Media Mix, Feb. 7, 2016

Aerial view of Manila, May 1945

Aerial view of Manila, May 1945

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the Imperial couple’s visit to the Philippines and what it was intended to convey to their fellow Japanese. As pointed out, Japanese people under a certain age probably know nothing about the Battle of Manila, during which more than 100,000 Filipino civilians died, most at the hand of Japanese soldiers. The basic reason for this lack of knowledge is the way history it taught in Japan: anything that happened after the turn of the 20th century doesn’t get covered due to time constraints, but it’s also convenient in that Japanese aggression during the first half of the century never becomes an educational topic. In a more general sense, this avoidance only feeds into revisionist ideas about Japanese intentions during the war, making it easier to refute claims of Japanese atrocities since most Japanese people don’t have any ideas about them to begin with. The Emperor’s message, though clear to many people, will thus be lost on most of the people it was meant for since those people would need a grounding in history before they could begin to understand what he was getting at when he emphasized that “innocent” Filipinos died in the war.

The NHK special cited in the column is an interesting corrective in this regard. I had seen part of it when it was rebroadcast over the New Years break and wanted to see it again for this column, but it wasn’t available through NHK’s on-demand service. When I did an Internet search for it I found lots of revisionist denunciations of NHK for the special, saying that the information contained therein were lies. Eventually, I did find the doc on a different video service. The revisionist rants provided an opportunity for rebuttal that, say, the comfort women issue doesn’t–or, at least, not as clearly. The revisionist take on the comfort women question is that there is no documentary proof that the Japanese government at the time forced women into sexual servitude, which is beside the point given the nature of the military government. In any event, this claim continues to be their main defense. No such rationalization can be used for the Battle of Manila, and the revisionists’ denunciation of NHK rings false simply because they have nothing to offer that refutes what was said in the documentary. The eyewitness accounts of Japanese massacres and gang rapes are voluminous and detailed, with names named and photographs taken. The documentary did point out that some of the men convicted of war crimes afterward probably did not commit them, but that doesn’t mean war crimes weren’t committed. Prof. Satoshi Nakano, also quoted in the column, said during his TBS radio interview that the Battle of Manila provided “one of the worst cases of sexual violence in the history of conflict,” referring mainly to Japanese marines’ rounding up girls and women and keeping them captive at the Bayview Hotel to be raped at their leisure. Nakano also pointed out that scholars who have studied the battle “have been very careful” in their estimates, but even conservative assessments find that the level of atrocity was remarkable. This doesn’t completely exonerate the Americans for their indiscriminate shelling of the city, which killed thousands of civilians as well, but for revisionists to question NHK about the content of the documentary is simply a knee-jerk reaction.

Actually, this is the second documentary that NHK produced about the Battle of Manila. An earlier one from 2007, which is available on-demand, presented the situation from the perspective of surviving Japanese soldiers, only one of whom even hinted that atrocities against civilians might have occurred. That presentation of the battle is probably more in line with what the authorities would like the Japanese people to remember, if they have to remember anything: The marines were betrayed by their own superiors, who left them to defend a city with no reinforcement and little in the way of weaponry. It was just another suicide mission, which are so numerous in the Japanese annals of World War II as to be almost boring. Who needs to remember another one of those?

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