Sunday, September 12, 2010

Being Politically Correct: What should we do as historians?

Ol' Myrt here has always been taught to transcribe a document word-for-word, so as not to interject one's own translations or interpretation of the text. There is always the danger of removing the text from historical context.

Now I'm working on a project to transcribe the letters, photo labels and other memorabilia collected by my friend Elsie concerning her WWII Red Cross service and civilian employee of the Army during the Korean Conflict. The point of the Elsie Says... blog, is to transcribe her numerous letters and post accompanying photos in preparation of an upcoming book, thereby preserving her eye-witness reports of life during that time period. 

But a problem has come up.

I received a Facebook e-mail from Hazel who writes "I was reading the section concerning the day she saw Tojo. In the spot she talks of a Warrant Officer who was a Jap prisoner. A few years ago, and probably a lot of years ago, it was generally agreed that the word "Jap" would not be used, rather "Japanese" would be used. Doesn't really bother me, but I thought some may take offense. You may have already even mentioned something about staying true to her notes and I missed it. Just a thought. My husband's uncle was on Baatan, so I know about the cruelty. Great thing you are doing with Elsie. I have been a fan for years."

Now in the several days since I received this email, I've been debating this back and forth in my own mind. (Yes, I had considered it before I posted Elsie Says... I remember seeing Tojo.)

Should I in fact edit every one of Elsie's comments for political correctness?

I know my friend Elsie -- she isn't a bigot. She is kind, and considerate, and loving. Whenever Elsie and I spoke in the past of her experiences, she clearly made distinctions between people who undertook inappropriate military activities and the individual citizens of the countries she visited. Remember, Elsie lived in the US, England, France (where she had German prisoners of war working in her office under her direction), Japan and Korea. Indeed Elsie enjoyed the cultural differences, and indeed even applauded these differences. But she didn't show hatred or blind prejudice.

It would be easy enough to type Japanese instead of "Jap", but wouldn't that also overly stress the use of now politically incorrect word?

Mr. Myrt suggests Jap[anese]  or J**

Am I less sensitive to prejudicial remarks against Japanese than I am to other ethnic groups? I certainly hope not!

I am perplexed, and ask my DearREADERS what you think. Be sure to post your comments following the web version of this blog entry.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.