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Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012

Fresh light on history books

Monumenta Nipponica
POSTWAR HISTORY EDUCATION IN JAPAN AND THE GERMANYS: Guilty Lessons, by Julian Dierkes. Routledge, 2010, 224 pp., $130 (paper)

The ways in which both Japanese and Germans remember and narrate the history of World War II have generated a vast literature in recent years. School education and textbooks have attracted particular interest from both educationalists and scholars, yet this stimulating monograph by Julian Dierkes demonstrates that it is still possible to bring much fresh material and analysis into this well-trodden debate.

Dierkes' approach has four primary elements. First, the book offers three case studies: East Germany, (West) Germany, and Japan. This is the order in which they are discussed, reflecting the author's important observation that "East Germany has been left out of most examinations [of comparative Japanese-German education] entirely." The introduction of East Germany on Page 1 immediately lets readers know that they are going to encounter something a little different in this book.

The second element is a focus on the "educational policymaking regime": "the configuration of actors who are involved in decisions about educational policy, their organizational history and memory, and the locus and status of decision-making within the strategic action field of educational policymaking." Dierkes' analysis of the core characteristics of postwar education facilitates a more varied and nuanced version than previously available of exactly what is similar and what is different within the German and Japanese cases.

Third, the book examines other periods of history in addition to World War II, which is undoubtedly where the main rationale for a Germany-Japan comparison lies. This welcome and successful strategy contextualizes World War II history within broader educational practices, analyzing five periods from ancient to modern times.

The fourth element in Dierkes' approach is his linking of the explicitly stated educational policy outlined in curricula to the content of various textbooks. Dierkes has done significant original surveys of a wide range of textbooks covering the 1950s to the 2000s. The breadth and depth of this empirical work is a great strength of the book.

Some of Dierkes' key findings:

• In East Germany, the "nation-state was defined as an anti-fascist state from the outset, and thus denied all responsibility for atrocities committed."

? It was not until later textbooks that there were more detailed accounts, but up until 1989, "the terms "Holocaust" or "Shoa" did not appear" Dierkes looked at.

? Playing on the idea that communists were anti-fascist resisters, in the 1980s one book was still calling Nazis the "brown, murderous plague."

Meanwhile, the collective "trauma" (a word Dierkes uses repeatedly in this context) of having to live with the Holocaust underpinned the analysis of (West) German textbooks. (West) Germans have typically been lauded for their openness in facing the Nazi past, but the textbooks reveal the difficult path they have traversed en route to that eventuality: It took time before discussion of collective responsibility could be included.

Japan, by contrast, has had relatively "stable content" in its textbooks. "On the whole, later textbooks included more factual information on atrocities committed in the course of the war, but they also emphasized Japanese victimhood, particularly with regard to the atomic bombings." Dierkes pinpoints 1977 as the year a designation other than the "occupation of Nanking" was used in reference to the infamous 1937 Nanking massacre, and he notes the persistence of phrases such as "but the Japanese people did not know" into the 1990s.

Several areas of the book could have been developed further. By focusing on education as policymaking, curriculum, and textbook content, the book excludes other important aspects of "history education" such as teaching itself, examination results, and extracurricular education (for example history clubs and school visits to historical sites). Since Dierkes did not set out to investigate such issues (which would have required a completely different methodology), criticizing him for "omitting" them would be unfair. Nevertheless, the term "history education" referred to in the book title is applied in a somewhat limited sense.

Such underdeveloped areas represent topics that can be taken up elsewhere and that may even have become distractions within the context of this book. Overall, Dierkes has produced an important monograph. Germany-Japan comparisons are immensely difficult to pull off. The fact that he has managed the comparative approach so admirably is testimony to his well-conceived and executed methodology. Ultimately, the strong empirical research on textbooks over different periods, the prominent position of East Germany in the analysis, and the numerous contrastive insights place this book in the "essential reading" category for students of the "history issue" in East Asia and elsewhere.

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