John Menadue. Patriots and scoundrels.

Feb 24, 2014

Samuel Johnson in 1775 said that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’. That brings to mind the “patriotic” politics that both PM Abbott and the PM of Japan, Shinzo Abe, are playing. In this Tony Abbott will find more confirmation that “Japan is Australia’s best friend in Asia”, a term that irritates the Chinese.

I am sure that Samuel Johnson was referring to false patriotism, but that is just what Tony Abbott and Shinzo Abe are appealing to in trying to reshape education and public broadcasting in both countries.

Teaching children patriotism

In October last year, Shinzo Abe’s education minister ordered the school board in Taketomi in Okinawa to use a text book that the school board has previously rejected. The school board refused because it included a nationalistic view of WWII history, particularly denial of the Nanjing massacre and comfort women. This order by the Abe Government was the first such order by a national government. It was not surprising that it was rejected in Okinawa which suffered enormously in WWII and continues to hold strong anti-war sentiments.

Then in December last year, a carefully and politically appointed government committee suggested a change to more ‘patriotic teaching’ in Japan by putting local mayors in charge of their local school districts. Many people believe that this would increase political interference in text books and teaching.

Shinzo Abe has long attempted to force Japan’s education system to be more patriotic. The word that he and his colleagues use is ‘balance’.

The view of the Japanese people is clearly against giving more authority to local boards of education and to local Mayors. According to an Asahi poll published on February 18 this year, 59% of Japanese preferred a ‘system that is not dictated’ by local political leaders”. The Japanese people are clearly wary about ‘patriotic education’. Despite the clear view of the Japanese people, Shinzo Abe is continuing his cultural war.

In Australia, Tony Abbott’s education minister, Christopher Pyne, is on the same track as the Japanese Government in promoting patriotic education. Christopher Pyne has appointed a politically biased curriculum review committee which is clearly designed to shape Australian education in ways that the Coalition Government wishes. Christopher Pyne says

  • Our schools curriculum should have ‘a greater focus on the benefits of Western civilisation’.
  • He wants the curriculum to ‘celebrate Australia’.
  • He would like to see ‘more of a focus on Anzac Day (he would presumably like us to ignore the frontier wars in which  30,000 indigenous  Australians were killed and the fact that Australians and New Zealanders did not first fight at Gallipoli, but in the Maori Wars in New Zealand in the 1850s and 1860s).

In the name of ‘balance’ Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne are waging their cultural war in education in favour of a false patriotism in the same way that Shinzo Abe is doing in Japan.

Public Broadcasting

Tony Abbott is also following in the footsteps of Shinzo Abe in his attacks on our own public broadcaster, the ABC.

In my blog of February 12 this year, I pointed out how Shinzo Abe has stacked the board of NHK, Japan’s esteemed public broadcaster. PM Abe has just appointed five new members out of twelve to the NHK board. The new managing director of NHK, Katsuto Momii, and another board member, Naoki Hyakuta, have spelled out the way that NHK should pursue a more patriotic agenda. They have separately

  • Endorsed Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine.
  • Described the Tokyo War Crimes Trials as designed to fool the Japanese people.
  • The recruitment of comfort women was not peculiar to Japan.
  • The Nanjing massacre was a fiction.

Not content with the drooling support of the entire Murdoch media, Tony Abbott complains about our public broadcaster, the ABC. He has said the ABC.

  •  Was ‘unpatriotic’ in the news coverage of the Snowden leaks.
  •  ‘Lacks affection’ for the home team.
  • ‘Instinctively, it takes everyone’s side but not Australia’s’.

Tony Abbott has not yet had a chance to stack the ABC board but it is only a matter of time. Shinzo Abe has shown him how to do it.

The public broadcasters in Japan and Australia are greatly admired for their professionalism and independence. The latest Nielsen Poll (17 February 2014) reveals that 59% of Australians do not believe that the ABC is biased. 67% felt that the ABC provided more balanced news and current affairs than commercial TV. Only 15% trusted commercial TV ahead of the ABC. Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph is the least trusted metropolitan newspaper in the country.

The cultural warriors Shinzo Abe and Tony Abbott are on a unity ticket to try and force more patriotism from our education systems and public broadcasting.

Neither PM is showing a sense of realism or integrity. They tell those close to them that they are right and much better than the rest of us. They are suggesting that they are patriotic and their opponents are not. They hold to a false and dangerous view of what it is to be a patriot.

I have one qualification to the above.  I am less concerned about the swing to the right in Australia with its false patriotism baggage than I am about what I see stirring in Japan. In earlier decades the nationalist right was a silly and really harmless fringe parading around Japanese cities in grey vans with loud speakers. The patriotic and nationalist right is now occupying the centre of Japanese political life. The mood is changing after almost two decades of economic stagnation and frustration and now the rise of China. Shinzo Abe is facilitating this upsurge of patriotism and ultra-nationalism. There is a history he is drawing on, a history that brought tragedy to so many, including the Japanese people.

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