I just want to make a brief note of a symmetry that recently crossed my desk on the subject of book looting and burning in and after World War II in East Asia.
It arrived as a missive, the type of which I receive every so often from the “Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact” in Japan, a group of, shall we say, revisionist gentlemen. You’ll get the idea:
Dear Adam Cathcart ,
The GHQ, the command center of the American occupation forces in Japan, make a great deal about “freedom of speech” on the surface, but all reportage and publications were subjected to a thorough prepublication censorship. Even private letters were unsealed and read due to this censorship. The GHQ’s control of the expression of people’s views did not stop there. They undertook a book burning on a scale that one can’t help but compare it to the infamous book burnings of the Nazis. Under the name of “propaganda publications,” a total of 7,769 works published before the war were confiscated for “burning.” In this essay, Prof. Nishio Kanji shines a light on exactly what types of books were seized, and exactly how were they taken. In short, the truth of the shock that the policy of the GHQ was the obliteration of Japanese history and thought is here proclaimed to the world. [correspondence from Moteki Hiromichi to Adam Cathcart, Feb. 20, 2010]
Yes, in this type of scholarship, MacArthur is nothing more than a ne0-Hitler in pursuit of the destruction of Japanese culture, while China’s claims to Japanese cultural artifacts or reparations are simply ignored.
Let’s see….MacArthur….Hitler…cultural artifacts….censorship and propaganda…Oh wait a second!
Facts are such inconvenient things. (It’s quite fine to criticize U.S. occupation policy, but to compare MacArthur to Hitler, or SCAP to Kristallnacht really just means you’re swinging around a red herring that can hit just about anyone in the face. This is the kind of thing that makes actual survivors of Nazi dictatorship really very mad.)
As I argue in this issue of the journal Studies on Asia, China was entitled to and actively seeking to regain its cultural patrimony — including books — from U.S.-occupied Japan in 1946 and 1947. My research indicates that MacArthur was far, far more receptive to Japanese arguments at the time for withholding such items from the Chinese, and rebuffed attempts from outsiders to take away Japanese books. And scholars have lately been rather critical of MacArthur’s unwillingness to go all-in for a kind of full-scale reform of Japanese education and the deep roots of militarism in Japan, making the Article IX (the peace clause) in the Japanese Constitution a kind of quick fix and propaganda ploy so that MacArthur could get home and run for president.
For a more objective look at MacArthur’s policies on all fronts, including cultural reforms and censorship (which nobody denies was going on, after all), see Eiji Takamae’s immortal and extensive work GHQ, reviewed here by a talented translator who was in Japan as a 19-year-old in 1946.
In short, the paper by the SDHF scholar is worth flipping through to understand what kind of specious arguments are being made by the Japanese right wing, but not as a guide to reality at the time. The stretching metaphors — MacArthur not just as Hitler, but as Qin Shihuangdi — and the first footnote that indicates that “burning” is used more as metaphor than anything else, ought to be sufficient to indicate that. Besides, if the SDHF was serious about taking on the U.S. for scotching East Asian libraries after 1945, they would also rise to the defense of the North Koreans, whose libraries and documents were absorbed wholesale by Douglas MacArthur’s forces in the great northern onrush of the Korean War in fall 1950 and continue to be held in the U.S. National Archives.
(Strange experience: Working in Record Group 242, “Captured Enemy Documents,” I’ve held in my hands those very books upon which our victim above lies and published a paper based upon the findings. All before I knew their precise origins. Does that make me an accomplice in MacArthur’s “looting” of Asian libraries? I must admit a strange feeling came over me when I found this photograph and correlated our mutual connection to these particular books and magazines. Reading some sources comes at a kind of unknowable cost.)
By contrast to the sketchy assertions made in the SDHF report, Zhao Jianmin (赵建民）is an indefatigable scholar in the PRC who has done outstanding quantitative work on the depth of Japanese looting of Chinese books and cultural artifacts in the era of the War of Resistance (1937-1945) or, more correctly, the Japanese occupation of China. He has published widely and with great factual detail in Chinese journals like “Journal of War of Resistance Research / 抗日战争研究” about the holdings of specific libraries and universities. A very small amount of his work has been translated by Rutgers scholar Peter Li in the latter’s book outstanding edited volume, Japanese War Crimes. (Although Zhao’s essay is not available on the Google Books version, one can get a good sense of the volume anyway.)
Finally, it appears to me that Chinese scholars are doing a great deal of research on popular perceptions of the war in both China and Japan. One can only hope that the members of the SDHF are adept enough to realize that their, well, inflammatory work may only serve the function of stirring up more Chinese university students and is unlikely to sway scholars who actually write books about these topics. But perhaps that is the whole point after all.