Victory for Historian, History: Japan Illegally Deleted WWII Atrocities from Schoolbooks, Its High Court Rules

Article excerpt

TOKYO - The Japanese Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the government illegally deleted references in schoolbooks to atrocities the Japanese army committed during World War II.

The court upheld the claim of Saburo Ienaga, an 83-year-old historian who has fought a 32-year legal battle to compel Japan to tell schoolchildren of experiments on Chinese prisoners by the notorious Unit 731, the Imperial Army's germ-warfare division.

Book screening by the Education Ministry is legal but bureaucrats went too far in deleting descriptions of Japanese germwarfare experiments conducted in northeastern China during the 1940s, the court ruled.

The justices ordered a token payment of $3,400 in damages to Mr. Ienaga, a retired college professor and author of several textbooks that have been singled out by ministry censors.

Mr. Ienaga filed the first of three lawsuits in 1965 after being ordered to delete passages dealing with atrocities such as the rape of Nanjing, fatal germ warfare tests on prisoners, and battlefield massacres of civilians on Okinawa by Japanese troops.

As with Supreme Court decisions in his two earlier cases, Mr. Ienaga yesterday failed to have the text-screening process declared illegal.

A frail 83-year-old, Mr. Ienaga used a cane for support as he walked into the courtroom with a team of 46 lawyers. Outside, hundreds of supporters waited, outnumbering a group of noisy right-wing opponents of his crusade.

"Despite the disappointing court rulings over the years, there are now passages about atrocities in Japanese school textbooks," Mr. Ienaga said after yesterday's decision. "I believe I have helped open a hole to let in fresh air."

Japan has long been accused of whitewashing its wartime past. Even today the issue continues to polarize Japanese society. Prominent scholars still claim that atrocities such as the Nanjing massacre never occurred, despite evidence that Japanese troops raped and executed hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians. Lately, Japan's past has come under harsh scrutiny from a spate of lawsuits filed by victims and their families throughout Asia.

Plaintiffs include women forced to become sex slaves for Japanese troops and Allied prisoners of war who were tortured and starved.

Last month Chinese germ-warfare victims filed another lawsuit, seeking damages and demanding that Japan acknowledge performing experiments by secretly infecting numerous Chinese with bubonic plague.

Japan's wartime record will feature prominently in next week's visit to China by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. He is slated to become Japan's first postwar leader to visit China's northeast - the area colonized by Japan and the site of some of the worst atrocities.

Throughout his long crusade, Mr. …