Paul Greenberg

Telltale phrases tend to pop up when politicians are preparing to say something beyond belief. One such phrase is the ever-handy introduction, "Some say." It serves to distance the speaker from the outlandish theory he's about to propound but doesn't want to accept personal responsibility for. Don't blame him; blame the anonymous Some.

Another such phrase is "There is no evidence that." When the current Japanese premier, Shinzo Abe, sought to absolve his country of responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of women forced into prostitution during the war, he didn't say it never happened, but rather: "The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion."

All those hundreds of thousands of women must have volunteered. The official documents, the personal testimony of survivors, the Japanese government's own acknowledgment and apology Š all those are now to be consigned to the memory hole.

Even now, somewhere in some Japanese ministry of truth, a Japanese Winston Smith is doubtless being assigned to rewrite all that history. On the theory that he who controls the present controls the past.

The Rape of Nanking, the Comfort Women, the Bataan Death March - all those things that happened didn't happen. Or, if they did, the authorities were never involved. Or if they were, they were provoked by Western imperialism. We all know that routine by now.

But there will always be some of us who remember. And will even write about it. Remember Pearl Harbor. And so much else.

The Japanese are scarcely alone when it comes to rewriting the past. These days the most popular work of history in the new, enlightened Germany is a book by a once respectable scholar, Jorg Friedrich, who explains that the Germans were as much victimized by Hitler as the Jews. Since the Allied fire bombings that the Nazis brought down on German cities was the moral equivalent of the Holocaust.

It's a plausible enough theory - if you forget the difference between a debatable military strategy that resulted in terrible suffering and a deliberate, calculated program to wipe out millions. And some other elemental distinctions.

Nor is this kind of thing limited to the old Axis powers. Every people has its historical revisionists. What good, unreconstructed Confederate doesn't know that it was really the North that started the Civil War, that The War had nothing to do with human slavery but was all about states' rights, that Abraham Lincoln never freed a single slave, that the 14th Amendment is illegal.

It's not just the Japanese who tend to remember the past as they would like it to be remembered. It's a human tendency.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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