Aburo Ienaga is an old warrior now, so fragile, it seems, a stiff breeze could easily knock him down.
But the quiet, reedy voice and halting steps mask his dogged resolve to change Japanese history - the official history taught to Japanese schoolchildren.
“Freedom is the thing you seize only when you fight for it,” the retired historian explained.
For the past 32 years, Ienaga has been battling the deeply conservative Ministry of Education for the right to teach Japanese students the truth about World War II - including the invasion by Japanese soldiers of Korea, the wholesale rape of Chinese women in Nanjing and their use of “comfort women” for sexual gratification. Since 1965, the ministry has repeatedly forced deletions from his textbooks.
Now, at 83, Ienaga’s last crusade ends today . Japan’s Supreme Court will issue its ultimate ruling on the last of Ienaga’s lawsuits. He asked for damages after the ministry forced him to delete sections of one textbook describing, among other things, mass killings of Japanese citizens by their own army during the U.S. invasion of Okinawa in 1945. Also described were biological experiments conducted on Chinese subjects by the infamous Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army.
The deletions violate his academic freedom and free expression, he said.
Even now, after three decades, Ienaga does not expect to win. But that does not make any difference.
“From the beginning, when I started attacking this (censorship) system in the courts, I didn’t expect an absolute win,” Ienaga explained during an interview this week near his summer home in Karuizawa, where he was readying himself emotionally for his last day in court.
“I thought to myself it was my duty to keep fighting. I am not fighting to see whether what I’ve written in my textbook is right or wrong. I’m fighting against the political power of censorship and the political power that wields control of education.”
While he usually has been defeated in the courts, Ienaga has also won. More than anyone else, he is responsible for the fact that textbooks read by Japanese schoolchildren present any of the darker moments of his country’s history.
“I may have lost my suits,” he said quietly, “but some of the points I lost now appear in textbooks.”
Satoshi Higuchi, who works on the planning staff of the Ministry of Education, contends Ienaga’s lawsuits “have not had any influence” on the texts the government approves. Higuchi admitted, however, that the lawsuits “increased interest among the people regarding the textbook issue.”
Japan has never openly addressed the rise of ultranationalism, its war-time responsibility or its obligations to those it attacked.
For that, Ienaga said, the United States is partly responsible. He noted it was the American occupation forces who governed Japan after World War II that decided it was more important to suppress communism in Asia than to punish Japanese war criminals.
Many of Japan’s right-wing leaders were permitted to regain power.
The lack of historical debate and the sanitized textbooks in Japanese schools “creates people who are not aware of their own responsibility for the war,” Ienaga said. “It leads the entire nation to not be responsible for itself. This promotes the remilitarization of Japan and means we cannot deny the possibility of another miserable war.”
In a nation that abhors confrontation, he has kept up his battle - despite threats against his family and isolation by the historical community.
“I never intended to fight in court,” Ienaga said. “But I am happy to have fought for the freedom of expression.”