Dark Pasts

Dark Pasts

Changing the State's Story in Turkey and Japan

Over the past two decades, many states have heard demands that they recognize and apologize for historic wrongs. Such calls have not elicited uniform or predictable responses. While some states have apologized for past crimes, others continue to silence, deny, and relativize dark pasts. What explains the tremendous variation in how states deal with past crimes? When and why do states change the stories they tell about their dark pasts.

Dark Pasts argues that international pressures increase the likelihood of change in official narratives about dark pasts, but domestic considerations determine the content of such change. Rather than simply changing with the passage of time, persistence, or rightness, official narratives of dark pasts are shaped by interactions between political factors at the domestic and international levels. Unpacking the complex processes through which international pressures and domestic dynamics shape states’ narratives, Jennifer M. Dixon analyzes the trajectories over the past sixty years of Turkey’s narrative of the 1915–17 Armenian Genocide and Japan’s narrative of the 1937–38 Nanjing Massacre. While both states’ narratives started from similar positions of silencing, relativizing, and denial, Japan has come to express regret and apologize for the Nanjing Massacre, while Turkey has continued to reject official wrongdoing and deny the genocidal nature of the violence.

Combining historical richness and analytical rigor, Dark Pasts unravels the complex processes through which such narratives are constructed and contested, and offers an innovative way to analyze narrative change. Her book sheds light on the persistent presence of the past and reveals how domestic politics functions as a filter that shapes the ways in which states’ narratives change—or do not—over time.