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History Education and Reconciliation

Comparative Perspectives on East Asia

Edited By Unsuk Han, Takahiro Kondo, Biao Yang and Falk Pingel

The legacy of crimes committed during the Second World War in East Asia is still a stumbling block for reconciliation and trustful cultural relations between South Korea, China and Japan. The presentation of this issue in history school books is in the focus of a heated public and academic debate. This book written by historians and pedagogues from the three countries offers insight into the construction of historical narratives that are often nation-centered and foster exclusive identity patterns. However, the essays also reveal approaches to a more inclusive regional concept of East Asian history that puts the textbook debate into the wider framework of transitional justice.


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Falk Pingel: Introduction


Falk Pingel Introduction The Past That Will Not Go Away – this phrase, taken from the title of an essay which stirred a historical dispute over the interpretation of the legacy of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany, became a catchword in the debate on Japan’s role in the Second World War in East Asia (see Kawakita’s essay in this volume). In spite of obvious differences between the Nazi racist policy of extermination and subjugation on the one hand and Japanese expansionist and aggressive author- itarian militarism on the other, the deeds of both regimes generated a call for re- conciliation with their former adversaries and compensation for the damages, injustice and losses they had inflicted on them. However, both societies re- sponded to this claim in different ways. For Germany, the admittance of guilt for crimes against humanity, material restitution, and reconciliatory efforts became a pre-condition for economic co- operation and the establishment of political-military alliances after the war.1 U.S. occupation policy in Japan followed similar principles to those applied to Germany, such as taking political and military leaders to court, dissolving economic and financial conglomerates, ordering demilitarization and reforming the education system. However, these measures did not help Japan in post-war years to build constructive relations with her neighboring states formerly occu- pied or annexed by her. Diplomatic as well as notable economic and cultural relations with communist China were only re-established in 1972. As Korea was excluded from the San Francisco Peace Conference, torn by war and divided into...

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