Saturday, April 5, 2008

Japanese Court, Okinawa, Kenzaburo Oe: There's a Lesson Here

"Japanese court defends author, says military was involved in mass suicides in Okinawa"
International Herald Tribune (March 28, 2008)

Japan? Okinawa? What does a world leader in robotics and 'ancient history' from WWII have to do with the War on Terror?

Quite a bit, as a cautionary tale.

Japan, WWII, and the 21st Century

The Osaka District Court's Judge Toshimasa Fukami has been hearing a case involving WWII Japanese veterans, including one who is 91 years old. Their feeling were hurt by "Okinawa Notes," a book of essays by Kenzaburo Oe. And, they've been suing him.

Basically, the disagreement is:
  • Kenzaburo Oe said that "the Japanese military was deeply involved in the mass suicides of civilians in Okinawa at the end of World War II."
  • The vets don't want that to be so.
This time, truth won over preference. Judge Toshimasa Fukami's ruling said "The military was deeply involved in the mass suicides," and cited some of the evidence:
  • Survivors testified that soldiers gave grenades to civilians to commit suicide
  • Mass suicides happened only where Japanese soldiers were stationed
The International Herald Tribune reports: "The suit, filed in 2005, was seized upon by rightist scholars and politicians to try to delete references to the military's coercion of civilians in the mass suicides from the country's high school history textbooks. Last April, during the administration of the nationalist former prime minister Shinzo Abe, the Ministry of Education announced that textbooks would be rid of references to the military's role." [emphasis mine]

That's when I got very interested in Japan's educational system. So, apparently, did quite a few Japanese citizens. One prefecture saw the biggest demonstration since the seventies, Prime Minister Abe resigned, and the Ministry of Education decided "to reinstate most of the references in December."

The Japanese government now has an embarrassment on its hands. It:
  • Claimed that its textbooks are free of bias
  • Ordered inconvenient facts to be deleted from textbooks
  • Then put most of them back in, under protest
In America, it's called "waffling," and I doubt that Japanese culture regards that sort of back-and-forth behavior any more favorably than American culture.

I have a great deal of respect for Japan's people, culture, and history. But I recognize that the country committed some very unacceptable acts, including the coerced mass suicides behind that lawsuit.

But, the Japan of WWII is not the Japan of the Information Age. Other people are in charge. My hope is that Japan will embrace, and learn from, its past. Actually, it looks like Japan is already doing that: with these "Dancing Japanese Robots," for example.

(pongielan08, YouTube (December 29, 2005)- video 3:25) (December 29, 2005)

America, the War on Terror, and Balance

"It's not the crime that hurts you: It's the cover-up" has been said about everything from Richard Nixon's Watergate to Martha Stewart's stock scandal. The idea is that the greatest damage to reputation and legal status comes, not from the original offense, but from attempts to keep it secret.

It's a very real temptation, the desire to bury or destroy evidence of one's own wrongdoing.

It's also, in my opinion, self-destructive. Whatever the original offense, lies intended to cover it up will almost certainly be uncovered. When that happens, there's more damage to reputation.

Worse, when knowledge of an offense remains hidden, there's no opportunity to make reparations, or learn and so avoid similar offenses.

America's problem, for the last forty years, has been the reverse of Japan's recent attempt at re-writing history. Instead of trying to erase past offenses from history, it's been the fashion for the last forty years to ignore what's been done well, and focus on America's faults.

Neither is a healthy approach.

I like to think that the 'America can do no right' attitude is waning. A hopeful indication was public response to the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004. By the time news media began shocking the American public, and people around the world, with what promised to be the My Lai of the war in Iraq, military officials had been investigating the offenses for months.

It may have been a disappointment to anti-war enthusiasts, when Americans failed to line up behind the Abu Ghraib banner. Times have changed, since My Lai was marketed as a massacre.

All the more disappointing, since the appalling treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had actually been a serious offense against common decency and military protocol. Unlike My Lai, which despite its accepted reputation appears to have been a military operation against an enemy base.

Americans may have more common sense now, than they did during the Vietnam War. I think the difference is that we now have more sources of information: and have learned from mistakes of the past.
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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.