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Journalist backtracks on best-seller after Nanjing switcheroo

Former Times bureau chief 'shocked' by revisionist conclusion of own book

by Ben Dooley

Kyodo

Former New York Times Tokyo bureau chief Henry S. Stokes should have reason to celebrate. His latest book “Eikokujin Kisha Ga Mita Rengokoku Sensho Shikan no Kyomou” (“Falsehoods of the Allied Nations’ Victorious View of History, as Seen by a British Journalist”) has moved 100,000 copies in the five months since its December release, according to its publisher Shodensha.

The mashup of journalistic anecdotes from the front lines of Japan’s modern history and hard-nosed arguments against its responsibility for World War II atrocities has made the 75-year-old Stokes a darling of the country’s resurgent right wing. With the slim volume popping up on best-seller lists across the nation, its author has found himself in the brightest spotlight of his career.

There is just one problem — until a recent interview with Kyodo News, Stokes, a longtime resident of Tokyo, did not know what was written in his own book.

Now, the former reporter, who reads and writes only a little Japanese, says he is “shocked and horrified” by the book’s conclusion that the Chinese government fabricated the Nanjing Massacre, describing the claim as “straightforward right-wing propaganda.”

The book’s translator, Hiroyuki Fujita, “smuggled” the rogue passages into the work, Stokes says, adding that the conclusion was “just spooned into the text.” Fujita admits that he added his own language to the book but argues that he closely based his additions on Stokes’ own views.

Stokes, who suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease and cannot easily type or use a pen or pencil, entrusted the book’s production to Fujita and Hideaki Kase, two men with close ties to the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact, a nonprofit educational group that advocates “revisionist” positions on Japanese history.

At Kase’s urging, Stokes sat with Fujita for over 170 hours of interviews about his journalistic career and his self-described “right of center” political views. He says the men told him that they would translate the interviews into Japanese and then shape them into a book.

Stokes agreed to participate in the project, despite warnings from family and friends to be wary of the men, whom he describes as “personal, close friends.”

According to Stokes, Fujita had assured him that “90 to 95 percent” of the book was based on their interview sessions. While Fujita reiterated these claims, he would not comment on what other additions he had made to the text and declined multiple requests to share the recordings.

“As I’m being interviewed by these people, I would trust them to stick by the record,” Stokes said. “And if they haven’t done that, they have let me down and let themselves down.”

The “record” of Stokes’ comments on Nanjing is decidedly mixed. On one hand, the claims made in Stokes’ book appear, almost word for word, in an article attributed to him in the March 2014 issue of WiLL, a hard right-wing Japanese magazine, edited by Kazuyoshi Hanada. Similar comments appear under Stokes’ name in a series of interviews in Yukan Fuji, a popular evening tabloid.

But, in the March issue of Voice Magazine, another Japanese-language publication, Stokes expresses a very different opinion on both subjects. In a translated response to a question about Nanjing by reporter Taka Daimaru, Stokes says that he “can’t support” right-wing arguments that the massacre never happened, because they “aren’t realistic.” Similar comments appear in an interview with journalist David McNeil that ran in the April issue of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan’s magazine Number 1 Shimbun.

Despite the contradictions, Fujita, Daimaru and McNeill all say that they have faithfully reproduced their conversations with Stokes. Hanada was not available for comment.

“In the process of compiling the Japanese version of course I summarized or interpreted basically what he said,” Fujita said, adding that the quotation marks around the words Nanjing Massacre make it clear that he intended to convey Stokes’ position that the Chinese government has exaggerated the scale of the massacre, not that it is an outright lie.

Japanese readers, however, have interpreted the text differently. In a tweet sent two days before the interview, for example, one wrote that Stokes claims “there is not even one piece of evidence that the Nanjing Massacre occurred.”

That conclusion could not be further from the truth, Stokes says.

Over the course of multiple interviews with Kyodo News beginning on April 5, Stokes repeatedly expressed a view on Nanjing that directly contradicts the remarks attributed to him in both his own book and the articles in WiLL and Yukan Fuji.

“I don’t come within ten-thousand miles of this stuff as a position,” he said, dismissing the view that Nanjing is a fabrication as “ludicrous,” “fatuous” and “utterly, utterly asinine.”

“The stance I take is that ghastly events occurred in Nanjing,” Stokes said, adding that he does, however, disagree with Chinese assessments that 300,000 people died during the six days when the Imperial Japanese Army overran China’s then capital. He also objects to the use of the term massacre, preferring the more anodyne “Nanjing Incident.”

Stokes’ claims are supported by one of the project’s transcriptionists, who resigned for “ethical concerns” stemming from what she described as major differences between Fujita’s interviews with Stokes and the book’s contents. The text, she said, takes out of context or deliberately ignores several of Stokes’ statements, especially on the subject of Nanjing and the comfort women.

Stokes’ career as Tokyo bureau chief for the left of center New York Times, where he worked from 1978 to 1983, makes him the perfect vehicle for providing credibility to historical revisionists’ arguments against Japan’s responsibility for wartime atrocities, according to Takesato Watanabe, a professor of media ethics at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

Fujita admits this was a consideration in producing the book. “If I wrote this,” Fujita said, “people would say that I’m right-wing or a revisionist, and the things I say can’t be trusted, because I’m defending Japan.”

“If a foreign correspondent says it for me,” he added, “no matter what the content . . . people will say it’s interesting.”

Although Fujita played a major role in the book’s production, “without Kase-sensei (Mr. Kase), this publication was not possible,” he said, adding that he had consulted with Kase on the book’s topics and what questions to ask Stokes.

While admitting that he introduced Stokes to the book’s publisher, Kase denied that he had any direct role in writing it or that he knew about Fujita’s additions. Kase wrote the book’s afterword.

Stokes met Kase, who describes himself as a “diplomatic critic,” in the late 1960s. In the years following, Kase became an adviser to former Prime Ministers Takeo Fukuda and Yasuhiro Nakasone.

Kase, 77, has stayed active in conservative political circles in Japan. In addition to his position as the chairman of the revisionist group, he has been involved with several other right-wing organizations, most notably as a “representative” and “auditor” to the board of directors of the Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), a hard-right political group with links to the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In November 2012, Kase’s name appeared alongside Abe’s in a full-page newspaper advertisement in the New Jersey newspaper The Star-Ledger that described comfort women as high-paid prostitutes and made a number of additional claims that closely resemble those found in Stokes’ book. The ad instructs readers “eager to look further into the truth” to visit the website of the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact.

This is not the first time that Kase’s name has appeared in connection with a literary sleight of hand. In the 1990s, a Korean journalist accused the prolific author of ghostwriting “Minikui Kankokujin” (“Ugly Koreans”), a Japanese best-seller that argues Japan’s occupation of Korea had been good for the country. The book’s original author later came forward and accused Kase of making substantial revisions to the text, which was published under a Korean pen name. Kase says he “corrected” the book, but denies writing it.

Stokes has requested that Fujita issue a correction to his book. Fujita says that he will correct the record in a forthcoming English edition, but there are currently no plans to amend the existing text.

Contacted by Kyodo News, the publisher said that he was “surprised” by the allegations and that if true a correction would be issued.

Despite his objections, Stokes refuses to assign blame for the book’s contents to the men he calls friends.

No matter how much he may disagree with the end result, “If I’ve been taken advantage of, it’s with my complicity,” Stokes said. “And, it’s my responsibility and my fault.”

  • JaySLock

    Definitely could have said all that in one or two paragraphs…

  • zer0_0zor0

    All in all a rather strange collection of people and writings that are based on interviews with someone suffering from “advanced Parkinson’s disease” and contain gross contradictions?

  • Bruce Chatwin

    The Orwellian “Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact” demonstrates yet again that it is an organization devoid of anything approaching a moral compass. Truly pathetic.

  • leconfidant

    There is a legitimate debate about what happened in Nanking,

    But I wish we were reading about real evidence
    by people who care about real evidence,
    rather than moves in a two-way PR campaign.

    But whatever happened in Nanking or not,
    to twist the words of a sick and dying man
    to say the opposite of what he believed,
    that at least is clearly dishonorable.

    Perhaps they are right after all,
    all reporting involves a certain amount of interpretation, yes?

    And so I think the real measure of this incident will be how their friendship fares.

    I wonder if they will be there at his funeral.

    • Steve Jackman

      I think you are correct that the main point of this story is not to debate the merits of the different versions of Nanjing massacre/incident. It is however about how a right-wing revisionist Japanese person/group unwittingly used and manipulated Henry Stokes and his former association with the NY times to further their own version of events in Nanjing.

      • leconfidant

        Absolutely.
        I have no particular expertise of that part of history,
        but if Stokes is correct that his words have been twisted,
        it is, of itself, completely disgraceful.
        It shows that they have no interest in the truth, nor have they any interest in what is right or wrong. It would completely confirm allegations against them that their entire interest in the matter is impression-management.
        That would be a self-evident fact – and a disgraceful one – no matter what other evidence exists about the Nanking event.

  • Steve Jackman

    It’s amazing the things that get intentionally lost in translation when foreign languages are translated to Japanese. You see this happening everywhere in Japan, including the news, articles and publications, contracts, and business and legal documents. Some of these distortions are innocent, however, much of it is intentional misrepresentation because it suits someone’s agenda to twist things around and put their own spin.

    This is why Japanese who get all of their information from Japanese language sources often have a completely different impression of the same topics as compared to non-Japanese who get their information directly from the source. It just further contributes to Japan’s Galapagos syndrome and its lack of context of anything foreign, since most of the information which Japanese receive about non-Japanese matters has gone through many layers of filters to sanitize it for Japanese consumption (to the point that it may have little resemblence to the original). One more reason for improving Japan’s English language proficiency.

  • Satan Baalzvoov

    The 100,000 Japanese who purchased Scott-Stokes’ book by thinking it presented his own views and opinions are victims of outright fraud. At the very least the publisher should make an offer to refund their money.

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  • GBR48

    The JT appears to have forgotten to use the quotation marks around “comfort women”, the right wingers’ favoured euphemism for sex slaves, in this article. Intentional or a lazy slip?