Monday, June 11, 2007

STOP THE WHITEWASHING OF MEMORY, JAPAN!

STOP THE WHITEWASHING OF MEMORY, JAPAN!

By Kevin Stoda

Over the last few years, the world has witnessed resurgence in Japanese memory-loss related to WWII and the invasion of China at the government level. Not a month seems to go by without the Japanese Prime Minister or some other official visiting or sending gifts to the infamous Yasukuni Shrine near Tokyo. Luckily, in the 2006-2007 period, Clint Eastwood's film "Letters from Iwo Jima" showed not only “the humanity behind the brutality of war, thus honouring the past and opening hearts in the present”, but also severely criticized the unfair situation the Japanese government, the Emperors’ house, and nationalist leaders put the nation (and neighboring nations) in.

This a theme was wonderfully discussed in the review of the film by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, author of "Kamikaze Diaries". I suggest you all read it: “Letters to the Past: Iwa Jima and Japanese Memory.”

The paradox is that the topic of needing to both mourn and feel sad at the guilt of Japanese leadership’s guilt for war crimes and misuse of the use of the Japanese nation as presented in this film had never (until now) been broached in a Japanese language film—and certainly seldom even touched upon by the greatest Japanese movie makers in any way that resembles the approach the American director, who was formerly a super-tough guy actor, Eastwood has done in this particular film.

Ohnuki-Tierney notes, as well, “that the paradox [of Eastwood’s film] was well expressed by Onda Taeko, writing on Yomiuri Online: ‘Today the person who had the power to tell us the Japanese experience during the war was Clint Eastwood, an American.’”

This film experience brought great emotions out all over Japan. These emotions were of shared hurt, anguish and sorrow at what people had done to their Japanese ancestors in forcing them to fight a supposedly endless war. Such public emotion and mourning is the excepton in Japanese WWII reception to the sins of the fathers.

The film and the reaction to the films is also certainly quite a contrast with what the conservative parties (or club of elite) of Japan are calling on the State of Japan to do in the near future. This conservative led regime is seeking to turn back-the-clock and make Japan a tough cowboy-type (or samurai-type) who can call China or North Korea to task without seeking support from either the USA or world community.

These memory whitewashers desire to cleanse Japanese memory of the horrors of real misbegotten follow-the-leader history that was the rise to Imperialism in Japan, which started with the takeover and long-occupation of Korea and Taiwan at the end of the 19th century.

This movement will likely follow the same path that the similar conservative took many steps at the governmental level to restored the honor of the house of the Japanese Emperor in the decades after that last-war-to-end-all-wars: WWII. That whitewashing of Hirohito (called Showa in Japan) was a particular fascinating rewriting of history, whereby over a 5-6 decade period almost every fingerprint by the emperor’s house related the crimes of Japanese Imperialism from 1930 through 1945 was cleansed or eliminated from national memory—or simply denied until few bother to bring the facts forward any more.

Naturally, China, the Koreas, Taiwan and other Asian states are not going to forget the period of forced occupation, enslavement, murder and maltreatment of their ancestors by Japanese forces. However, the Bush administration and many of its predecessors in recent years have not only promoted the build-up of the Japanese Self-Defense forces but have hardly ever encouraged their Japanese brethren to come clean on what transpired in the 1930s and 1940s. (This contrasts sharply with the 1940s approach to Japan that U.S. media and government propaganda types force fed on the American, Japanese, and world public at that time.)

Note: The Japanese Self-Defense Force is the pseudonym that Japan uses for its own armed forces. Although a standing military is prohibited in Japan’s own constitution, Japan has long since become the biggest military spender in the world after the U.S. (OK, the U.S. spends well more than quadruple what most other nations on military expenditure year-after-year!)

Luckily, as Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney has pointed out, through his timely film “Clint Eastwood has given this mosaic of groups [opposing the Japanese Government’s ultra-patriotic leadership] much‑needed moral support at a time when elements in Japan's government are seeking ways to increase the country's military power.”

Ohnuki-Tierney explained, “The deep wounds of the war have spurred enduring peace movements of several kinds: among women and organised labour, by the members of Kyujo-no-kai (The Association for Article 9), which strives to prevent the re‑militarisation of Japan, and a group of top scientists at Sogokenkyu University who hold a series of peace symposiums.”

Moreover, the documentary of Eastwood’s had done a lot to great mutual empathy between American and Japanese soldiers of that era. Ohnuki-Tierney concludes:

“On the western side of the Pacific, Japanese soldiers have for six decades remained the utmost "other," the epitome of "the inscrutable Oriental", even after the veterans of Iwo Jima on both sides pledged reconciliation and resolved never to repeat the brutality of a terrible war. In laying aside this image and courageously portraying Japanese soldiers as human beings, Clint Eastwood deserves great credit. That the film has been enormously successful in the US, receiving sixteen awards so far (including an Oscar nomination), is truly remarkable, perhaps a sign of the times when more than half of Americans oppose the Iraq war. Its deepest message, however, is sent by those letters: the universality of the bonds of love, family and humanity itself.”

This is certainly important because in a peculiar quirk of history, Americans and especially American soldiers have tended to be more forgiving of Germany and their Nazi supporting ancestors than of the Japanese and their leadership loving fascists of the Japanese Imperialist era.

I have always wondered whether one of the reasons that the Germans were integrated more quickly into the hearts of the American populace in the post-WWII period was the result of unconscious process whereby Americans were observing already in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s (in the period was growing up) that Germans had either come clean or were in the process of coming clean on the sins of their fathers.

This growing sense of national guilt or memory in Germany contrasted greatly with the silence in contrition coming out of Japan in those same years—and still seems to be the status quo in Japan in 2007.

NOTES

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko, “Letters to the Past: Iwa Jima and Japanese Memory”, http://www.opendemocracy.net/arts-Film/iwo_jima_4381.jsp

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