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Japan’s revisionists rail against ‘masochistic’ view of history

August 4, 1997 GMT

TOKYO (AP) _ The painting is brutal: A Japanese soldier stomps on a screaming baby and waves a dagger at a bleeding Chinese woman tied to a wooden stake. ``Japanese demons are cruel!″ is written in bold characters.

The Japanese history textbook illustration, taken from Chinese World War II propaganda, upsets Nobukatsu Fujioka. But his main concern isn’t the victims _ he is worried about Japan’s self-image.

``It’s masochistic,″ said Fujioka, an education professor at the prestigious University of Tokyo. Textbook writers ``are volunteering to show that Japanese people are ruthless.″

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The Japanese have feuded for decades over how to present World War II in textbooks. Under pressure from its wartime victims, Tokyo slowly has allowed writers to include details of Japan’s bloody conquest of Asia in the 1930s and 1940s.

But the leaders of a new conservative backlash in Japan say the trend has gone too far. They want to cull references to Japanese atrocities and instill national pride rather than shame.

``No other country in the world subjects its schoolchildren to such terrible history education,″ Fujioka’s Association to Promote New History Education wrote in a declaration. ``To correct this situation, we feel compelled to write a new history textbook.″

Old guard conservatives and rightists long have railed against exploring Japan’s war role in the classroom. Militarists in trucks fitted with loudspeakers regularly blare abuse at the Education Ministry or publishers deemed too far to the left.

But Fujioka is no fringe radical. Writers, businessmen and a well-known sports figure are among his supporters; at least one local legislature has endorsed his views; his books are best-sellers. His ideas are fodder for high-brow journals, and a major daily newspaper _ the Sankei _ is behind him.

The growing backing has critics worried.

``What they are saying is a product of mere imagination, not even worth serious consideration,″ said historian Saburo Ienaga, who has fought for 30 years to include more mention of the war in textbooks. ``What’s alarming to me is that many people seem to support them.″

Fujioka, however, has struck a cord with Japanese who question the need to feel contrite over events years before they were born.

If current textbooks have filled Japanese with self-loathing, Fujioka and his supporters say this aphorism is the cure: Japanese troops were no worse than those of any other fighting nation in World War II, and should not be singled out as especially brutal.

According to Fujioka, U.S. occupation forces brainwashed the postwar Japanese into believing they had committed terrible crimes. The Japanese meekly accepted this view, and their neighbors have used it to pry concessions from a guilt-ridden Tokyo.

Perhaps Fujioka’s most controversial stand is on the so-called ``comfort women,″ the thousands of women from Korea and other Asian countries forced to work as prostitutes at front-line brothels.

It was not until 1993 that Japan admitted the government was involved, and it has set up a private fund to compensate survivors. The Education Ministry recently began allowing mention of the women in junior high textbooks.

But Fujioka considers the issue a cynical ruse by former prostitutes to squeeze money out of Tokyo. He wants the issue expunged from the books.

``The women got a lot of money compared with non-warfield brothels,″ Fujioka said, adding that often the women’s parents also profited.

It is not clear how Fujioka’s movement will affect how the war is taught in schools. The Education Ministry, which screens all textbooks, expects more detailed descriptions of the war in coming years.

``They talk about pride or the good things Japanese did, but we think the textbooks should be written based on the results of historical research,″ said Takashio Itaru, the ministry’s textbook division chief.

Not that textbooks lay bare the unsavory details of the country’s march through Asia. Even the most detailed passages on Japanese atrocities are brief and sometimes vaguely worded, and debate often focuses on what to outsiders may seem trivial.

For example, fierce disagreement has raged over whether the Japanese conquest of its neighbors should be called ``an invasion″ rather than ``an advance.″

In practice, textbook descriptions of the war make little difference to students. The war is given short shrift on all-important exams _ a guarantee that students obsessed with test scores have no incentive to study it.

In the meantime, Fujioka and his group expect to write their own textbooks depicting Japanese ``with dignity and balance″ for consideration by the ministry in two years.

``I agree that there were crimes committed by Japanese troops _ just as other countries committed crimes,″ Fujioka said. ``But to feel bad about something that you didn’t do _ that’s almost sick.″