Friday, December 27, 2013

The Lingering Effects of War

A recent visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan has reopened lingering wounds that have existed with China as well as Taiwan and South Korea relating to the shrine. Prime Minister Abe, is the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit the shrine since 2006 when last visited by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Prime Minister Abe attended the shrine in a televised event and proclaimed the visit was not in an official capacity.

Shinzo Abe, centre, follows a Shinto priest as he visits the Yasukuni shrine for war dead.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (c) visits the controversial Yasukuni Shrine
China, Taiwan and South Korea view the shrine to be symbolic of Japan's aggressive militarism up to World War II. The controversy has been simmering for quite some time as there are two views of Imperial Japan and its actions in the region. The Chinese, Taiwanese and South Koreans claim to be victims of atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in what is infamously known as the Rape of Nanking

Japan has taken a controversial stance regarding Nanking and other infamous events by either downplaying or not recognizing their existence in historical teachings, especially in schools.

On December 13, 1937, 50,000 Japanese troops descended on the then Chinese capital city of Nanking (Nanjing) and proceeded to systematically murder, torture, rape and burn 300,000 victims in what has been termed as The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by author Iris Chang.

Iris Chang - The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II -- authors writers interviews from Dian Carna on Vimeo.

This event also spurned the advent of so-called Comfort Women, Chinese, Korean and other female civilians taken as sex slaves for Imperial Japanese Army soldiers.

Some in Japan consider the events to be exaggerated, notably, University of Tokyo Professor Nobukatsu Fujioka, who is quoted by BBC's Mariko Oi as saying that the events were staged by the Chinese government.

Mariko Oi
Oi wrote an interesting article about how history is taught in Japan for BBC News Tokyo. In the article, Ms. Oi quotes Professor Fujioka essentially denying the atrocities to civilians ever happened.

Tokyo University Professor Nobukatsu Fujioka
Professor Fujioka was quoted as denying the events in Nanking by Oi in the article:

"It was a battlefield so people were killed but there was no systematic massacre or rape," he says, when I meet him in Tokyo.

"The Chinese government hired actors and actresses, pretending to be the victims when they invited some Japanese journalists to write about them.

"All of the photographs that China uses as evidence of the massacre are fabricated because the same picture of decapitated heads, for example, has emerged as a photograph from the civil war between Kuomintang and Communist parties."

As Ms. Oi points out in her article, there is a tendency for the Japanese Ministry of Education to avoid or gloss over these and other events from in teaching Japanese history in Japanese schools.

Japanese Emperor Hirohito at the Yasukuni Shrine in 1935
What is the Yasukuni Shrine and why is it so controversial?

The Yasukuni was dedicated in 1869 by Japanese Emperor Meiji to honor the souls of those who fought and died for their country.

From the Yasukuni Shrine website:

Currently, more than 2,466,000 divinities are enshrined here at Yasukuni Shrine. These are souls of men who made ultimate sacrifice for their nation since 1853 during national crisis such as the Boshin War, the Seinan War, the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, World War I, the Manchurian Incident, the China Incident and the Greater East Asian War (World War II). These people, regardless of their rank or social standing, are considered to be completely equal and worshipped as venerable divinities of Yasukuni.

Japanese people believe that their respect to and awe of the deceased is best expressed by treating the dead in the same manner as they were alive. Hence, at Yasukuni Shrine, rituals to offer meals and to dedicate words of appreciation to the dead are repeated every day. And, twice every year-in the spring and autumn-major rituals are conducted, on which occasion offerings from His Majesty the Emperor are dedicated to them, and also attended by members of the imperial family.

Because there are soldiers who were involved in the Nanking incident honored at the shrine, it is considered offensive  to Chinese, Taiwanese and South Koreans who remember the events of December through February 1937 as a dark piece of history for Imperial Japan.

Prime Minister Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine would be akin to Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel visiting a shrine dedicated to past German war heroes which includes Nazis

Of course, such a shrine does not exist in Germany.

Speaking of Germany conversely, kids are educated about The Holocaust and World War II. The article points out that in Germany, the subject of the Holocaust is approached head on:

For Germans, the Holocaust is not an event that happened in a faraway place in some distant past, but is part and parcel of their recent history. The memory of the Nazi dictatorship -- of which the Holocaust is an integral part -- and its traumatic legacies have been shaping German policies since the end of World War II. The rebuilding of political institutions in western Germany and postwar political education were largely determined by a serious effort to try to understand the horrors of the Nazi dictatorship and by searching for safeguards in order to prevent history from repeating itself. Consequently, teaching about Nazi dictatorship and the Holocaust at schools is not limited to a niche in the history syllabus like the "French and the Indian Wars." Instead, it is discussed again and again in different ways, in a number of subjects, and at different points in time.

The treatment of the Nazi period in all its aspects -- Hitler's rise to power; his establishment of a dictatorship in Germany; the abolition of the rule of law; the persecution of all kinds of political opponents; the racially motivated persecution of the Jews, culminating in the Holocaust; the reticence and opposition of German citizens; and, Germany's instigation of World War II -- is compulsory teaching matter at all types of schools in Germany and at all levels of education. The Holocaust is treated as the most important aspect of the period of Nazi rule.

Quite a departure from the Japanese approach.

I firmly believe that the difference between Japan and Germany's teachings are simply related to how Adolph Hitler came to power in World War II. Hitler can be viewed as anomaly who came into power at the right (or wrong) time when post war Germany was reeling from economic sanctions imposed after World War I with the infamous Treaty of Versailles.

In Japan's case, it had been ruled by emperors for centuries, handed down by birth. The empire was in power and authorized the aggression that the Japanese military espoused during the 1930's and 1940's.

Given the circumstances, it's easier for Germany to dismiss the sordid past of World War II than it is for Japan. Imperial leadership has been a legacy for centuries in Japan, Hitler can be dismissed, the emperors who ruled Japan for thousands of years cannot.

Japan still has an emperor, Emperor Akihito although his power is more akin to Britain's monarchy, more symbolic than political.

Emperor Akihito celebrated his 80th birthday December 23.

This handout photo taken on Nov 14, 2013, and released on Monday, Dec 23, 2013, by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan shows Emperor Akihito (left) and Empress Michiko posing at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Thousands of people thronged Japan's Imperial Palace on Monday to celebrate Emperor Akihito's 80th birthday, as he lauded his wife for standing by him in his "lonely" pursuit of leading the world's oldest monarchy. -- PHOTO: AFP / IMPERIAL HOUSEHOLD AGENCY OF JAPAN
Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko
On the other side of the debate with those like Professor Fujioka, was Saburo Ienaka (1913- 2002). Mr. Ienaka fought with officials about educating children about the past and was met with stiff resistance.

Saburo Ienaka (1913- 2002)
Mr. Ienaka brought several lawsuits, which are rare in Japan, to force the Ministry of Education to include the past actions of the Japanese military to be taught in school.

However, as committed to changing the textbooks as he was, the resistance to change was equal to the task.

From his obituary in The New York Times from December 8, 2002:

He succeeded in forcing the government to commission a new generation of textbooks, and to make public the changes it forced on publishers. But in 1993 the Supreme Court ruled that the government was well within its rights when it forced Mr. Ienaga to delete uncomfortable details about the Japanese invasions of Korea and Manchuria, and the rapes and killings that accompanied its occupation of East and Southeast Asia.

The obituary also quotes Ienaka admitting that his efforts were essentially futile which was borne out by the aforementioned article written by Miriko Oi:

"Unfortunately, the Japanese government is very weak against any pressure from foreign countries, but very strong against any criticism from its own people," he once said. "So no matter what you do in Japan itself, nothing changes."
Whenever the outcry comes from the United States, or China, or South Korea, he said, the government proclaims its willingness to change.
"Of course," he concluded, "they don't feel it."

Here in the United States, we tend to have a myopic view of the world. Although we are taught world history, it is mainly viewed through a European prism.

How we view the Asian world is relative to past wars as we generally tend to measure our history through wars. The American Revolution, The Civil War, World War II an The Vietnamese War are at the forefront of our consciousness when we think about American history.

It is rather sad that the so-called Korean Conflict and World War I are not as prominent in the minds of most Americans. World War I is viewed almost as a sideshow that happened so long ago that nobody really mentions it. That is laughable considering the Civil War which gets so much attention occurred a full 50 years before World War I.

The Korean Conflict is almost an afterthought, ironically even though American troops still occupy the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. With current dictator Kim Jong Un ratcheting up the rhetoric, who knows how things will play out in North Korea.

Personally, I think the downfall of this dictatorship is inevitable, as the cruelty continuing under Kim Jong Un's regime will eventually lead to an uprising as we've seen recently in Libya, Egypt and Syria.

The most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are essentially still in gear and have actually lasted longer than all the aforementioned.

Now before anyone thinks that we in America are completely open and honest about our own past, let us not forget what happened to Native Americans. Our history classes aren't much better recanting the events of the 1800's when many tribes were forced off their lands and in many cases massacred by our government.

We are taught about Custer's Last Stand from the perspective as if it were heroic that so few faced so many and all perished.

General George Armstrong Custer
The very name Custer's Last Stand evokes heroism when in fact it was actually the Indians' last stand against the US government:

On the morning of June 25, 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer and the 7th Cavalry charged into battle against Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne Indians. Custer's orders were to wait for reinforcements at the mouth of the Little Big Horn River before attacking the Indians, but Chief Sitting Bull had been spotted nearby, and Custer was impatient to attack.

A treaty had given the Sioux exclusive rights to the Black Hills, but when gold was later discovered in the area, white miners flocked to the territory. Despite the treaty, the U.S. government ordered the Indians away from the invading settlers and back to their reservations.

Custer's job was to force the Indians back to their reservations. Some of the Indians refused to leave their sacred land, and other hunters were camped in remote places and never learned of the order. The U.S. Army prepared for battle anyway.

Custer planned to attack the Indian camp from three sides, but Chief Sitting Bull was ready for them. The first two groups, led by Captain Benteen and Major Reno, were immediately forced to retreat to one side of the river, where they continued to fight as best they could. Custer was not as lucky.

Custer's troops charged the Indians from the north. Quickly encircled by their enemy, Custer and 265 of his soldiers were killed in less than an hour. The Indians retreated two days later when the troops Custer had been ordered to wait for arrived.

The Battle of Little Big Horn was a short-lived victory for the Native Americans. Federal troops soon poured into the Black Hills. While many Native Americans surrendered, Sitting Bull escaped to Canada.

Chief Sitting Bull

More on Chief Sitting Bull here

That's not exactly a heroic moment in US history when you consider that a treaty was broken by the US government because gold had been discovered in the area that was "given" to the Indians.

Interestingly enough, the US National Park Service has a website dedicated to the LittleBighorn Battlefield where the following appears:

Little Bighorn, A Place of Reflection

This area memorializes the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in one of the Indian's last armed efforts to preserve their way of life. Here on June 25 and 26 of 1876, 263 soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the U.S. Army, died fighting several thousand Lakota, and Cheyenne warriors.

However, there has been no attempt to whitewash the reasons that the battle occurred, the website also tells the true story of how the treaty was broken because gold deposits were found:

Tension between the U.S. and the Lakota escalated in 1874, when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer was ordered to make an exploration of the Black Hills inside the boundary of the Great Sioux Reservation. Custer was to map the area, to locate a suitable site for a future military post, and to make note of the natural resources. During the expedition, professional geologists discovered deposits of gold. Word of the discovery of mineral wealth caused an invasion of miners and entrepreneurs to the Black Hills in direct violation of the Treaty of 1868. The U.S. negotiated with the Lakota to purchase the Black Hills, but the offered price was rejected by the Lakota. The climax came in the winter of 1875, when the Commissioner of Indian Affairs issued an ultimatum requiring all Sioux to report to a reservation by January 31, 1876. The deadline came with virtually no response, and matters were handed to the military.

I'm not sure how (or if) "Custer's Last Stand" is being taught in schools in the US today, but I sure don't remember them telling us about the treaty being broken over the discovery of gold in the region.

The lesson to be learned from all of this is that actions of the past have consequences for the future. We should not hide the truth from future generations as we all know:

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." – George Santayana

George Santayana
Actions such as Prime Minister Abe visiting the Yasukuni Shrine have consequences.

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