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  • Postwar History Education in Japan and the Germanys: Guilty Lessons
  • Philip Seaton
Postwar History Education in Japan and the Germanys: Guilty Lessons. By Julian Dierkes. London and New York: Routledge, 2010. 224 pages. Hardcover £80.00/$130.00; softcover £24.95/$42.95.

The ways in which both Japanese and Germans remember and narrate the history of World War II have generated a vast literature in recent years. School education and textbooks have attracted particular interest, not only from educationalists but also from scholars of politics, history, and international relations. Despite the burgeoning literature, this stimulating monograph by Julian Dierkes demonstrates that it is still possible to bring much fresh material and analysis into this well-trodden debate.

Dierkes's approach has four primary elements. First, the book offers three case studies: East Germany, (West) Germany, and Japan. This is the order in which they are discussed, reflecting the author's important observation that "East Germany has been left out of most examinations [of comparative Japanese-German education] entirely" (p. 8). By starting with East Germany, Dierkes rectifies this frequent shortcoming of the literature. The introduction of East Germany on page 1 immediately lets readers know that they are going to encounter something a little different in this book.

The second element is a focus on the "educational policy-making regime": "the configuration of actors who are involved in decisions about educational policy, their organizational history and memory, and the locus and status of decision-making within the strategic action field of educational policy-making" (p. 11). Dierkes concludes that three categories of actor "emerged as dominant in the educational policy-making regime": party cadres in East Germany, teachers in West Germany, and bureaucrats in Japan. This reveals some interesting contrasts regarding the extent and nature of continuity between pre- and postwar policy-making elites: there was a "more accentuated break from prewar practices" in East Germany compared to the greater continuity in West German academic and Japanese bureaucratic structures (p. 24). Dierkes's analysis of postwar education facilitates a more varied and nuanced version than previously available of the similarities and differences between the German and Japanese cases.

Third, the book examines other periods of history in addition to World War II, which is undoubtedly where the main rationale for a Germany-Japan comparison lies. This aspect of the study contextualizes World War II history within broader educational practices. Five periods are analyzed: (1) the first mentions of "Japan" and "Germany," which identify the presumed origins of nationhood in ancient history, (2) the Kaga uprising and German Peasant War in the sixteenth century, (3) the foundation of the modern nation-state during the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and establishment of the German Empire in 1871, (4) the 1920s (Taishō democracy and the Weimar Republic), and (5) "the demise of democracy under fascist totalitarianism" (p. 18). Covering these various periods allows some of the broader characteristics of history education to be discussed before the analysis moves to the emotive and often controversial topic of World War II history. The result is that the war can be examined in a calmer, more nuanced light than is the case in many of the studies that plunge straight into the maelstrom of war responsibility debates. This is a welcome and successful strategy.

The fourth element in Dierkes's approach is his linking of the explicitly stated educational policy outlined in curricula to the content of various textbooks. Dierkes has done significant [End Page 195] original surveys of a wide range of textbooks (listed in Appendix B) covering the 1950s to the 2000s. The breadth and depth of this empirical work is a great strength of the book.

In many ways, the earlier periods under examination (ancient history, sixteenth century, mid-nineteenth century, and the 1920s) serve as a prelude to the discussion of World War II. Renditions of war history also demonstrated the greatest differences in representations over time. Some of Dierkes's key findings are as follows:

In East Germany, the "nation-state was defined as an anti-fascist state from the outset, and thus denied all responsibility for atrocities committed" (p. 58). It was not until later textbooks that...