Thursday, July 5, 2007

Pluralistic understanding of history

On July 3, 2007, Fumio KYUMA resigned as defense minister for saying what a majority of American people would agree with: the two A-bombs “could not be helped” as a means to end the war and block Soviet influence over Japan. The Japan Times ran a headline, “Attacks just bid to end war, keep Soviet at bay, or one huge atrocity?” I disagree with the use of “or” here. I believe that the A-bombs were a bid to end the war and keep Soviet away, AND one hideous atrocity. Pluralistic understanding of history is required.

Even in natural science, all claims are merely hypotheses. To borrow a Popperian term, scientific claims are the ones that have only survived the tests of falsifiability. It’s not the case that they are positively proven to be true. They are simply not proven to be false. Therefore, even in science, different claims on the same matter are possible.

Most historical claims are not even falsifiable: they are often interpretations quite compatible with other different interpretations. The above claims concerning the A-bombs are interpretations, not basic facts which are either true or false. It is not inappropriate to have different interpretations at the same time.

Rather, I fear the urge to have one true interpretation. You may have a better interpretation, but not the supreme interpretation. You may have more interpretations, but not the only interpretation.

It is the same with understanding. I fear a “correct understanding of history” by the “Ministry of Truth.”

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