Japan’s decision to sugarcoat certain ugly aspects of its past brings to light the damaging practice of revisionist
approaches to history. The Japanese government has decided to cover up and smooth over details about World War II in its high school textbooks. Revising a country’s history, as Japan appears to be on the verge of doing, is damaging to its youths and hampers its ability to create positive change for the future.
The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology ordered the revisions in a review of school textbooks. Most of the changes do not go so far as outright omission of historical facts, but rather try to smooth over not-so-flattering details in attempts to improve the nation’s image.
The Japanese Ministry’s sudden decision to change the textbooks after approving the same passages in previous years is a response to what some other Asian countries are fearing is a revisionist attitude in the government.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has defended the revisions, saying the appropriate procedure was followed.
This kind of practice is not limited to Japan. In fact, many countries have practiced historical revisionism
for centuries. Japan’s policies allow the world to see how this revision takes place and the forces that push for it. In a manner that is probably reflective of most revisionist movements, it is people like Abe, who are trying to bolster national pride and stature. Those who advocate revising history say that deprecating historical facts can damage national self-esteem.
However, while hearing the truth about your country’s history can be humbling, it is not damaging. In fact, when youths know the entire history of their country, both the glorious and the shameful, they are much better equipped to oppose people, practices and ideas that could potentially harm their country.
Garrick Morgan, a freshman music education major, said, “If you do hear about those gruesome war stories, you can grow from it.”
If children are taught that their country has been ethical and moral throughout its history, they will never develop a will to change the negative forces that affect their country. The practice of smoothing over the rough edges of history in order to protect national pride is actually
The My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. is an example. When that tragedy was brought to light, it shocked America. The idea that soldiers, especially our own, could slaughter innocent people was incredibly hard to swallow and helped fuel anti-war sentiment.
The point here is that when people are raised with a rosy view of history and then see their country doing things that clearly contradict that ideal, they become disillusioned and untrusting of their government and leaders. And suddenly, the intended end result of creating national pride is reversed and cynicism sets in, creating shame and unfavorable thoughts about one’s country.
We need to teach youths about the black eyes of history. Only then can they learn from past mistakes and prevent them from being repeated in the future.
Stephen Zook can be reached at