First it was Russia, now it's Japan. Not content with how they look in the harsh light of history, they have the perfect answer - change the past.

A small group of Japanese revisionists are interested in rewriting historical accounts of World War II. They wish Japan to be portrayed less as an aggressor and more as a victim.Japan's growing economic power in the world market place is helping to spur revisionist thinking. The Japanese are finding it hard to believe that their current prosperity and world power could have come from such an ignominious past.

This desire for change is disturbing, though the concept is not new.

For years, we have witnessed the rewriting of Soviet history to coincide with the prerogatives of the group in power. Stalin and Khrushchev have gone from power to disgrace and it appears Brezhnev will soon follow.

What is disturbing about the Japanese movement is that it involves a democratic country where citizens enjoy relative freedom and openness. There is no ruling class to compel historians to write only what is officially acceptable.

This is not to say that debate over historical questions is to be discouraged. Intellectual review and discussion should be fostered in open forums. But those discussions should focus on the facts and information provided by those who were there.

They should look at the events and circumstances that shaped what happened and give us a better understanding concerning history. This review should not be a medium for justifying events, but rather, a medium for gaining insight and understanding.

No country is without flaw. No country can change what happened. The United States is no exception. In recent history we have Vietnam, the race riots, the killing of college students at Kent State University. Justifying these events would serve little purpose for the future of America. Understanding them can do much to prevent their happening again.

History is like a mirror. When unaltered it reveals a clear and precise picture, complete with blemishes. Altered, it provides a distorted image, one that does little for the truth.

The greatest value of history is the lessons it teaches. Using the events of the past to provide a foundation for the future is the role history should play. But, like any foundation, it is only as good as its weakest point. A foundation built on misinformation, no matter how well intentioned, is destined for failure.