In an open letter Japanese historians say the government of Japan was right to challenge a textbook's claims about the role of "comfort women" in WW 2

Historians in the News
tags: World War II, Japan, history, comfort women

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To the editor:

Generally speaking, it is better that governments do not intervene in the writing of history textbooks. However, if clear factual mistakes are found in textbooks, and if those mistakes have extremely negative effects on the dignity of a given country and its nationals, then it is natural that such a country’s government request revisions of the errors. We think McGraw-Hill’s textbook is just such a case. In their March 17, 2015, booklet “Requesting Corrections of Factual Errors in McGraw-Hill Textbook,” 19 Japanese historians identified 8 apparent factual errors within 26 lines in merely 2 paragraphs concerning the issue of comfort women, and then requested that the textbook’s publisher, McGraw-Hill, correct these errors. If the US government was in the same situation, it presumably would have taken issue with the publisher and author of such an error-laden textbook, in an incomparably fiercer manner.

The title of the statement of the 20 American historians (Perspectives, March 2015) is “Standing with Historians of Japan.” However, even Professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi, whom the 20 American historians hold in high regard in their statement, could identify multiple factual errors in the McGraw-Hill textbook, if he were asked to do so. We are afraid that, in point of fact, the 20 American historians would never be able to find a single Japanese academician with whom they could stand. It would be as if they were standing with Japanese ghosts.

Both the author of the McGraw-Hill textbook and the authors and co-signers of the 20 American historians’ statement never mentioned the Interagency Working Group (IWG) report of April 2007, which stated that they could not find any documentation to show that the Japanese government committed war crimes with respect to the comfort women during the Second World War. This report was the result of very thorough research by the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA identified 142,000 pages of Japanese-related classified documents held by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), CIA, FBI, US Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC), and others. This research task took 7 years and cost $30 million. If the author of the McGraw-Hill textbook and the 20 American historians did not know about the IWG report, then they should be censured for performing an inadequate study; if they did know about the IWG report but ignored it, then their impartiality as academics should be seriously questioned.

In the McGraw-Hill textbook, there are phrases such as “the army presented the women to the troops as a gift from the Emperor” and “At the end of the war, soldiers massacred large numbers of comfort women to cover up the operation.” These accounts are completely without supporting historical evidence. Writers of fiction have license to create alternative realities using their imaginations, but history textbooks written by serious scholars should contain nothing but demonstrable truths. Furthermore, we have to say that the credibility of the McGraw-Hill textbook as a whole should be seriously questioned as 8 errors of fact in only 26 lines, mentioned earlier, on the comfort women were found in the textbook. Given how many mistakes were in just these two paragraphs, one would seriously wonder about the quality of the other parts of the textbook. This is a problem that affects the prestige of American historians as a whole. American historians need to make an effort to check the appropriateness of American history textbooks in America, across the board, rather than point fingers at the Japanese government when it tries to call attention to these errors of fact. The efforts of American historians will determine whether or not future generations of Americans will have the correct historical view, which will be extremely important for the United States as well as for the rest of the world.

Takehiko Aoyagi, International University of Japan
Kazuhiro Araki, Takushoku University
Koji Okamoto, Osaka International University
Genki Fujii, Takushoku University
Nobukatsu Fujioka, Takushoku University
Shigeki Hakamada, Niigata Prefectural University
Michiko Hasegawa, Saitama University*
Katsuo Hiizumi, Aichi University
Yoichi Hirama, National Defense Academy of Japan
Kobo Inamura, Chuo University
Nozomu Ishii, Nagasaki Junshin Catholic University
Takashi Ito, University of Tokyo*
Hideo Kaneoka, Akita International University
Kanji Katsuoka, Meisei University
Minoru Kitamura, Ritsumeikan University*
Kei-ichiro Kobori, University of Tokyo
Tetsuo Kubota, Takushoku University
Jun Kuno, Osaka International University
Mutsuo Mabuchi, National Defense Academy of Japan
Mitsunobu Matsuura, Kogakkan University
Koichi Mera, University of Southern California
Fumio Niwa, Takushoku University
Akira Momochi, Nippon University
Tetsuji Murase, Kyoto University
Terumasa Nakanishi, Kyoto University
Kazume Nishidate, Iwate University
Kanji Nishio, University of Electro-Communications*
Tsutomu Nishioka, Tokyo Christian University
Yasuo Oh-Hara, Kokugakuin University
Mariko Okada-Collins, 
Central Washington University
Nobuhiko Sakai, University Of Tokyo
Hei Seki, Takushoku University
Haruo Shimada, Chiba University of Commerce
Yoichi Shimada, Fukui Prefectural University
Shuhei Shiozawa, Keio Gijuku University
Toyojiro Soejima, Kinki University
Seishiroh Sugihara, Josai University
Shiroh Takahashi, Meisei University
Masayuki Takayama, Teikyo University
Tadae Takubo, Kyorin University*
Hidemichi Tanaka, Tohoku University*
Tetsuji Tanaka, Tashkent State Economic University in Uzbekistan
Taikin Tei, Tokyo Metropolitan University
Koh-Ichiro Tomioka, Kanto Gakuin University
Masato Ushio, Takushoku University
Shoh-Ichi Watanabe, Sophia University*
Toshio Watanabe, Takushoku University*
Hidetsugu Yagi, Reitaku University
Eiji Yamashita, Osaka City University*
Tsuneo Yoshihara, Takushoku University
*9 initiators of the 50 Japanese academics' rebuttal

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