Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Shiro Takahashi

【#298】Japanese and U.S. Historians Should Hold Open Debate

Shiro Takahashi / 2015.05.11 (Mon)

May 7, 2015

     Alexis Dudden, professor of history at the University of Connecticut, has contributed to the Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Kinyobi (April 10 issue) an article titled “Protesting against the Japanese Government's Intervention in History Problems.” She wrote a letter of 20 American historians criticizing the Japanese government for asking U.S. publisher McGraw Hill Education to correct descriptions on comfort women in a history textbook for high schools. The professor contributed the letter to a monthly newsletter of the American Historical Association.
     The Dudden contribution to the Shukan Kinyobi came as rebuttal to a recommendation of corrections to the McGraw Hill textbook by 19 Japanese scholars, which modern historian Ikuhiko Hata and Yasuaki Onuma, a specially appointed professor at Meiji University, released while citing eight specific problems with the textbook at a press conference in Tokyo on March 17 (see my article on the May issue of Voice magazine). Part of her article published in the Japanese weekly can be translated as follows:

Scholars' duty is to quest for facts
     "Our letter (to the American Historical Association newsletter) does neither discuss content of the textbook nor provide decisive view on history the textbook handles... We call for academic freedom in learning from history. The freedom means that we conduct academic research, education and publication in an environment free from government censorship. In response to our letter, Mr. Hata arranged a press conference during which he disclosed a statement he and his colleagues sent to McGraw Hill Education branding American historians and the publishing company as ignorant… Their failure was curious… It brought about confusion where people turned their eyes away from serious human rights abuse of victims as the root of the problem.”
     Dudden switched the root of the problem with the textbook to academic freedom and human rights abuse of victims. She criticized that the failure was curious. But historians’ duty is to quest for and discuss historical facts linked directly to the contents of the textbook and decisive views the textbook handles about history. The non-academic attitude of denying the duty is curious.

Disrespectful of the head of state
     It is contradictory to escape from analyzing historical facts while asserting academic research. The textbook in question states, “The army presented the (comfort) women to the troops as a gift from the emperor.” This description is very disrespectful of the head of state. Can such disrespectful description be condoned in the name of academic freedom? Historians should objectively review historical facts and do their best to make academic discussions openly and squarely.
     Jason Morgan, a Fulbright researcher at Waseda University, has criticized most of American historians for being biased against Japan and refusing to consider different views about comfort women and other problems (see the JINF website). I would like to propose open debate between Japanese and American historians.

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