The coverage in the British media about Japan’s latest school
history textbook glossing over its past during the Second World War and
before in China, has suffered from its own kind of historical amnesia.
though quite a few column inches were devoted to the Sino- Japanese
row, the question as to what the same textbook said about Allied PoWs
and Asian forced labour on the ‘railroad of death’ between Burma and
Thailand does not seem to have been raised in editorial meetings.
exception was the 23 April leader in The Daily Telegraph which
castigated Japan for being slow to accept moral responsibility for its
behaviour in China and the Korean peninsula, only to disgrace itself by
adding, “or towards British PoWs”. In other words, forgetting
Commonwealth PoWs from Australia, New Zealand, India and Africa, along
with American and Dutch PoWs.
Most other reports, comments or
letters seemed to accept China’s grievances about the massacre of
Nanking or the biological warfare experiments in China by the Japanese,
but pointed out China’s own selective approach to textbooks and public
They also noted how young many protestors were,
highlighting nationalistic propaganda, but overlooked the fact that
many have parents or grandparents who have had first hand experience of
the Japanese occupation, just as many young people in mainland Europe
have parents and grandparents with experience of German occupation,
and, to a lesser extent, Japanese occupation in Asia.
sections of the British media appear to fall for the revisionism from
Germany and Japan arguing for their own victim status in the war. They
commemorate the Nazi death camps but also want to commemorate the
bombing of Dresden.
The BBC’s world affairs editor, John Simpson,
went one step further with “War crimes – have we learned anything?”,
broadcast on 18 April, which equated Buchenwald and Bergen Belsen with
Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In other words, the Nazi death camps are
not only of the same order of war crimes as the atomic bombs on Japan –
a debatable point – and Japan’s own death camps do not get a mention.
Simpson’s piece also threw in Chile, Argentina, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.
result of such reports is that every situation becomes
indistinguishable from the other without regard to its peculiar
circumstances and the term ‘war crime’ becomes a term of political
abuse rather than a term that journalists can apply to explain
situations in the world.
Pieter Tesch Freelance journalist and member of the Children and relatives Of Far Eastern PoWs (COFEPOW)