Sunday, August 07, 2005

WWII, the Japanese, the Chinese

I had a conversation with my mom about the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She insisted that the Japanese must never forget the atrocities they visited upon the Chinese. I agreed, but said that it was also dangerous to generalize.

The Holocaust was performed by the Nazis, as differentiated from the Germans, but the Japanese are just the Japanese. I don't believe the Japanese of today are the Japanese of yesteryear, but then again, I'm no historian. I'm told they have done this kind of stuff time and again.

On the other hand... It seems like the Germans have a pretty hard line against all things Nazi. A friend of mine went to Germany and found it a very nice place. So nice, in fact, that he asked a passing German where all the ghettoes were. In Germany, this means something completely different. The German in question looked flustered and said, "We don't have that kind of thing anymore!" So the question, then, is "Are the Japanese embarassed by their transgressions?" Are they contrite?

It seems like every year I hear about the Chinese demanding an apology from the Japanese, and I seem to recall that they do. Like, the Americans with Pearl Harbor.

Of course they lost the war, but they moved on and created one of the world's major economies. Japan's a large source of artistic creativity. They're emulated just as often as they're mocked, if not more so. Everyone knows and admires their technology. Japan as a nation moved on, which is why the Japanese of today aren't the Japanese of yesteryear.

I have a feeling that a lot of Chinese people look to the past and remember their country's former glory as well as its injuries. Not just those directly touched by the war, but current generations.


A relevant article.


Heather said...

For an interesting analysis of Japanese racism, I highly recommend John Dower's "War Without Mercy." He writes quite well and it's a good read. The prevalence of racism in Japan is something relatively unknown because the actions of Nazi Germany have overshadowed racism in other countries.

And I have to agree with your mom - the Japanese atrocities against the Chinese must not be forgotten. At the same time, will there ever be a time when the apologies can stop?

Gabe said...

Eventually they will stop, whether the Chinese want them to or not. I think the Chinese will continue to want them, but the Japanese will no longer be the people who did /those/ things. Whether they will do things like that or think that way is another matter I suppose.

I've heard about the racism of Japanese people, but I'm guessing it's mainly toward other Asians. I might have to give that a read... Or maybe I'll look for a synposis :)

Deals On Wheels said...

Don't forget about Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Maybe it is different for them, somehow (seeing as though they were "content" with only murdering their own people).

Mass murder is fascinating (at least from an academic standpoint). I mean, there is NO way you can ever get your mind around the figures. Mao killed 40 million people (a conservative estimate). Stalin killed 27 million (yet another conservative estimate).

It is something that can be rationalized, but not really understood (at least not emotionally). Like the Holocaust, for example. Who can imagine 8 million people? 8 million faces? 8 million dead? You can only rationalize the 8 million, recognize the gravity of the lives lost and condemn the act. Because, on an individual level, it is just too much for our minds to begin to conceive.

Of course, the second that the apologies stop, we run the risk of people forgetting. And that is dangerous.

However, we also need to recognize that incidents of genocide (based in racism or otherwise) continue even today. Not doing something – and ignoring the problem or waiting for it to go away – is also dangerous.

Similarly, genocide, mass murder and racism are everyone’s problem because incidents of each appear in every country’s past.

Take America, for example, we slaughtered the Native Americans, interned the Japanese and suppressed individuals because of their race, sex, creed – whatever.

I guess, in the end, it is all about perspective. Of course, if you’re alive today, chances are that you had absolutely nothing to do with the institution of slavery in the United States. But it is still part of your nation’s past (even if it is not part of yours). Yes, people should learn to "forgive" the past(and by "forgive", I really mean "understand"), but they should never forget it. We should not judge the past by today’s standards, because it skews what really happened and why. However, without casting judgment, it is still possible to maintain a dialogue about the past. Dialogue keeps people thinking about the past. In thinking about the past, we remember it. By remembering the past, we can hopefully keep things – like slavery or mass murder – from happening again.

That is how I think about it, at least. But, then again, I am not Chinese or German.

Interesting topic. Very deep and thoughtful. Much different then the things I normally write about on my BLOG.

Gabe said...

You're absolutely right. I won't forget (I don't know that much anyway), but I also have a hard time finding interest in history. Yes, I know it's important.

You bring up a good point that genocide and subjugation are part of everyone's history. Perhaps, it can give me a little insight into the mindset of others by looking at myself.

When it comes to things like American slavery and the slaughter of Native Americans, I certainly don't think of myself as an American who did that. My family only came to this country starting with my parents. So I find myself looking on such acts as distant and archaic; Past America's foibles. And so, I think current and future generations might look back at the deeds of their ancestors and find them archaic... BUT that would require a proper education of their nation's history. That might be too much to hope for.

Slavery reparations is clearly an example of a people mired in the injuries of the past. Who are they demanding money from? Why are they worthy of restitution? If they get it from the government, they're getting it from me, too! I certainly didn't do anything to them, past or present.