The present issue examines relations between memories of history and international politics. In recent years interpretation of history with political implication (rekishi ninshiki) became a serious subject in matters regarding the past of war and colonial rule between Japan and China/Korea. However, the questions of history and politics is not peculiar to East Asian countries. Similar problems are occurring in many parts of the world as shown by articles in the present issue.
History plays important and in some cases crucial role in domestic politics and international relations. In creating a nation-state a shared understanding of the past is a powerful vehicle to unite people for a common cause. Political actors therefore struggle over the monopoly of national history which is indispensable in gaining legitimacy of the government. However, such a narrative of nation-building is a double-edged sword. It is effective on one hand in maintaining the unity within the domestic community. On the other hand it fosters jingoism and causes frictions between other states. Typical of these are border disputes in which different stories of nation-building provide the confronting states with the basis for territorial claim. In recent years some states contest over registering historical sites and records in UNESCO World Heritage and Memory of the World schemes, thus opening a new battlefront of ‘war of histories’. Official recognition of a specific edition of history by an international organization such as UNESCO has political impact on relations of states concerned.
A shared understanding of history often serves as a framework for post-war and post-colonial settlements. For example Germany and Japan’s re-entry to the western democracies became possible only when the two states accepted critical edition of their past during the Second World War. History may serve politics in such a way, however, with the side effect of bringing about the clash between ‘political correctness’ and academic objectivity and impartiality. Serious academic attempts to reexamine fixed official interpretation of history are therefore often criticized as revisionism.
In an attempt to solve such a ‘war of histories’, bilateral/multilateral joint research projects were promoted by some states. European cases such as German-Polish and Franco-German projects on history studies were successful in forming certain degree of shared views of the past, and resulted in the publication of common school history textbooks. However, similar projects between Japan and China/Korea ended in confusion, widening the gap between different approaches to history by the three countries.
It is expected that articles in the present issue will shed new lights on the question of history and politics.