Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reflecting on the History of WWII in Asia

While exchanging ideas about wars with a group of Japanese high school students the other day, I asked who started the Pacific branch of World War II. I got answers ranging from Korea to China to America, but not Japan.
-"Have you ever heard of Pearl Harbor?" I asked.
- "Yes!" a boy replied while giggling, "It is an upscale jewelry shop in Hawaii."(How could he joke about an atrocious event like that?)

These students all knew well about the misery and suffering caused by the U.S. army's atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but they ignored the atrocities Japan committed on innocent people in Asia.

It would be ridiculous to address the problem by defending atomic weapons. They certainly are the most abhorrent weapons ever devised, mainly for the particularly cruel long-term effects of radiation poisoning.

Likewise, I will leave it to others (who are no doubt chomping at the bit) to differentiate between the folly of using nukes now, when their power to savage living organisms in thoroughly understood, as opposed to their use mere months after their creation by an exhausted, war-weary nation faced with a recalcitrant, zealous, indeed suicidal (the infamous kamikaze) enemy leadership that couldn't seem to realize the war was lost and wouldn't capitulate.

But who's surprised that a tremendous number of Americans didn't know the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima? All countries have a good chunk of citizens either uneducated or unable to recall their education.

Anyway, I was very upset--but not surprised--by the fact these high school kids did not know much about Japan's history of invasions and colonial rule. Their ignorance sharply and exactly mirrors the content of their history textbooks, which condone atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Military. Take for instance, the Ministry of Education's approval of a certain junior high school history textbook that --from the points of view of China and Korea -- was painting a much rosier picture of Japan's role in World War II than was historically accurate. Atrocities were downplayed and Japan's role in using sex slaves from Korea and China were excluded.

I think the Japanese need to reflect on the history of World War II from an impartial standpoint. It is beyond my imagination how much the victims of the atomic bombs suffered. Because of their suffering, Japanese people can sympathize all the more with the Asians who suffered as a result of Japan's military invasions.

For better or worse, it is indeed history from which we learn the exact facts and lessons to improve human dignity, peace, freedom, happiness and justice. But it does not just happen by waiting, erasing the painful parts of history, playing political games and ignoring responsibilities.

The war, massacres and inhumane crimes that were done in the name of Japan mean every Japanese has moral responsibility toward the suffering victims. But, by not letting children know about these unpleasant historical facts, they will grow up believing their nation has never done anything wrong.

If Japanese schools continue teaching students an obviously biased version of the truth, what is it that they are actually teaching them? They will come to believe that certain actions and events can be covered up, that responsibility does not have to be assumed.

It saddens me that Japanese schools teach students about the horrors of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet hide Japan's shameful history. I believe that presenting such an unbalanced view of history is a crime against humanity.

Every country has things to be ashamed about. Canada has the atrocious treatment of the native people, the United States the Indians and the African slaves, Germany THE HOLOCAUST, and Japan has the Asian war victims ("comfort women," the victims of Nanjing massacre ...) etc.The only way we can stop such terrible things from recurring is to teach our children about them, and hope they learn the valuable lessons offered by history. Otherwise, how can we ever hope to stop history from repeating itself?

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