December 1937: Still Under The Rug

12.13.2005
Ore : 8:20 AM

I've found much to love in my long association with Japanese culture, culminating in my year-long stay there a decade ago: the food, the architecture, the traditions, the language, and, most of all, the people. Japan is filled with many millions of kind, thoughtful, funny, intelligent, adorable, talented, and just plain good people.

I've also encountered things about Japan that are absolutely infuriating. Among them is an unwillingness to acknowledge a certain ugliness to their history (usually abetted and excused by the occasional, yet extremely potent and nasty, right-winger among them), a certain compulsion to sweep stuff they'd rather not acknowledge under the rug (cf. Germany and Europe's Jews). As a result, many have no idea that the Rape of Nanking ever occured.

Whether we're talking school textbooks, televised history documentaries, perpetrators themselves -- whatever -- it just never comes up. It's a blank hole in the fabric of history.

To the protests that come up about America ignoring similar issues in it's own history, I'd say, give it a rest for now. Sure, we'll always have that percentage who deny the worst aspects of our history of slavery, that we ever visited genocide and all its attendant horrors on the native population, that we harbored Nazi war criminals, that we actually conducted the Tuskegee experiments, that we are indeed currently illegally detaining and torturing hundreds, if not thousands of Muslims. But let's face it: I knew about all that stuff in high school (frequently, the material popped up in my history and English readings), and I'm quite sure most of you did, as well. And the most recent stuff is common knowledge, and the more sensible among us are fighting it even as I type this.

That isn't the point. This isn't about us, but one of our closest allies -- a friend to America. And I speak as I would want one of my friends to speak. Only when such horrors are acknowledged can true healing begin. The Germans have learned this. The South Africans have learned (or at least, are still trying to learn) this. It's incredibly tired but true: Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

The Japanese and Chinese have come admirably far in repairing a relationship that has existed between the two countries for well, well over a millenium. Subsequent generations have accomplished so much in establishing a new amity between their respective countries. More Japanese students are studying Mandarin than ever before, and it's not uncommon to see Japanese university students backpacking through the alleys and thoroughfares of Beijing. Chinese businesses are finding a wonderful receptivity to their products in the streets of Osaka, and women and gay men from Hokkaido to Kyushu swoon at the sight of Tony Leung on the big screen. But it is not enough. Japan's WWII generation may, through omission and elision, bring its children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to the banks of the river Lethe, but the Chinese have not forgotten. And they never will.

Japanese records of history, as it is taught in every school, must be corrected. Right-wing revisionists must be publically and thoroughly denounced. Public acknowledgements, with as much fanfare as possible, must be spoken. Declarations and proclamations from the executive branch and the highest levels of the Diet must be put forth. Perpetrators and survivors must come to the table together. Reparations must be made.

It will be painful and hard and uncomfortably shameful. But only then can we hope to see the healing that has been going on fitfully for the past 60 years begin to approach some semblance of completion.

posted by teh l4m3 at 8:20 AM | Permalink |

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Comments for December 1937: Still Under The Rug
I agree with you that they need to be better about including this stuff in their schools. For my money, it's also the wholesale enslavement of Korean women that is most painfully ignored.

However, the one thing that makes it a little bit hard to jump all over them about this is the fact that China rams this home every year as part of their attempt to secure themselves as Asia's #1 power. China is equally bad about a lot more aspects of their history. I think that is something that shouldn't get ignored when we try and bring them into line.

Every culture has a spotty history, especially one that's been around for about 6,000 years. I specifically was not taking issue with China's history as it concerns other nations (its attitude *towards* Japan has been, nationalist chauvinism aside, relatively faultless over the past many centuries), nor with Japan's treatment of the rest of Asia during WWII (Korea, the Phillipines, Indochina -- none of it too pretty). This was specifically about December 1937...

Anyway, China's bad behavior in other areas does not really excuse Japan's with regards to Nanking, does it? Furthermore, IMHO, the big problem today is not so much the history itself, as the lack of acknowledgement. And in one of my links, I make sure to point out that there are positive elements in Japanese society working towards correcting the vast whitewashing that's been going on...

Great post. All I can add is that I swoon at the sight of Tony Leung, too.

Let us not forget the Turkish government and people's near complete disregard of the slaughter of the Armenians in the 20s or 30s. This shit has been happening for all of human history and there is evidence that murder, at least, has been a part of humanity since the dawn or ouf species. The only way to attempt to learn and prevent is remember and teach.

As for evidence of murder in prehistoric times, the iceman that was found in the nineties had an arrowhead freshly embedded in his shoulder. There is also evidence, if I remember correctly, that he was knifed as well. There was a thigh bone at Beloit with an arrow head lodged in it from Native times. Although that could have been a hunting accident.

teh -- I know you were focusing on that one particular incident and having Japan correct it's mistake. However, what I was trying to adress is that while Japan needs to come to grips with this it is doing so in the face of another country that is also twisting this event to it's own advantage, namely China (see here)

One of the China blogs I read regularly promotes (and has pretty much convinced me) the idea that China uses Japan as a prop for its nationalistic tendencies (samples here and here)

This, I think, makes it slightly harder for the politicians to open up the self-critical eye when they are aware it is also being used to try and push them down, the ever present problem of "loss of face."

----
Trying to be more concise:

The Japanese do need to overhaul their schoolbooks. I just think China continually demanding apologies adds an extra layer of complication to the process.

fulsome -- absolutely agree. And I love the Peking Duck. I don't go there often enough.

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