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Japanese historian’s battle for truth earns him nomination for Nobel Peace Prize

Professor Ienega fought decades-long court case against censorship

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Eight Canadian parliamentarians have joined an international drive to nominate an elderly Japanese historian for the prestigeous 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. The group, along with over 240 academians and international parliamentarians wants recognition for Professor Saburo Ienega. The historian has written extensively on Japanese history only to see his school textbook manuscripts and articles censored by neo-nationalists opposing his objective approach to Japan’s sordid World War II record. Ienega fought a costly, thirty-two year court battle over the issue, which he partially won. However, he continues to be stymied in his drive to tell the truth in school textbooks.

University of Victoria historian John Price at a gathering to announce Ienaga’s nomination blamed his colleague’s long battle on hard-core, unrepentant neo-nationalist forces in Japan. They continue to water down history of their country’s WWII agression. The battle for truth in textbooks has an international scope according to Price, who reminded his audience that Japan’s aggression was foremost aimed at its Asian neighbours which all were overrun in the conflict. The neo-nationalists in 1999 disturbed a Tokyo conference where Allied survivors of concentration camps had gathered along with scholars to discuss WWII issues. The neo-nationalists called on the U.S. to repent for the bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945.

Price also blamed Canada and the U.S. of complicity in Ienega’s struggle. After the war, especially the U.S. were interested in obtaining research data Japan had amassed through medical experiments on Chinese and some Allied prisoners in Manchuria. As a result, those who led the infamous Unit 731 and others who had brutalized and killed prisoners were never charged and tried by war crimes’ tribunals. Price - a co-nominator of Ienega - observed that the two Allied countries also need to tell the whole story.

Survivors join the fray

Among those supporting Ienaga’s nomination is Dutch East Indies-born retired marine captain and activist Marius van Dyk van Nooten. As a 14-year old slave labourer he was forced to remove dental gold from deceased fellow prisoners. As a survivor, he for years has been advocating that history curricula for B.C. schools should include material on the Asia theatre of WWII. That is now being developed. Of the parliamentarians, federal cabinet minister David Anderson confessed to his personal interest in Ienaga’s work because of his father’s imprisonment in a Japanese camp in Hong Kong. Fellow Liberal Sophia Leung emphasized that her involvement as a Chinese-Canadian was a commitment for truth. They were joined at the nomination announcement gathering by New Democrat Libby Davies and Canadian Alliance colleague Joe Peschisolido.

Part of the struggle for truth in Japanese textbooks is the broader issue of the denial of crimes committed against Allied prisoners of war and interned civilians. It is an issue that has significantly gained in importance since the early 1990s when international groups began to coordinate their efforts to obtain an apology from Japan for the wrongs it had committed. Increasingly in recent years, survivors’ groups have launched court actions against the Japanese government and now against companies who during WWII employed slave labour on the industrial work sites. War veterans’ groups in several U.S. states have state legislation on the books which allows them to launch court cases against Japanese companies with subsidiaries in such states, while camp survivors everywhere are writing about ‘their life’ as guests of the Japanese during WWII.