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The shackles of history in a democracy

17 1 2
04.02.2019

NEW DELHI - History helps shape national perceptions and perspectives and undergirds national security. However, the boundary between historical fact and fiction is more porous than students of history might think. History is not only written by victors but also is used by most nations as a political tool in intrastate or interstate context.

Indeed, many countries create self-serving or sanitized historical narratives. Autocracies have a monopoly on presenting and interpreting history. China, the fairy tale Middle Kingdom, weaves legend with history to foster a chauvinistic Han Chinese culture centered on regaining lost glory.

Democracies are not free from historical revisionism, although their history debates are more nuanced, usually pitting the political right against the left. In Japan, for example, attempts to reform the U.S.-imposed national security, educational and legal systems are portrayed by the left as a potential revival of prewar militarism. South Korea’s historical revisionism, for its part, is still poisoning its relations with Japan.

India, which, like South Korea, fell prey to the ravages of colonialism, has had a static history debate, a reflection of its internal divisions and inefficient, British-style parliamentary democracy. In sharp contrast to South Korea’s or China’s still-continuing tirades against Japan over its colonial rampages in the pre-World War II period, India’s relationship with Britain remains free of historical rancor, in spite of the brutality and impoverishment that it suffered under British colonial rule.

Indeed, India embellished or distorted how it won independence in 1947. Indians are still taught in school that their country gained independence through nonviolence.

However, for the first time ever, India’s Republic Day parade this year featured veterans of the Japan-supported Indian National Army (INA), which waged an armed struggle against British colonial rule. Four INA veterans in their 90s rode in a jeep in a parade that, paradoxically, showcased through 22 tableaux the life........

© The Japan Times