Japan: “Do not write bad things about Japan in [describing] the Pacific War. Even though they are facts, represent them in a romantic manner.” (Yoshiko Nozaki and Mark Selden. Japanese Textbook Controversies, Nationalism, and Historical Memory…Asia-Pacific Journal, 2009)

In 1965, in keeping with its role in perpetuating a false myth about the legitimacy of Japan’s expansion in Asia during the 1930s, and glossing over Japan’s atrocities during WWII, Japan’s Ministry of Education ordered the prominent Japanese historian, Saburo Ienaga, to remove language criticizing  Japan’s wartime conduct from his history textbook. In response, Ienaga filed the first of three lawsuits against the Ministry of Education, charging that its textbook approval process was unconstitutional and illegal. The Ministry had rejected Ienaga’s history textbook because it contained “too many illustrations of the ‘dark side’ of the war, such as an air raid, a city left in ruins by the atomic bomb, and disabled veterans.” Japanese revisionists continue to deny or downplay the involvement of the Japanese military in massive atrocities during World War II and censor textbooks.

The Ministry insisted that Ienaga change the language from “the Japanese army’s aggression in” China, to the army’s “advance into” China; the “March First Independence Movement,” to “an uprising among the Korean people.” (Examining Japanese History Textbook Controversies. Stanford International Cross-Cultural Education, 2001)

In 1971, Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy by David Bergamini is published.
Begamini was an American journalist, the son of missionaries in Japan who spent his first eight years in Japan, then moved to China, where he personally witnessed violent exchanges between Japanese and Chinese. He spent part of his childhood in Japanese Prisoner of War camps where he witnessed Japanese cruelty and atrocities against civilians. He spent five years extensively researching documents, textbooks, diaries, testimonies, and memoirs of high level Japanese officials. He came to the conclusion that contrary to the prevailing view, the military elite were not solely to blame for Japan’s aggression and wartime atrocities.

Bergamini’s thesis was that Emperor Hirohito had been plotting a war against West since the 1920s, and that Japan’s invasions into China, Manchuria and south-east Asia were part of his grand design.

“Hirohito had not only led his nation into war by stamping military orders but, through his coterie, had also intimidated those who opposed him by conniving in bizarre Oriental intrigues, including religious frauds, blackmails, and assassinations.”

The book highlighted the Nanjing Massacre. The introduction to Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy was written by William Webb, the former presiding judge of the Tokyo trial. Bergamini was vilified by a powerful coterie of American academics led by James Crowley, Yale professor of Japanese history, who was a consultant for the U.S. State Department and the CIA, with close ties Japan. Bergamini believed that he was targeted by the CIA and blacklisted after publication of the book.

Thirty years later, long after his death in 1983, Bergamini’s key point was largely corroborated by Professor Herbert Bix, whose Pulitzer Prize winning book, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (2000), debunked the myth promulgated by MacArthur in which Hirohito was depicted as a mere figurehead. When asked about Bergamini’s book, Prof. Bix stated: “At the time very little had been written that contravened the MacArthur myth. His book took some courage, but embedded in it was a full-blown conspiracy theory that no sane person could accept…”

In 1982, Japan’s textbook screening process became a diplomatic issue when news reports in Japan and neighboring countries gave extensive coverage to the changes the Ministry of Education required Ienaga to make. The Ministry insisted that Ienaga change the language from “the Japanese army’s aggression” in China, to “the army’s advance” into China; instead of the “March First Independence Movement,” to “an uprising among the Korean people.” Nevertheless, in September 1986, the Japanese education minister, Fujio Masayuki, referred to the Rape of Nanking as “just a part of war.”  However, public outcry by China and Korea succeeded in getting the Ministry to back down.

In 1986, the Supreme Court of Japan unanimously upheld the Ministry’s right to screen textbooks. However Ienaga was partly victorious in that the court requested “the Government to refrain from interfering in educational content as much as possible.” By then, tens of thousands of Japanese had joined Ienaga in his battle against the authorization process.

“By the time of the final ruling, however, Ienaga and the tens of thousands of Japanese who joined him in his battle against the authorization process had been victorious in fact if not in law. The most widely used Japanese textbooks in the mid- and late-1990s contained references to the Nanjing Massacre, anti-Japanese resistance movements in Korea, forced suicide in Okinawa, comfort women, and Unit 731 (responsible for conducting medical experiments on prisoners of war)—all issues raised in Ienaga’s suits.” (Examining Japanese History Textbook Controversies. Stanford International Cross-Cultural Education, 2001)

School textbooks have been described as important “weapons of mass instruction”

  • In 1988, a 30-second scene depicting the Rape of Nanking was removed from Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor by the film’s Japanese distributor.
  • In 1991, censors at the Ministry of Education “ordered textbook authorities to eliminate all reference to the numbers of Chinese killed during the Rape of Nanking because authorities believed there was insufficient evidence to verify those numbers” (Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking, p. 208).
  • In 1994, General Nagano Shigeto, a WWII veteran appointed justice minister, told a Japanese newspaper that “the Nanking Massacre and the rest was a fabrication.” (Case Study: the Nanjing Massacre, 1937-1938,
  • Japanese “revisionists” continue to deny or downplay the involvement of the Japanese military in massive atrocities during World War II and censor textbooks.

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