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Honest Abe----The American Academy Gets it Wrong Again

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Michael Yon氏のFBから
日本歴史研究者のジェイソン・モーガン氏(Mr. Jason Morgan)によりAHA(The American Historical Association )へ投稿された論文です。


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Friday, May 1st, 2015

Dear AHA Editor,

I noted with much sadness the letter signed by nineteen American historians of Japan published in March. I have profited from many of these historians’ work, but in this case their hasty coalition reveals the powerful orthodoxies that constrain historical writing in general, thus warranting an outsiders’ response. I also hope here to repair some of the damage done by their attack on the Japanese government.

Missing from the letter’s papal bull-like dogmatics is a nuanced consideration of fact. To correct this lacuna, I humbly recommend Prof. Hata Ikuhiko’s Ianfu to senjō no sei, which eschews presentist politics in favor of documentary evidence. (Even the American historians’ own referee, Yoshimi Yoshiaki, has said publicly that he could find no evidence of the forced recruitment of women in Korea, putting Yoshimi in agreement with Hata.)

Furthermore, the Americans fail to note that in 2014 the Asahi Shimbun formally apologized for years of untenable ianfu reporting by Uemura Takashi, whose mother-in-law is the main comfort-woman activist in Korea. The Asahi falsehoods, in turn, mirrored the sordid confabulations of novelist Yoshida Seiji, who conjured up wild scenes of sexual enslavement on Jeju Island. When Prof. Hata investigated and found Yoshida’s claims baseless, Yoshida admitted he had made it all up. It took some twenty years, but eventually even the Asahi followed suit.

The American scholars, though, vow never to retract. Such vows are easier when one can cavalierly dismiss all contrary opinion as “conservative” or “rightwing.” One does not expect much rigorous debate from the same academy that brought us “micro-aggressions” and “trigger warnings,” and this is no exception. Indeed, “conservative” and “rightwing” are clear signals, like the old Graecum est, non legitur in the margins of vellum manuscripts, that something is a priori out of bounds and not to be taken seriously. Hazel Motes founded the Church Without Christ; likewise, on the comfort women issue, the American academy now proudly specializes in History Without Facts.

The obverse of this manufactured consensus is the inevitable charge of “revisionism.” In a sealed episteme, though, revisionism is all we’ve got. Either you are working within the anthill, or you are an invader from the outside. It is a dizzying tautology: the academy laboriously weeds out all opposition, and then compares the skeptical to Holocaust deniers. This shock-and-awe ringisho style of enforced consensus building is certainly good at getting everyone either to agree on something or else find another job, but the conclusions thus reached are hardly convincing to those who want something more than mere argument from authority (or from democratic majority, which amounts to the same thing). Not everyone works this way, of course; I personally know many historians who are models of dispassionate scholarship, but outing the objective-minded seems tantamount to escorting Moses to the edge of the Sinai. In any event, the enforced silence within the American academy, in comparison with the buzzing and jousting in Japan, is telling one way or another. Perhaps we can just chalk it up to blinding nationalism, but that cuts both ways, too.

Many of the letter writers themselves have probably experienced the lively Japanese academy under the sponsorship of the same Japanese government that they now accuse of practicing Turkey- and Russia-like intimidation. The Americans’ outrage over two moth-eaten paragraphs thus sounds more than a little out of tune. After several silent decades of enduring the Ienaga Saburō-school of historical sanctimony, the Japanese government meekly requested a meeting with the publisher of a fictionalized textbook. Why cry “censorship” over such a harmless—and long-overdue—request? Doesn’t anyone besides the nineteen self-appointed ephors and those in their anthill get to have any historical say?

The irony lies in how well this is all playing in Beijing and Seoul—both strongholds of actual censorship. The Chinese communist dictatorship needs no introduction on this score, and South Korea, for its part, recently released Katō Tatsuya, a journalist whose crime was repeating an unflattering rumor about President Park Geun-hye’s personal life. It is unthinkable, by contrast, that Uemura Takashi should face detention in Japan for his reporting. May we really equate a lone request for a meeting with what the PRC and the ROK do as a matter of quotidian policy?

We shall see if a quixotic graduate student can find a job in the “all things considered” American academy after a letter like this one. Perhaps. But even the great Prof. Hata was subjected to shameful persiflage when he delivered a scholarly talk at Princeton University, so the Japanese academy, it seems to me, is the far better place in which to work.

We shall also see if, someday, a Japanese historian looks back and congratulates the American academy for seeing the IMTFE narrative in its death throes and magnanimously embracing defeat. In any event, in 2015, it is the Japanese academy that ought to be giving the lecture on historical inquiry.

Sincerely,


Jason Morgan


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