Monday, February 26, 2007

History according to Japan

Long time no post... what can I say, I've had stuff going on. I have posted some new pictures though, and last night I saw a Delorean for only the 3rd time in my life! It was shiny and steely, and according to the owner not that expensive - I did however squander a perfect opportunity to make a Back to the Future reference... oh well, hindsight 20/20 and all that.

So I figured I should write something, so here's my thought of the day - Nanjing. Now normally they say that history is told by the winner, but in this case they're taking a new approach. Just to give you some background on the matter first, I'm talking about what's known in Japan as the Nanjing "Incident", although the rest of the world knows it as a massacre. Both sides involved like to argue about details - that wiki provided above is a war zone of edits. China likes to argue about Japanese textbooks that downplay the whole thing (and are used in only 18 out of 11,000 schools as a result) and former PM Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo which honors those who died in battle - including at least 12 convicted Class A war criminals from WWII. The Japanese on the other hand like to argue that Chinese are blowing things out of proportion with their casualty figures in the 100,000s, and that the CCP's propoganda machine doctored a bunch of photos and stuff.

The truth of the matter is that both of them are approaching certain points wrong, and the whole thing was never even really disputed until the 90's when the Chinese finally brought it up. Up until that point they were focused more on the Communist resistance to the Japanese, but for some reason (most likely to strike up nationalism) they decided to change their focus from pro-Communist to anti-Japan. The way I see it, they are probably bolstering the figures, but they do have a right to be upset about the whole thing since Japan did wreck most of Asia and beyond. The Japanese approach on the other hand, is that they like to focus on the facts leading up to the war and how they were originally reacting to increasing pressures from the west and fighting western imperialism, which was overrunning the rest of Asia since the mid-19th century (except for Thailand!!).

Anyway, this isn't meant to be a history lesson - if you're interested look into it. This is about a possible solution to the disputes that I think is great and really hope works out. As opposed to the former PM stirring things up with his war criminal visits, the current PM Abe is trying to rekindle the friendly relations between the two nations. China was one of the first places he visited after being elected, and now they're forming a joint Sino-Japanese research project in order to attempt to reach an agreement on historical details between the two countries. Now what they want to resolve is different for both sides, but the bigger news is that 2 countries with such complexly intertwined histories are trying to get together and come up with an objective view of past events that everyone can agree on. That's not to say that I think it should be a point of compromise, but if they reach conclusions mutually then no one on either side should have any reason to dispute it.

China and Japan - new history, old wounds

The other interesting thing to me is the difference in how Japan and Germany deal with WWII when the subject comes up. If you start talking WWII to Japanese people, they get defensive and go into a shell. It's like just bringing the topic up even is too aggressive for them and they feel like you're attacking them. The Japanese way to deal with things like that is to forget it and move on acting like nothing ever happened. Avoid confrontation if at all possible... which ironically, if they followed originally would've solved the whole thing. Then on the flip side of the coin we find the Germans. Bring up the war or the holocaust to Germans and they will most likely be sincerely apologetic for a moment, and then move on with the conversation as anyone else would. From what I've seen they're fine with talking about it, and are just as critical of their past as you would expect anyone to be of such a situation. They're even comfortable enough to joke about the situation if you are.

So lastly, one thing I've learned is not to take one view of history at face value - everyone has their own take on things and their own points of interest. The facts may not change, but anything you hear is through the filter of a source, and every source has a bias. For example, if you just look at things from only the US perspective you may not know about FDR basically forcing the Japanese to attack us by cutting them off from supplies, and the possibility that Japan attempted to surrender before the 2nd bomb dropped but the US proceeded to drop the 2nd to flex its power in front of the Russians, which is all entirely plausible. In the US this kind of information is available but isn't really discussed in history class... outside the US though people are more likely to bring it up. But then don't believe me - look it up and decide for yourself. Don't just take the winner's word on what happened either.


D said...

On a somewhat related note, I wonder how "Letters from Iwo Jima" has been received in Japan.

Here's an American director tackling Japanese WWII history. I'd think that would invoke a lot of discussion. But if your observation holds true, maybe not.

darg said...

Upon a quick search, it appears to have been received well - the Japanese wiki entry says there was a fuss about it among critics before it came out, but that once people saw it they thought it was pretty accurate. I guess movies are better than talking to someone since you don't have to actively talk about it. ;P

Although it'll rarely be brought up, they don't seem to mind talking about it amongst themselves as much as they would with say an American or something... they certainly aren't as well versed on the war as say Germans are, which leads me to believe that they don't cover it very well in school. They spend a lot more time on ancient history than the modern stuff it appears. I hear if you ask kids about it some even think they won the war! I guess they didn't get to that part in history yet or something. Young adults do know the basics though and aren't quite as sensitive about it as older people are, so I guess time heals all wounds.

As I said though, there are some wacky ideas out there about things, like this gem which attempts to deny the whole Nanjing massacre on public tv (it's translated):