Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Shiro Takahashi

【#286】Criticizing Refusal to Correct U.S. History Textbook

Shiro Takahashi / 2015.02.19 (Thu)

February 16, 2015

     On February 5, a total of 19 U.S. historians issued a statement opposing a Japanese government request for U.S. publisher McGraw Hill Education to correct a world history textbook for senior high schools, denouncing the request as a threat to academic freedom. As the full text of the statement has remained unpublished for an unknown reason, I would like to clarify the problem based on South Korean media reports.

South Korean media propaganda
     First, I would like to point to clear factual errors. The statement opposed a specific interest group's pressure on a publisher and historians to change research results for political purposes.
     South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper on January 21, as quoted by Fukui Prefectural University Prof. Yoichi Shimada in a JINF opinion column on January 29, said, “U.S. historians reacted to an attempt by Meisei University Prof. Shiro Takahashi belonging to the Japan Society for History Textbook Reform to distort descriptions in U.S. history textbooks” and said that they criticized the attempt as a “direct threat” to free speech and academic freedom. The newspaper also said, “The ultra-right society's on-the-spot inspection and reporting to the Japanese government had been confirmed.”
     Before the Chosun Ilbo article, South Korea's SBS Television reported on January 18 that it had been confirmed that “an ultra-right Japanese group and the Japanese government launched an organized move to distort descriptions on comfort women for Japanese military forces in U.S textbooks.” The TV report also said, “Meisei University Professor Shiro Takahashi demanded the revision (of the textbook description) in his recent English contribution to the JINF” and reported that this demand had “accurately coincided” with the Japanese Foreign Ministry's request for the revision. The Chosun Ilbo article was apparently based on the TV report.
     But there are two factual errors. As I seceded from the textbook reform society in 2004 when I became a member of the Saitama Prefecture board of education, the criticism against the specific interest group is unreasonable. Furthermore, the Foreign Ministry made the request for textbook corrections to McGraw Hill on November 7 (their official meeting took place in mid-December) well before I visited the consulate-general in New York on December 24. The two moves did not “accurately coincide.”
     Therefore, the Chosun Ilbo claim that the textbook reform society's “on-the-spot inspection and reporting to the Japanese government had been confirmed” is nothing more than a malicious propaganda.

Historians wrong idea of academic freedom
     The false South Korean reports led to the U.S. historians' statement. Academic freedom does not mean any right to avoid criticism or reject criticism under academic authority. The Japanese government has no power to censor McGraw Hill textbooks, and has never imposed any diplomatic pressure through the U.S. government. Don't mistake academic freedom.

Shiro Takahashi is Director, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Professor at Meisei University