The Real Problem with Yasukini

The story of World War II according to Japan’s controversial war museum
ily Kuo

15 August 2009

Lily Kuo writes eloquently about the Yushukan, the World War II museum near the controversial Yasukini shrine that while unknown to most foreigners, is a quiet rallying point for Japan’s resurgent far right.

The Yushukan presents World War II according to a narrative that could have been delivered by Tojo Hideki himself. The Nanjing Massacre is glossed over. The US started World War II in the Pacific. The Thai-Burma railway was just another civil engineering project. And Japan deserves credit for ending colonialism in Asia, never mind the tens of millions of Asians killed by the Imperial forces and the Kempeitai.

Revisionism, despite the negative connotations laid upon the word, is not always a bad thing. The process can be both enlightening and healing for the historian and for the wider community, and can undermine the efforts of people who would manipulate history to serve their own ends. In a world where the victors write the history, those of us who live in an open society are burdened with a special obligation to make corrections and improvements where and when we can.

What is taking place at the Yushukan is, however, revisionism of a much uglier sort. If the effort to revise history is made with a desire to twist history to serve one’s own selfish or political purposes, history divides and destroys. It is history written and passed onto 300,000 Japanese a year for a single purpose: to fill with vengeful outrage a people now adrift after a quarter-century of economic malaise.

Read the article. Whether it tickles your brain or boils your blood, it should serve as a warning. The study of the World Wars is laced with nationalism, revanchism, denial, and cynicism. As we frame a more nuanced history of the conflicts, we walk a thin line that demands extra care.


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