Historical revisionism and Denial

Towards the end of last year, I saw a 2016 film Denial, written by David Hare and directed by Mick Jackson. The movie was based on a book entitled History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, written by Deborah Lipstadt, an American Holocaust scholar. The book is said to be based on Lipstadt’s real experience, in which she was sued for libel in the UK by a Nazi Germany scholar and Holocaust denier David Irving. It stars Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt and Tom Wilkinson as barrister Richard Rampton, among others.Denial_(2016_film)

In a libel case in the UK, the burden of proof lies with the accused, and the defense team had to prove that the accuser had lied about the Holocaust. Irving represented himself. In preparing for the case, Lipstadt and Rampton toured the Auschwitz death camp in Poland and the defense team examined Irving’s extensive personal diaries. Irving tried very hard to discredit and twist the evidence presented by the defense team

During the course of the trial, Lipstadt became frustrated by her team for making her sidelined in the case and for not allowing a Holocaust survivor she came to know during the course of the trial to be given the chance to testify. Her wishes were totally rejected by her team on the ground that Irving would only humiliate and discredit the survivor on cross-examination in case her memories were shaky, which he would exploit to his advantage. Through his skillful cross-examination of Irving, Rampton successfully exposed the absurdity of Irving’s claims, while experts taking the stand clearly showed the distortions in his past written works.

Before concluding the trial, the judge momentarily wondered if Irving truly believed in his own claims, in which case he could not be considered as a liar as Lipstadt had asserted. At the end, however, he was convinced of her description of the Holocaust denier and scholar as deceitful. Her legal team reminded her that though she did not take the stand in the trial, her solid writing was the basis for it to successfully challenge his lies to win the case ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial_(2016_film).

While watching the film, I first thought it was based on a story going back half a century ago, at least, or more. I was surprised to learn that Irving had disrupted Lipstadt during her lecture in 1994, yelling her not to teach lies. The trial ended only in April, 2000 (an article Hitei to Koutei,, Shuukan MDS, Dec. 29, 2017), not so long ago, considering that 72 years have passed since the defeat of the Nazi Germany. I had imagined that the Holocaust as a historical truth had been universally recognized since a long ago. So I was astonished to find out that there were still educated people such as Irving who denied it. I suppose historical revisionist is everywhere at any period. Sad to say, there are many of them in Japan, as well.

A few days after seeing the movie and while glancing at my Facebook account, my eyes were suddenly glued to a photo posted by someone linked to me on FB. It was that of the former defense minister of Japan, Tomomi Inada, giving a speech in Tokyo. A big banner indicating the occasion of the gathering hung above her and across the stage. It said “Important Lecture to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the capture of Nanjing: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wake up! There was no Nanjing massacre!” Though I knew Tomomi Inada to be ultra nationalist and a historical revisionist closely associated with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, I couldn’t believe that she would be openly challenging the official position of the foreign ministry of Japan concerning the historical incident.稲田朋美2017Dec.

I first thought it was a fake news that someone had posted on FB as a joke. However, a newspaper article confirmed that Inada had delivered a speech at a gathering of the “group seeking the truth on Nanjing incident” on Dec. 13th, the day Japan captured the then capital of China 80 years ago (http://www.sankei.com/politics/news/171214/plt1712140010-nl.html). According to the article, Inada had appealed to the audience that in challenging China’s political campaign to attempt to discredit Japan, she could not allow the foreign ministry to accept the Nanjing massacre as a historical truth. She and other speakers proposed that the Japanese government strengthen its communication ability to speak out its position. Inada stressed that “in order to safeguard Japan’s honor, we must firmly refute groundless accusations against our country” and pledged that she would focus her political career on defending national interest.

I find it chilling to see a prominent politician in Japan openly speaking such non-sense to a large audience. It’s a known fact that Japan had invaded neighboring Asian countries in the first half of the 20th century, and atrocities committed in a number of countries in the region are well documented and undeniable, which were the reasons for the unconditional surrender Japan was forced to accept at her defeat in WWII. So what about the foreign ministry’s position on Nanjing massacre Inada is objecting to?

So I checked out what the Japanese foreign ministry had to say regarding Nanjing massacre.   The following is what I found:

  1. The Government of Japan believes that it cannot be denied that following the entrance of the Japanese Army into Nanjing in 1937, the killing of a large number of noncombatants, looting and other acts occurred. However, there are numerous theories as to the actual number of victims, and the Government of Japan believes it is difficult to determine which the correct number is.
  2. The feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for the actions during the war have been upheld consistently by the post-war Cabinets. Such feelings were expressed in the form of the Murayama Statement on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, and those feelings of remorse and apology were also carried forth via the Koizumi Statement issued to commemorate the 60th anniversary.
  3. Such feelings of remorse and apology articulated by previous Cabinets will be upheld as unshakable, which was made clear in the Statement by the Prime Minister on 14 August, 2015 (http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/q_a/faq16.html).

As shown above, the ministry reluctantly admits atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in Nanjing, though it takes a defensive position, indicating the difficulty of proving the actual number of victims. However, even if the number of the victims is disputed, that does not allow anyone to say that the incident in Nanjing never took place.  The important thing is that Japan admits the atrocities it committed in the past and expresses its heartfelt apology for the past action, and the issue of the exact number of victims should be secondary. As in the case of Irving denying the Holocaust, is Inada denying the Nanjing massacre as a historical truth entirely? In that case, all I can say is that she does not understand how to safeguard Japan’s “honor” or “national interest”.

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