Japanese Textbooks and American Media Hypocrisy

I almost forgot about an event a few nights ago that infuriated me while watching the nightly news (I am one of those people with the extremely annoying habit of talking back to the TV which causes my wife to eject me from the living room on occasion).

I can’t remember which network I was watching, but they ran a short piece about a controversial Japanese history textbook. The textbook is controversial because it whitewashes Japanese war crimes during World War II. Because of the controversy, the publisher has decided to sell the textbook in general bookstores where, according to the BBC it has become a bestseller.

No, that’s not what infuriated me. In fact I’m not certain why this particular book is generating so much controversy since the sort of revisionism it embraces is pretty standard fare in Japanese accounts of World War II.

What infuriated me was the hypocrisy of the network I was watching. In the brief segment about the book, the reporter opens up talking about how many people in Asia believe the book distorts the truth. So what do our intrepid news producers do when they finally give us a full-screen shot of the book’s cover? They used a special lens filter on the camera to bathe the entire screen in red, which had the effect of making the book appear to be covered in blood.

You would think that a news story highlighting how easily truth and history can be distorted would be the last place a news show would want to use such cheap gimmicks, but apparently not. I used to think such predictions were way off the mark, but I have come to agree with people who speculate that we won’t have to be too long before news reports like this begin using music and other techniques to further dramatize (and, yes, inevitably further fictionalize) their stories.

A World War II Urban Legend?

The other day I was surfing the web and came across any essay about whether video games, etc., cause violence. The essay repeated a claim I’d read before. Supposedly the Pentagon commissioned a study which found that only 25 percent of soldiers actually fired their guns at the enemy. As a result, this little anecdote claims, the military actively work on ways to train recruits to overcome their reticence at killing the enemy — a program which bore fruit in Vietnam.

I’ve never seen this so-called study sourced and I am extremely skeptical of its claims. That only 25 percent of those serving in the military actually discharged a weapon during WWII wouldn’t necessarily surprise me, but that it’s implication is that upon encountering the enemy large numbers of American soldiers simply refused to fire back seems to be geared at misconceptions about combat that are exacerbated by media portrayals of war, specifically the war movie.

I’m made even more skeptical by what little I can drum up on the number of rounds fired per enemy casualty in both wars. I couldn’t find any sourced statistics on this either, but the general consensus seems to be that far more rounds were fired per enemy casualty in Vietnam than in World War II — with some folks estimating up to 1 million rounds per dead foe in Vietnam (which, if true, is likely a total of all ordinance rather than total small arms fire). Even for WWII the best estimates I could find were about 50,000 rounds of small arms fire per dead enemy.

One of the major differences between the two wars was the improvement in small arms which made it possible to more accurately aim automatic weapons fire, but even given that based on the information I’ve been able to find, even if soldiers serving in Vietnam were more trigger happy than those serving in World War II, the only net effect seems to have been that they used up ammunition at a greater rate.

I would be extremely gratified if anybody who knows of any solid, sourced information on this topic would pass said information along via e-mail to [email protected] or by posting it on this site.