Friday, 11 July 2014

Shigeru Mizuki's art of war


My eldest is going through junior high school in Japan and I was happy to hear she was studying aspects of the Second World War. As far as I can tell from her textbook (and I could well be missing something) those aspects are the Nazis and the Holocaust, and that's about it.

To be fair, there was no room on the double page spread covering the war to refer to any part Japan had to play in it, I suppose talking about genocide in Germany is distressing enough for 12-year-olds without bringing up Japan's less than auspicious past in Nanking or its own mini-genocide inflicted on the Chinese by Unit 731. Much easier to start with the Nazis and Anne Frank and all that. The trouble is, I doubt it will develop into much more introspection, which would be fascinating, if not to my daughter, then at least to her old man.


So I don't look to Japan's schools to learn much about the war. That's what comic books are for.

I enjoyed the English translation of the first instalment of Shigeru Mizuki's Showa manga covering 1926-1939, which I reviewed here, so I just had to get the second (covering 1939-1944). You might quibble that a manga can only skirt the surface of such a momentous time, and yeah, it does at times feel like a school history textbook, jam-packed with just enough facts to tell the story of The Key Events of the war. The Bataan Death March receives little more than two frames (and an aside from Mizuki that as horrific as it was, the death toll was as much to do with the heat and general Japanese unpreparedness to deal with POWs as anything particularly evil. And "Comfort Women" sexual slavery receives just a fleeting reference, one page I've taken the liberty of scanning in here:


But don't get me wrong, Mizuki is no revisionist. He's relaying the war through his experiences. He has undisguised contempt for the architects of war and has no time for jingoism. He's just trying to explain what happened, point to where it all went wrong, and get the hell out of the firing line.

Pulp the textbooks and replace them with Mizuki's manga. We might all learn something then.

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