Don’t Repeat History


esterday, I mentioned that some may have been unaware of 9066. This is, of course, my interpretation of the comments, and is in no way a reflection of the “truth.” Besides, if there are those who are unaware, it is simply a reflection of the educational system. Modern history is not taught in depth in middle and high school. Even those who go to college will not likely learn of it unless they take a course in modern American history, or have a great interest in ethnic studies. This shouldn’t be surprising because anyone, any country would try to focus on the good things, not the bad. And Executive Order 9066 was bad.

Japan has its own skeletons in its closet, as KENSHIR0 pointed out yesterday:

Visit KENSHIR0's Xanga Site!I’m very aware of the event; I’m surprised someone actually said they didn’t know it happened. “Those that forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” (I think that’s the proper wording for the famous saying…) What are your thoughts on how Japan refuses to acknowledge that the Rape of Nanking ever happened?

My opinion is that Japan is a relatively conservative, right wing country–it gets along very well with our Republican presidents. And as a conservative country, it too focuses on the good of the country and not the bad. And the Rape of Nanking was very bad. Incredibly bad. But Japan’s official stance just goes to show my point of how memory is selective and very subjective. The Japanese have never denied attacking Nanking. I think their position is mostly a matter of interpretation. When a soldier is in the midst of a war, a campaign, a battle, how much of his actions can be associated with criminal activity–such as rape and looting–and how much to a war time mentality–the victor’s spoils–or to military activity, to ensure supremacy of the area, a brutal way to show them “who’s the boss.”

Of course, my position is pretty clear. I think what Japan did was horrific. There are many first hand accounts of the rape of women and girls by these out-of-control soldiers. Just as atrocious were the massacres of tens of thousands of people. I saw a newspaper article from back then that glorified two officers who were literally competing to see who could behead the most Chinese. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it. These are the men who are descendents of a beautiful literary and artistic tradition? I think it is shameful that Japan does not admit any wrong doing for what it did to these people, virtually all civilians.

I wonder if Japan takes its lead from the U.S. Two atomic bombs dropped in the name of war were pretty horrific–since my mom was in Hiroshima that fateful day, my opinion is pretty one-sided. However, the U.S. has never acknowledged any wrong doing and will never apologize for killing tens of thousands of civilians in the blink of an eye. This was their way to show Japan who’s their daddy, and Japan surrendered. Should the U.S. apologize? You tell me. But I’d lay even money that if the U.S ever apologized, the Japanese would eventually follow suit. This, of course, is a personal opinion, and you should not take it as the opinion of an expert. I am not a specialist on Japanese policy. I’m just the literature guy.

In any event, when I teach things about Japan in class, I never sugar coat anything. In my advanced reading course, I have had students read articles on Nanking and the colonization of Korea. While most students are aware of this already–most students in 4th year Japanese already know quite a bit about Japan–it is always good to read about it in the original Japanese. Reading quotes from soldiers who were in Nanking, saying things like, “We’d shoot anything that moved. Bang and they’d crumple” without any sign of remorse, is pretty eye-opening, to say the least.

But as my studnets mostly realize, these were the actions of a limited number of people from a different time in history. To judge Japan now as a whole for the actions of these luniatics from 70 years ago would be ludicrous, just as it would be ludicrous to blame all Americans for dropping the A-bomb, or all Germans for the Holocaust. It is, however, the responsibility of all of us, perpretrators and victims alike–Japanese, Americans, Germans, Chinese, Koreans–to never forget the past. To paraphrase KENSHIR0, those who do forget it are doomed to repeat it.

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