Censoring History: Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States

By Rathgeber, David G. | Military Review, March/April 2002 | Go to article overview

Censoring History: Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States


Rathgeber, David G., Military Review


CENSORING HISTORY: Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States, Laura Hein and Mark Selden, eds., M.E. Sharpe Inc., Armonk, NY, 2000,301 pages, $24.95.

In the book Nineteen Eighty-four (Knopf, NY, 1992), George Orwell says, "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." Can we deny that educators play a key role in shaping the citizens of the future? If they do not, there would be little debate about the role of education in the United States today. Every U.S. politician wants to be known as the "education" governor, congressman, senator, or president, but who really controls education, in particular, the study of history? Politicians or teachers? Perhaps it is the writers and editors of textbooks.

Those in power control what is taught, but the textbook certification process controls how students view themselves, their nation, other nations, and key actors of the world. In the movie The King and I (Fox, Hollywood, CA, 1956), the King of Siam's children are horrified when they see a map of the world that their English schoolteacher shows them. They were accustomed to the officially sanctioned map that showed Siam as a large and, by inference, powerful nation. They had great difficulty accepting the actual geographic size of Siam until assured that England was much smaller. To students "truth" is what they are taught.

As the global village shrinks, the way nations present their histories vis-a-vis other nations is becoming a worldwide issue. Japanese textbooks portray World War II quite differently from those of Korea or the United States. German textbooks portray war experiences differently from those of their neighbors. If each nation views the same action differently, what happens to the truth?

The various teachings of history certainly have ramifications for international relationships. For example, as long as Koreans teach their history as being filled with Japanese aggression and paint the Japanese as aggressors, having an international relationship based on mutual trust will be almost impossible. …

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