Jeff Kingston’s Sept. 16 article, “The long tradition of sanitizing history” (which is a book review of “Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering” by John W. Dower), is a timely reminder of the self-defeating nature of historical revisionism.
The more you try to hide dirty linen from public view, the worse the stink gets. The end result is that public attention is focused even more sharply on the issue than had been intended by those who tried to sequester it.
However, it would be wrong to think that amnesia of the shameful past is a failing only of rightwing Japanese politicians. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang notably told Japan earlier this year “to use history as a mirror and learn a lesson from the past.”
The irony of his comments — in light of the extraordinary attempts made by his government to suppress the truth of the 1989 Tiananmen killings as well as the widespread famine in China during the 1960s — were probably lost on him.
A key difference between China and Japan is that Japan has a free press and a democratically elected government. When Japanese politicians forget, it is the role of the press and the literati to point out these memory lapses and to inform the public of what really happened in the past. It is then up to Japanese voters to decide whether they want absent-minded politicians in office.
Only then will the mirror of history serve a useful purpose.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.