Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective, is a history text published by American publisher McGraw Hill. It contains grossly exaggerated accounts of World War II history, specifically on the hotly contested comfort women issue and the Nanjing Massacre.
Inexplicably, it allows the work of authors who won't reveal their sources to stand. That is despite information demonstrating the lack of foundation for their claims. One co-author, Dr Herbert Ziegler, refuses to even engage in an academic discussion of the basis for his claims.
How the History Problem Began
China, North and South Korea, and even the West had their way with Japan during the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s concerning the perception of history. In the West, the WWII generation was still in a position of power. Disinterested in evidentiary records, it would not broach a narrative in which the Asia-Pacific War was anything other than good versus evil.
The People's Republic of China promoted a figure of 300,000 massacred at Nanjing. And despite contemporary evidence, the number was uncritically embraced. Comfort stations set up for Japan were portrayed as a program of forced abduction and rape. Proponents of this revisionist history claimed Japan was a nation of historical denial. "Japanese historian" was considered to be a contradiction in terms.
A turning point came in 2014 when the accumulation of factual evidence became overwhelming. Stories relied on for these harshly critical claims against Japan were fiction, not fact. As a result, a Japanese newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun apologized and recanted its decades-long championing of Seiji Yoshida's stories. He was a Japanese con man who falsely claimed to have forcibly recruited Korean women and girls into the comfort women program on the island of Jeju.
Yoshida's claims were comprehensibly debunked as early as the late 1980s. However, that mattered not. Even after Asahi withdrew their stories, Yoshida's allegations were embraced by the South Korean government, the United Nations, and the authors used by McGraw Hill. The forced recruitment of Korean women became an accepted narrative.
The mea culpa of the Asahi Shimbun, however, appeared to energize the Japanese Foreign Ministry. It finally began to challenge Yoshida's and other blatantly inaccurate portrayals of Japan's wartime history.
Reluctant to Talk
One target that quickly came to light was the interpretation of Japanese history being fed to students in America and abroad. The vehicle for the false narrative was the McGraw Hill textbook, Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective. It taught the debunked and recanted historical narratives about the comfort woman and the Nanjing Massacre as if they were facts.
The textbook was authored by two University of Hawaii professors, Dr Herbert Ziegler and Dr Jerry Bentley. It was first published in 1999. Dr Ziegler is now retired and Dr Bentley is deceased.
On the subject of the comfort women, Traditions & Encounters asserted that "up to 300,000" women and girls "aged fourteen to twenty" were "forcibly conscripted, recruited or dragooned," "80 percent" of whom were Korean. The women were "a gift from the Emperor," the textbook taught. And at war's end, "large numbers were massacred to cover up the operation." It skipped mention of evidence that contradicted its storyline.
Concerning the Nanjing Massacre, the textbook opted for a total of 400,000, a figure that even exceeds the 300,000 which is claimed by the Chinese Communist Party. None of these claims are supported by any available evidence.
Contacting the Textbook's Author
On November 10 and 13, 2014, officials of the Hawaii consulate of the Embassy of Japan contacted Dr Herbert Ziegler at the University of Hawaii and requested a meeting. Ziegler responded by email on November 14. Instead of agreeing to a meeting himself, he referred the consulate to the vice president of corporate communications at the publisher McGraw Hill. Later the same day, November 14, the Japanese consul emailed Dr Ziegler again with their request. Ziegler never responded to this email.
An Academic Intermediary
Seeking a way forward, a Japanese consular official discussed the matter with a University of Hawaii lecturer in Asia-related studies who otherwise wishes to remain anonymous. I will refer to the woman simply as "the lecturer".
The lecturer first became known to the consulate early in 2014. At the time, a Japanese Consular official fluent in Chinese visited the University of Hawaii Center for Chinese Studies. That was when the lecturer met the consular officer. Subsequently, she was introduced to another member of the consular staff who was at the forefront of the effort to reach out to Dr Ziegler about the history dispute. They also informally discussed other issues of concern to the Japanese community in Hawaii on a couple of occasions during 2014.
Earlier in November, the lecturer had seen a Sankei Shimbun online article on the McGraw Hill textbook controversy. She was surprised that the textbook was authored by professors of the University of Hawaii. She was concerned that it contained inaccurate and exaggerated descriptions of the comfort women issue. When the consulate contacted her concerning the McGraw Hill dispute, she agreed to assist. She and the consular official then planned a visit to Dr Ziegler during his office hours on November 18, 2014.
"Office Hours" is time set aside during a lecturer or professor's work week when their office door is open and they make themselves available for visitors. As a faculty member of the University, the lecturer had every right to enter Ziegler's office during that time. And the right to discuss any relevant subject that was on her mind. No invitation or notification was required. Nonetheless, the consul advised Ziegler in advance that they would pay him a visit.
Ziegler provides his own take on the encounter in an article in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. The article is titled "Japanese Government Pressures American Publisher to Delete Textbook Treatment of Wartime Sexual Slavery: An Interview with Herbert Ziegler." In the March 9, 2015 article, he claims he received an email from the consular officer. It said, "Well, New York is New York, Honolulu is Honolulu, and I need to see you in person". He admits that he "didn't reply right away".
The full text of the email, provided by the lecturer to this author, reads:
Dear Dr. Ziegler!
I hope you are well
Thank you for your e-mail, but I think that New York is New York, Hawaii is Hawaii. The issue we have in Hawaii is quite different in New York. Therefore we have to hold a meeting under [a] calm and friendly atmosphere.
Anyway today I will be at your office around 12:00.
I look forward to seeing you very soon.
Ziegler asserts that "Next thing you know….In pops the consul and an interpreter. They literally pulled up chairs and sat down."
Visitors Announced and Expected
On the other hand, the lecturer contends that Ziegler "didn't look too surprised." Moreover, he "actually invited us in." Indeed, aware that they were coming, he had no reason to feel or do otherwise.
In the March 2015 interview article, Ziegler alleges that the Japanese official went into "lecture mode." The lecturer does not refute that the situation could have been handled better. On reflection, she wondered whether it might have been preferable if she had met with Ziegler first. That is before a joint meeting with the consul was arranged.
In any event, after the consul had had his say, she turned to Ziegler. Very simply, she asked him what his sources had been for the McGraw Hill textbook. He did not reply. She asked him again. He declined once more.
Interpreter, Woman and Spy
Ziegler was entirely disingenuous when he stated in the interview article that he was visited by "the consul and an interpreter." Later in the article, he refers to them as a "guy in a suit and a woman."
The lecturer had previously worked for Ziegler as a TA (teaching assistant). She states that he did not appear to immediately recognize her. But on the following day, she sent him an email thanking him for the meeting. At that point, it would certainly have been clear to Ziegler that the request for sources had come from a University of Hawaii academic. There could not have been any ambiguity.
It is even more extraordinary and bizarre that he would also characterize the lecturer as a spy. In the interview he says, "I mentioned earlier about the woman who came as the Consul's interpreter." He goes on: "I remember some time ago that she came to my office." And "she asked if she could go through my collection of world history books. "And now, with hindsight, I'm thinking, she was on a spying mission."
A Meeting As Expected
According to the lecturer, the event Ziegler was referring to occurred "several years before 2014." At the time, she visited Ziegler's office and "borrowed several textbooks, including a copy of Traditions and Encounters" for a project that compared "accounts of Korea (not Japan)" in United States textbooks.
In our interview, she expressed her disappointment that Ziegler chose to criticize her "in the public forum" rather than express his "complaint face-to-face." She reiterates that at the time of the interview, her status as a faculty member of the university was clear to him. It was also clear in her follow-up emails to which he chose not to reply.
The lecturer has not heard from nor attempted to communicate with Dr Herbert Ziegler since January 2015.
A German History Specialist
Dr Herbert Ziegler claimed he did not write the offending paragraphs. He also said he knew very little about the Nanjing and comfort women controversies. "I'm not a specialist in East Asian history," he stated in the Asia-Pacific Journal interview.
"I'm largely a scholar of German history," he added. He then said, "It didn't matter what argument I might have made that would have convinced them otherwise. It was clearly a one-sided conversation." However, Ziegler also said he was not familiar with the subject matter. Therefore, there was little else that he could have said.
Nonetheless, he did feel confident enough in his knowledge of East Asian history to state in the interview that the "Germans have come to terms with the ugly parts of their past, the Japanese never have". The youth of "Japan grow up without knowing half the time what went on in the Second World War", he confidently avowed.
A few months later, the lecturer received a phone call from a reporter who worked at the student newspaper on campus. The student reporter was seeking details of the November 18 meeting. When the lecturer said that her question to Dr Ziegler related to the verification of his assertions, the reporter concluded the conversation. The lecturer is not aware of an article concerning the meeting having appeared in the student newspaper.
Looking for Academic Honesty
It is understandable that Dr Herbert Ziegler may have been unhappy after the November 18, 2014 meeting. There is a sense of exuberance contained within the emails from the consulate to Dr Ziegler that he may not have reasonably appreciated. This was likely influenced by the frustrations of the previous twenty years followed by the Asahi Shimbun's admission and apology for printing the falsehoods peddled by Seiji Yoshida. That was accompanied by the removal of the articles from its database.
Dr Ziegler might have maintained his silence for a month to assess the revelations that tainted the underlying declarations of the McGraw Hill chapters. However, eventually, he needed to deal with the academic question of his sources. This was the question raised by the lecturer, as well as other academics who subsequently contacted him. It is accepted practice in the mode of one academic to another.
Ziegler's right to silence ended when he was asked for his sources by the lecturer, a fellow academic, and a peer. Instead, he went to ground.
A Meeting During Office Hours
Prominent members of the America Historical Association subsequently entered the fray to provide an institutional buttress for Ziegler and McGraw Hill. To this day, its members routinely recite the false narrative that a Japanese consul barged into the office of Dr Ziegler and proceeded to demand that he withdraw the passages on the comfort women and the Nanjing Massacre.
The involvement and claims of the American Historical Association are matters for another day. For the present, it is time to dispense with the mantra that the visit to Dr Ziegler was inappropriate and unannounced.
The meeting of November 18, 2014, occurred during office hours. Dr Ziegler was advised that the consul would be coming and the time at which he would arrive. The consul was accompanied, not by "an interpreter" or simply a "woman." And he was not accompanied by a spy. Rather, he was escorted by a faculty member of the University.
Dr Ziegler was asked to provide his sources by an academic, a peer. He refused and has maintained his silence ever since. Nine years later, American youth continue to be taught false accounts of the Nanjing Massacre and comfort women within Traditions and Encounters that its surviving author will not correct or defend.
- Opening the Comfort Women Issue to Free Debate Rooted in Historical Documents
- Why the West Would Rather Push the Fiction of 300,000 Massacred in Nanjing
- How a Class Debate on Comfort Women Turned into a Big South Korean Witch Hunt
- INTERVIEW | Kim Byungheon on How History Distortion is Wrecking Japan-South Korea Relations
Author: Paul de Vries
Find other reviews and articles by the author on Asia Pacific history on JAPAN Forward.