Henry Scott Stokes: A Look at the Foreign Press’s Treatment of an Original Thinker Among Them

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On April 19, 2020, Harry Sugiyama, the son of Henry Scott-Stokes, announced the death of his father, a British journalist who had served as Tokyo bureau chief for the Financial Times, The Times of London, and the New York Times.

Two of the foreign newspapers that Henry Scott Stokes had served published obituaries. They and other media reporting his death have also managed to expose the depth of their own biases against original research and thought.

The Times of London

The temperature of London titled his obituary, “Predominantly English journalist in Japan who reported for The Times and sparked controversy over the Nanjing Massacre”. This is a reference to a 2014 three-line flap in a Japanese-language book published under his name, but actually written by Hiroyuki Fujita from 170 hours of interviews conducted after Stokes was already seriously ill.

As stated in The temperature obituary, these three sentences read as follows:

“It is clear that the so-called ‘Nanjing Massacre’ did not take place. As a historical fact, the “Nanjing Massacre” did not take place. It was propaganda fabricated by the (Chinese Nationalist) Kuomintang government”.

Stokes initially repudiated these sentences, but within days he issued a statement through his publisher saying that the passage in question in fact reflected his views. His key point was that the term massacre was inappropriate and that the number of victims had been inflated by both Chinese nationalists and Chinese communists for propaganda purposes.

The fact that this has been done and continues to be done is well documented, but is not noted in The temperature obituary. Henry Scott Stokes ran the paper’s Tokyo bureau from 1968 to 1970.

Distorted labels

The temperature The obituary then called Henry Scott Stokes “certainly sympathetic to right-wing Japanese nationalists”, complaining that “he argued that the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal (IMTFE) established in 1946 represented ‘victors’ justice’.

I can’t say where Scott Stokes picked up the idea that the IMTFE was “victors’ justice”, but a likely source is Richard Minear, Victors’ Justice: The Tokyo War Crimes Trial (Princeton University Press, 1971).

The idea that the IMTFE was “victors’ justice” is not inherently a right-wing view of Japanese history. Richard Minear was well to the left of the American political spectrum. In fact, it was left-leaning American and British academics who criticized the IMTFE not only for being “victor’s justice” but also for ignoring basic tenets of US, UK and EU law.

The use of “right” by The temperature is also questionable, given that it is part of the News Corp empire controlled by Rupert Murdoch, a notoriously right-wing publisher. Fox News in the United States is also controlled by Murdoch.

Fox News has been the platform for Tucker Carlson, one of several Fox News pundits who appear to have endorsed the “Replacement Theory,” an openly racist, white triumphalist concept that was part of the “manifesto” published online by the suspect in a Buffalo, New York, shooting that left ten people dead, eight of them black.

Critics praising the triumphalist narrative

Labeling anyone with an unawakened or extreme left-wing view of Japanese history as right-wing is a common way for foreign and Japanese writers to dismiss views that are not in accord with their own. The term right is used much more than the term left in the context of Japanese history. This suggests that those who use the term right view their own view of history as orthodoxy and anything else as heterodox.

In this case, however, it is more likely that Henry Scott Stokes’ tarring validates the triumphalist narrative of the Allied Powers. Scott Stokes was also very critical of British imperialism, especially in India.

Scott Stokes quotes Radhabinod Pal (1886-1967), a Bengali man who was intimately familiar with British imperialism in India and dissenting justice at the Tokyo war crimes trial, in his critique of the white triumphalist narrative.

Richard Lloyd Parry, successor to Scott Stokes as The temperature correspondent in Japan endorsed the white triumphalist narrative in an article titled “British military rugby team visits war criminals sanctuary in Japan” published on September 18, 2019. My comment on this article was published in JAPAN Before.

The New York Times logo on the company building in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The New York Times

Henry Scott Stokes served as Tokyo Bureau Chief The New York Times from 1978 to 1983.

Something of the same is to be seen in a Sam Roberts obituary in this article. He describes the book containing the three controversial sentences as “adopted by right-wing apologists for the atrocities committed by the Japanese military during World War II.”

Roberts, however, goes on to point out that Henry Scott Stokes also characterized the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as “”war crimes of such magnitude that the alleged crimes of the Japanese in this war appear absolutely minor”.

Additionally, he quotes Bradley K. Martin, a former journalist from The Wall Street Journal and Asia timefor his take on Scott Stokes: “I came to appreciate his willingness to rethink his own position if he concluded he had been wrong, and to try to make amends.”

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (logo)

Comments from other obituaries

Anthony Rowley, correspondent for South China Morning Post, featured a more nuanced image of Henry Scott Stokes, emphasizing his personality. “He was entertaining and friendly, which made him an asset to life at FCCJ [Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan].”

As with other obituaries, Rowley noted the very popular and well-regarded The Life and Death of Mishima Yukio (1985). But he also noted that Scott Stokes supported the pro-democracy movement in Korea and co-wrote a book, The Kwangju Uprising (1980). The volume documented the massacre of civilians and police under the control of Chun Doo-hwan, a dictator who had come to power by leading a coup against former dictator Park Chung-hee.

Similarly, Rowley cites Harry Sugiyama for his sincere appreciation of his “fantastic” father, something that is very strong in statements in Japanese. He even mentions an appearance on the NHK television series “Heart Net” which discusses the impact of prolonged mental and physical disability on sufferers and their families. Scott Stokes suffered from Parkinson’s disease, according to multiple reports.

Meet Scott Stokes through his work

I regret not having met Henry Scott Stokes. Even as a resident of Japan since 1997, and as someone studying and teaching about foreign media coverage of Japan, FCCJ is not my kind of place. When I attend press conferences there, I have the impression of being in a time shift where the news of the day is the arrest of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka for corruption (1976) or even 1946.

Some of its members still today reflect the triumphalist mentality of the Allied Powers and the American occupation of Japan criticized by Henry Scott Stokes.

In recent weeks, he has provided a platform for white saviors such as Robert Whiting and Jake Adelstein. The latter would criticize Japan because he loves Japan, criticism that he does only in English with articles such as “Japan’s Nasty Nazi-ish Elections” and “Japan: Shinzo Abe’s Government Has a Thing About Hitler.” He loves it.

Instead of meeting Scott Stokes, I started reading his biography of Mishima. He at least kept his word when it came to his criticism of Japan rather than monetizing it like our white saviors do.

RELATED: OBITUARY | Someone who really understood Japan: Henry Scott-Stokes

Author: Earl H. Kinmonth

Find more stories about Tokyo and its surroundings by Dr. Kinmonth on this link.

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