When Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone arrives at the White House today, he'll find his steps dogged by the reawakened ghosts of World War II.
Pacing the sidewalks at each of his scheduled stops during the day will be Asian American demonstrators protesting his government's efforts to rewrite recent history in the state-approved textbooks of Japan.
"We will follow him everywhere; we want him to remember," says Dr. Jane Hu of Potomac, the Washington-area chairwoman of the Alliance Against Japanese Distortion of History.
"Think how Jewish people would feel if West German schoolbooks suddenly stopped mentioning the Holocaust," she adds. Japan's war in Asia in the 1930s and 1940s "was like the Holocaust--the attempted destruction of an entire people," she says. "No one should be permitted to forget."
Japanese newspapers evoked an international outcry last summer when they reported that the nation's 1983 history texts would contain sharply revised and tidied-up descriptions of Japan's bloody assault on China and Korea between 1931 and 1945--a period the new textbooks describe as "an advance."
Officials in Peking voiced particular outrage that the books would largely brush aside the notorious "Rape of Nanking" in September 1937, when more than 350,000 civilians were butchered by Japanese soldiers, some of whom competed playfully at beheading the greatest number.
Photographs and newsreels of the time show victims tortured and buried alive. The wholesale atrocities, including the rape of more than 6,000 women, were documented by an unusual number of neutral observers, including the International Red Cross, and triggered worldwide condemnation of Japan.
Japanese officials, fearful of threatened economic reprisals, promised last August to review the controversial textbooks, but said no actual revisions would be possible before 1985.
That is not soon enough for Hu, whose organization--with branches in eight American cities--is filled with those who remember.
"War is always cruel, but this was inhuman," she said. "Japan in particular, with her militarist tradition of the samurai, needs to remember."
Hu looks to be an unlikely causist--a soft-spoken mother of two who reviews health grant applications for the National Insitutes of Health. Born 44 years ago near Langchow, the daughter of a Nationalist Chinese general, she was raised in Taiwan, where she says the memories of the Asian war are still very much alive.
"Most people in the United States have very little knowledge of what went on in World War II in Asia," she says. The European origins of most Americans continue to orient the nation toward Europe, despite three wars in Asia and a mushrooming Asian minority in this country.
The Japanese, on the other hand, maintain an International Society for Education Information, which monitors about 200 American textbooks for "inappropriate" descriptions of Japan and requests changes when necessary.
Hu notes that many Japanese, including journalists, scholars, historians and others in Japan, have voiced comparable outrage at the historical revisionism sponsored by ultraconservatives in the Japanese Ministry of Education. She notes that corrections in textbooks have been made immediately in the past, including those revising maps upon recognition of the People's Republic of China in 1972.