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Japan encounters fresh flak in battle over its textbook accounts of WW II

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World War II may have ended more than 40 years ago, but some of its battles are still being fought. In Austria, the war became an election issue. In Japan, the writing of history textbooks has become a political issue of some import.

The latest skirmish in the battle here has become both a front-page story and a diplomatic issue between Japan and its Asian neighbors, particularly China and South Korea. Those countries have protested the government's initial approval of a high school history textbook compiled by a right-wing group. The book, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a official note, ``grossly distorts the history of the Sino-Japanese war.''

The Chinese have accused Japan's Education Ministry of failing to honor a 1982 promise ``to seriously self-examine the great harm Japan inflicted upon the Chinese people during the 1937-1945 war.'' That promise was needed to resolve the diplomatic furor that arose over ministry-ordered changes in the wording of previous history texts that toned down references to atrocities committed by the Japanese military during World War II.

The Chinese have particularly protested the textbook's account of the Nanjing massacre of 1937, one of the most famous incidents of Japanese wartime outrages. The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal estimated that about 142,000 Chinese were killed during the incident. Japanese right-wing historians claim that no ``massacre'' ever took place, and the contested textbook says only that ``research has been continuing'' on those events.

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