I recently contributed an opinion piece for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s website regarding how access to Barefoot Gen, one of the most important manga ever written about the atomic bombing on Hiroshima and the Pacific War, was restricted in Japanese schools.
You can read the full article here.
The good news is that the restriction has been lifted.
The bad news is that some people seem to have reached some radical and unexpected conclusions from this debate.
For example, the Sankei Shinbun newspaper featured an editorial that claimed that depictions of brutality performed by Japanese soldiers against civilians in China will instill “acceptance for the atomic bombing” within the malleable minds of children, and therefore restricting access was warranted.
True, Barefoot Gen does talk about war crime conducted by Japanese soldiers, however that subject does not come up until the story progresses considerably, as in multiple volumes worth of narrative. Barefoot Gen starts off with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in the first volume. Talk about brutality of the Japanese soldiers does not come up until the war has ended and a lively debate rages well into the turmoil of the post-war debacle of Japan.
Sankei Shinbun’s logic would only hold water if the manga first depicted “evil Japanese soldiers conducting brutal crimes,” followed by American leaders regretfully deciding to drop the bomb on Hiroshima, Japan to stop the carnage in mainland Japan.
I admit. This logic still doesn’t make sense.
The editorial further claims that Barefoot Gen is utilized by teachers in their pacifist agenda, and they are worried that children would be forced to read the manga. This point is completely unrelated to the restrictions that were implemented. Even when the restrictions were in place, teachers could select the books as reading material for children, so this argument is completely beside the point.
At the end, the editorial decry how the books written by authors of a nationalist textbooks were destroyed by certain library workers, and therefore unrestricted access to books must be preserved within a democracy.
You can imagine the expression on my face when I read this passage.
The logic being presented in this editorial could only make sense if you accepted the notion that certain historical and educational prerogatives were somehow just beyond reproach while others were not and therefore does not deserve equal protection. Restricting access to Barefoot Gen is OK because their contents run contrary to your viewpoint, but restricting access to books by nationalists are bad because they agree with you.
The fact is some people have no qualms about restricting free speech because it might instigate debate they wish to avoid. Sankei Shinbun’s editorial reveals how logic can be bent to look like a pretzel in its author’s zeal to push forward their agenda.
Speaking of agendas, deputy prime minister Taro Aso joined into the fray by stating that “Barefoot Gen should not be banned, but there are manga for adults that should be banned.”
Mr. Aso is known for making statements that are, at the very least, rather loaded or worse yet, outright offensive, but he has also shown times when he is rather loose in his train of thought.
Deputy prime minister Aso is known as a fan of many manga, but it appears that he does not really appreciate how all works should be protected equally, and this is exactly the reason why it is dangerous to talk about a work’s worth as a condition for protecting its right to exist.
Freedom of expression is not an earned privilege. Whether or not you agree is not grounds for limiting one’s speech, especially in the case of fiction.