- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2001

There is something uniquely arresting about an international incident, with all its ramifications for the future, that is brought on by words in a contemporary schoolbook used to describe the past. This is what is at the crux of an intensely bitter dispute between Japan and South Korea.
This dispute has led Korean President Kim Dae Jung to go so far as to refuse to meet with a high-ranking Japanese delegation sent to discuss the matter. It has driven outraged Korean legislators to call on their government to demand the recall of the Japanese ambassador even as bands of angry protesters have tried to force their way into the Japanese embassy. The Korean government has also threatened to halt a newly-permitted influx of Japanese entertainment products into the Korean market place; to call off exchange programs between the two East Asian countries and to mount an international campaign against Japan's effort to join the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member.
Why? After reviewing a history textbook (already a national bestseller) for Japanese middle schools for the second time at the behest of South Korea and China, the Japanese government announced this week that it saw "no clear mistakes" and therefore no need to change the textbook's account of Japanese military aggression in the first half of the 20th century. As far as formerly Japanese-occupied Korea and China are concerned, Japan's decision leaves it to Japanese schools whether to select this text, one of several available, to provide Japanese youth with a sanitized, problematically incomplete version of the nation's terrible record of colonial oppression, slaughter and exploitation in the Orient in the decades leading up to and including World War II. Of particularly painful concern to Koreans is the textbook's omission of the sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of Korean women by the Japanese military.
Given Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's interest in opening a national debate over official Japanese pacifism, a feature of the nation's postwar, American-authored constitution, Japanese knowledge of Japanese history is urgently essential. The New York Times recently reported on the prospect of the nation amending its constitution to allow it to rearm. Japan will remain peaceful, a man in his 60s assured the newspaper, because "no country could fail to learn its lesson after such a horrible war." Now, more than ever, it is vital for Japan to learn what history can teach.

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