Denying A Chapter Of Japanese Life

Alarm clock and crime scene tape over school hall AP / CBS

Her name is Whang Keun-Yong. She is South Korean, but she's part of Japan's history — a chapter so sordid some Japanese don't want their children learning it.

"I almost died because of you Japanese. And after what you did to me, I could never marry," said Whang.

She was a so-called comfort woman — abducted into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers occupying Asian countries during World War II.

"It was only 25 days to my graduation when I was taken. Do you still deny what you did to me?" asked Whang.

The answer for some Japanese is yes. You won't find Whang's story in a draft of a controversial new junior high history textbook, approved by the Japanese government. Of comfort women, it says nothing.

One of the book's authors insists that there is no value in telling students about such atrocities. It is cruel he says, to "brainwash Japanese students in this way."

It is not brainwashing, say protestors in Asia, but whitewashing Japan's wartime cruelty. And anti-Japanese demonstrators in Seoul, South Korea, have an unusual Japanese ally.

Retired political science professor Yoshikazu Sakamoto has confronted those trying to re-write Japan's history and earned their ultimate insult.

"They said I am anti-Japanese," said Sakamoto. Asked if he was, he replied, "No. I don't think so."

What he fears is a nation whose young are learning lies instead of history.

"They will be ignorant of what our country did in the past, and they will act on that ignorance. It is our problem. Is it our problem if we don't face our own history squarely?" asked Sakamoto.

To understand what this is about in terms of our own history, what would we think of a school textbook teaching that the massacre of native Americans was just population control or teaching the Civil War without once mentioning slavery? And then, what if the book's supporters justified this by arguing that young impressionable children should be taught these distortions so they won't think badly of America's past?

In the Japanese book, not facing history is a recurring theme — it skims over the rape of Nanking, China, where Japanese soldiers massacred tens of thousands of men, women and children, by saying simply "some people were killed."

"How can you make a textbook without knowing anything?" demanded Whang.

Whang was permitted to plead her case before junior level officials at the Education Ministry. They turned Whang down flat.

It seems that the evils of a Japan's wartime cruelty can be erased by just being ignored.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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