MALE CORRESPONDANT: The attack on Pearl Harbor left 2,335 Americans dead, and dozens of U.S. ships were destroyed or seriously damaged. But if Japan had hoped to obliterate U.S. opposition by its attack, the results were just the opposite. BROOKE GLADSTONE: If you grew up in America, it's a safe bet that your high school history textbook devoted paragraphs, if not pages, to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Thumb through a Korean textbook, however, and you'll find that the bombing of the American naval base in Hawaii, the event that launched America into the Pacific War, is summed up in a single sentence.
From Pearl Harbor to the Nanjing Massacre, to the dropping of the atomic bomb, what looms large in the historical memory of one nation is shrunk down small in another. This winter, the Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University is conducting a comparative analysis of textbooks to gauge how our perceptions of history can be shaped so differently.
Daniel Sneider is associate director of research, heading up the project. DANIEL SNEIDER: The title of the project is Divided Memories and Reconciliation, and the premise of it is that we all engage in this process of creating separate historical memories.
So we've taken just the wartime period that begins with the Japanese invasion of Northern China, of Manchuria, in 1931 and ends with the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, and we've taken the textbooks of Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States and compared them to look at if you're a student in a classroom there, what version [LAUGHS] of history are you getting. BROOKE GLADSTONE: I want to start with a controversy that's been in the news recently and one that doesn't involve conflicting interpretations of history among nations, but rather between a single nation and its own people, and I'm talking about the Okinawan suicides of 1945, very late in the war. DANIEL SNEIDER: Okinawa was really the only large battle that took place on the territory of Japan in World War II, except for the battle on Iwo Jima Island. This was in the final months of the war. And there was huge loss of life, including amongst the civilian population. Casualties are estimated at about 200,000. And one of the more controversial aspects of this is that many Okinawans were forced into committing mass suicide -- this is a view that, I think, most historians share -- at the behest of the Japanese Imperial Army. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Essentially, they were given two hand grenades, one to hurl at the American forces, the other to use on themselves. DANIEL SNEIDER: Yes, and in some cases even driven to the point where they leapt off of cliffs, and so on. And the Okinawan relationship to the mainland has always been a little bit of a tenuous one. Okinawans have a somewhat separate identity. And so, these issues of history are very neuralgic [LAUGHS] for Okinawans. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what did the Japanese Education Ministry propose that got the Okinawans so angry? I mean, 100,000 people took to the streets in September. DANIEL SNEIDER: The Japanese Ministry of Education periodically issues guidelines to textbook publishers. And basically what the ministry says is you cannot say that the Japanese Imperial Army forced these suicides. You can say the suicides took place, sort of passively, but the idea that this was at the behest of the Imperial Army is not supported, supposedly, by historical fact.
Okinawans were outraged at this. They saw this as, yet again, an attempt to write history from a political point of view, mainly from that view of conservative Japanese who are in power in Tokyo. But, as a result of their protest, I think the Japanese government's been forced to back off somewhat, and most of the publishers have declared that they're going to reapply to maintain the current wording that's in their textbooks. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, the Okinawa case is unusual. More often, we know, controversies over history textbooks erupt between nations. And a prominent example of that is the Nanjing Massacre, or the “Rape of Nanking,” as many call it. Again, could you remind us what, at least as we understand it, took place? DANIEL SNEIDER: This is probably the most infamous incident of mass brutality of the war between China and Japan, which really began, sort of at its early stages, in 1931, but began in earnest in 1937, when Japanese forces invaded China. And when they occupied Nanjing, they killed huge numbers, and the estimates vary, depending on which historical count you look at, but 2- to 300,000 -- not just soldiers, but women and children -- were killed, and some of them in very, very brutal fashion —-bayoneted, beheaded, rapes, arson. For Chinese, this is like the symbol of Japanese behavior during the war and emblematic of their sense of victimhood at the hands of the Japanese. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. So you've looked at a number of high school textbooks and the treatment of Nanjing. What did you find? DANIEL SNEIDER: Well, in the Japanese textbooks it's absolutely true -- and we used the most widely-circulated textbooks -- Nanjing, particularly the murders that took place, is [LAUGHS] relegated to a footnote. And even in the footnote, it doesn't talk about numbers. It talks about murdering a large number of Chinese people. So, undoubtedly, for the Japanese, this is an issue that's played down. In Chinese textbooks, there are long, long descriptions, detailed descriptions, of brutalities and first-person accounts of what took place.
What I find also interesting is that the Nanjing Massacre barely figures in American textbooks. We don't deal with it hardly at all. There are page after page after page of what the Japanese did to us, and whether it was in the Bataan Death March or the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but we don't seem to care a whole lot about what the Japanese did to the Chinese. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Another pivotal incident, not just in World War II but arguably in the history of humanity, was the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And you found there that different nations gave it very, very different treatment. DANIEL SNEIDER: Here's another case where the [LAUGHS] Japanese actually relegate the numbers of people killed to a footnote in their textbooks. So yes, they downplay the Nanjing Massacre but they also downplay [LAUGHS], to some degree, the atomic bombing. There's a kind of a mixed feeling in Japan about this. There's some degree of shame as well, as a sense of being victims.
It doesn't appear at all in Korean textbooks. And -- BROOKE GLADSTONE: Wait. Not at all? DANIEL SNEIDER: Not at all. Not at all. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Not mentioned? DANIEL SNEIDER: Well, you know, Korean textbooks, I'd say, are very much focused on the building of Korean national identity. And they are done under the direction of the Ministry of Education there, as well, so they're very focused, extensively focused, on their experience as a colony of Japan, which they were for some 40 years, and the oppression that they suffered at the hands of the Japanese and their resistance to the Japanese. And they really don't look that much [LAUGHING] at what's going on outside of Korea. BROOKE GLADSTONE: The description, for the textbook analysis that you're doing mentions, quote, "divided memories and reconciliation," which to me implies that you're attempting to foster at least some agreement on some of these issues, a more, perhaps, shared sense of the same history. DANIEL SNEIDER: Well, it is almost impossible to arrive at an agreement about what actually happened. And going down that road, I think, is somewhat fruitless.
So what I'm hoping for here, and what we're trying to do when we use the word “reconciliation,” is that by at least seeing that there are legitimately different ways of viewing the same set of events, you open up people to see that everybody's engaged somewhat in creating their separate history. And, hopefully, through that process you get some degree of understanding. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dan, thank you very much. DANIEL SNEIDER: Thank you. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Daniel Sneider is the associate director for research at Stanford University's Asia-Pacific Research Center. MALE CORRESPONDANT: The first successful atomic bomb was developed in secrecy by a team of U.S. scientists under the command of Major General Leslie Groves. "It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered," wrote President Truman in his diary, "but it can be made the most useful."