Friday, July 06, 2001

Being Cognizant of History

While there are clamorous discussions and debates surrounding the history textbooks used in middle schools throughout Japan, it seems that the problem of citizens not understanding their country's history is not a phenomenon unique only to Japan. According to a survey published to celebrate the 225th July 4th Independence Day, more than 1/5 of American teenagers asked didn't know which country the U.S. declared independence from, including 14% who thought it was France. My 16-year-old old daughter was amazed to hear this. I wonder what the figures would be if Japanese teenagers were given the same survey?

The fact that, following World War II, the Japanese have lived their lives following the United States is undeniable. This may be for security reasons, but, even so, it's unbelievable that an important fact such as this that happened 220-some-odd years ago, could be so incorrectly answered. If we were to compare it to Japanese history, perhaps it would be like saying that the Muromachi Shogunate perished with the Meiji Restoration.

Ignorance about the history of your own country is serious, but being ignorant about neighboring countries may give rise to other problems. There was an article in today's International Herald Tribune--The Asahi Shimbun about how little Americans actually know about Canada. For example, although students studying political science at a college in Boston were asked, "There are discussions about whether or not Canada should become a part of North America. What do you think?", they answered, "I don't know." And, when asked, "Should the killing of polar bears be outlawed in Toronto?", they answered, "Of course, it should definitely be outlawed." (You know what the correct answer is, right?) However, what would happen if we were to ask Japanese people about South Korea or China? "What did South Korea do during the Viet Nam War?" "Who fought against Japan during World War II? Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Tse-tung, or Sun Yat-sen?" "Who is the most popular singer in South Korea?"

In other words, even in a day and age when globalization has come this far, very few people know much about countries other than their own. People who concern themselves about the history of other countries are even fewer in number. This can easily give rise to discrimination and misunderstandings. There is a need to know the history of your own country, and, at the same time, try to study the history of other countries as well.

- MT

No comments: