Shinzo Abe, historical revisionism and the Japanese right. Part II


                                                                     By Andrzey Kozlowski

This is the second part of a multi-part post. The first part is here.


Nothing better illustrates this change in attitude than the case of one of Japan’s leading modern historians: Ikuhiko Hata. Hata is the author of numerous articles and books on the subject of World War II, many of which have been translated into English and acquired the status of classics. His brilliant article on Japan’s expansion in Asia was selected for inclusion in volume 6 of  The Cambridge History of Japan. His book “Hirohito: The Showa Emperor in War and Peace” is, in my opinion, not only one of the most insightful works on a key aspect of the history of the Pacific war but also a necessary antidote to Herbert Bix’s Marxist fantasy, “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan,” which unfortunately enjoys the status of a “definitive reference” among the academic Left in the US and Japan and on Wikipedia.

But probably the most significant and influential of Hata’s works concerns the Nanjing “Massacre.” Rather than try to describe Hata’s contribution (which is discussed in some detail in a very objective and quite extensive account on Wikipedia), I will quote from  “The Making of the ‘Rape of Nanking,” a book by Tadashi Yoshida (Oxford University Press, 2006) (who by his own admission sympathizes with the “progressive” versions of Japan’s history).

Eventually and perhaps inevitably, the battle between these two camps expanded to affect others who were not allied with either faction. In 1986, Hata Ikuhiko, a history professor at Takushoku University, published  “The Nanjing Incident: The Structure of ‘Atrocities'” (Nankin jiken: “gyakusatsu” no kozo). Placing himself in a different faction, Hata argued that, whereas earlier scholars had tried conscientiously to weigh the testimonies and claims of massacre survivors, the current attempts to deny the wholesale atrocities in Nanjing were the work of “inconsiderate people” (kokoronai hitobito). He tried to position Nanking in a larger framework by using a rich variety of primary and secondary sources in Chinese, English and Japanese. Unlike other scholarly materials on Nanking in the previous years, Hata’s book attempted to answer why such gigantic atrocities took place in the city. His reasons included the following combination of factors: (1) reckless local officers who ignored the government order to limit the war in Shanghai and instead advanced on Nanking; (2) the lack of military police and facilities to detail prisoners of war; (3) the blockaded, thick walls that trapped Chinese soldiers inside the wall; (4) Tang Shenghzi’s refusal to surrender and his irresponsible escape from the city, while leaving his troops without any command structure; (5) ignorance of human rights among the Japanese soldiers; and (6) the overly zealous Japanese mopping-up operation of Chinese guerrilla soldiers.

This is hardly the kind of stuff of which “nationalist deniers” are made. In fact, Hata’s estimation of the number of non-combatant victims at around 40,000 has been considered “low” by “progressive” historians, but it was the result of scrupulously distinguishing combatants from non-combatants, something that nobody before Hata seems to have even attempted. Alvin D. Cox in the “Cambridge History of Japan” estimates the total Japanese losses at Nanking at 70,000 and Chinese at 366,000.  So if military casualties were to be counted as well as civilian ones (a practice that is never adopted in relation to any other known massacres), one should speak of two and not one Nanking massacres: one whose victims were Japanese and one whose victims were Chinese. In any, case the reasons given by Hata for what happened at Nanking have not been challenged, and those reasons put the event firmly among countless other heat-of-the-battle massacres, such as the massacre of Ismail of 1791,  the “massacre of Praga” of 1794, or even the My Lai massacre of 1968.  None of which were comparable to the deliberate, cold-blooded genocides like the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Srebrenica massacre, etc.

Not only can Hata not be accused of being a nationalist apologist, but he has actually actively opposed and criticized nationalist revisionism. For example, Hata has been a strong critic of the Yasukuni Shrine and particularly of the Yushukan War Museum.  In 1995 he resigned from a government commission on the construction of a new museum because of his opposition to glorification of Japan’s wartime actions.  Yet in spite of his opposition to all attempts to whitewash wartime Japan, Hata has also supported the work of the Japan Society for History Textbook Reform, of which Prime Minister Abe used to be a prominent member.   If one wants to understand why Shinzo Abe, who is by no means an extreme nationalist of Chinese and Korean demonology, has adopted “textbook revisionism,” one can do no better than to try to understand why Ikihuhiko Hata, with his proven record of sharp opposition to nationalism and all attempts to rehabilitate Japan’s war criminals, has become a supporter of exactly the same organization as Abe.

The reason for that is, of course, that Hata judged that the version of history promoted in Japanese textbooks has become much too one-sided, promoting not only a Marxist view of Japan’s history but also pacifism and anti-Americanism. Although Hata himself has admitted that the new textbooks authored by the Society were “tinged with nationalism,” he clearly believes that presenting the (moderate) correction is needed in these present time.  Patriotism and even a degree of nationalism in the present world are necessity for countries facing an external threat, as Japan does. Western criticism of these changes reflects both hypocrisy and lack of realism. Japanese history textbooks are still less nationalistic than those in Poland and any other formerly communist EU member country. In Ukraine, a statue of Stepan Bandera stands in the center of the Western Ukrainian (and formerly Polish) city of Liviv. Bandera is a dedicated and ruthless nationalist who is demonized in Russia and highly controversial in the West. But for thousands of young Ukrainians, whose sacrifice is the only reason why the Russian aggression against Ukraine has not succeeded, Bandera remains a hero and a role model. Neither the West nor even Poland, where the memory of Bandera is a dark one, can do anything about it nor should they try to. Bandera is a complex figure. The  Ukrainian Partisan Army he lead both collaborated with and fought against the Nazis. (Bandera himself was imprisoned in a concentration camp where both of his brothers died.) And the army he led undoubtedly committed atrocities against Poles, Jews, Russians and other minorities in Ukraine. But it is not because of these atrocities that he is admired by Ukrainians, but rather in spite of them. He and the other leaders of the war-time Ukrainian nationalist movement are heroes to many young Ukrainians because of their total devotion to and sacrifice for the cause of Ukrainian independence, at a time when nobody else in the world believed in it. Of course Ukrainians realize that the person of Bandera provides Russia with a means to try to demonize the entire Ukrainian people. But most Ukrainians will not agree to compromise their beliefs for the sake of political expediency or to abandon the memory of those to whom they feel genuine gratitude, in spite of their faults.  The Japanese find themselves in a similar situation.  Like the Ukrainians they find themselves the objects of deliberate demonization, with a double purpose: to imbue  them with a feeling of guilt which will destroy their will to defend themselves or failing that, to deprive them of Western support by presenting them as incorrigible nationalists longing after a lost empire. Both in the case of the Japanese and the Ukrainians an attempt is being made to make use complex war time history, which involved collaboration with Nazi Germany, to tar both the Ukrainians and the Japanese with the “Nazi” brush. In particular both in China and Korea  have frequently tried to make the promote historically false and morally reprehensible comparison of their own suffering at the hands of the Japanese with the Holocaust, while contrasting Germany’s contrition with Japan’s supposed “refusal to accept responsibility for the past”.