War Corrupts Humanity And Defiles Us All
Sunday, August 14, 2005 Posted: 09:59 AM JST
I found this little gem in the newsletter of the Japanese Network of Museums for Peace. The discoveries made by MaryAnn Hansen completely reflect what I have found during my past 23 years in Japan.
(by MaryAnn Hansen) - I recently completed my Masters Thesis on a topic that dealt with the way war history continues to effect the relationship between China and Japan. I had been studying China for some years but had only limited knowledge of Japanese war history other than those stories handed down by members of my family, what I had seen depicted in mostly American movies and the reporting in the news media. All of this information gave me a very bad image of Japan.
I was particularly struck, while traveling and living in China, not just by the very strong anti-Japanese sentiment, but by the fact that young people were often the most hostile. In Australia I have rarely encountered young people with negative feelings about Japan; on the contrary, many young people embrace and admire Japanese culture. So I was interested to learn why the situation in China hadn’t changed after so many years.
Even before I began my serious research I was aware of the controversies surrounding Japan’s attitude towards its war history. World media has regularly reported on the text book issue, politicians visit to Yasukuni Shrine and Japan’s unwillingness to apologize for its wartime actions. I found this situation most peculiar and made the same assumption as most other people who read these reports: that the ‘official’ Japanese view, was shared by most of its population.
I learned that in addition to museums dedicated to the suffering caused from atomic bombings, museums in Osaka and Kyoto gave a different account of the war than the Japanese government presents and although I could find nothing in the English language academic material about them, I discovered that there were many small peace museums throughout Japan. I decided that the only way that I could get a complete picture of Japanese attitudes towards war was to visit Japan myself.
From the time that Fujita Hideo very kindly served as my guide to the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall and the Center of the Tokyo Air Raids and War Damages until I was warmly welcomed in Kochi, my previous assumptions about Japan were challenged. After two weeks in Japan visiting ten different museums, speaking to many peace activists and listening to personal testimonies, I was more convinced than ever of the futility of war. The western world is aware of the catastrophes of the atomic bombs, but little is known of the devastation caused to Japanese cities by fire-bombings and I was deeply shocked at the extent of the suffering experienced. Nor is it widely known how dedicated many Japanese people are to the cause of peace.
In China, especially, Japan continues to maintain its reviled reputation. The Chinese public is constantly bombarded with negative reports about Japanese behaviour connected to Japan’s period of aggression against China. Critics have accused the Chinese government of manipulating these feelings among its citizens through educational policies and control of the media. Even the Chinese national anthem ‘March of the Volunteers’ is a war song, composed to honour those who went to Manchuria to fight a war of resistance against Japanese imperialism.
Yet my findings were that a great deal of this negative feeling is spontaneous, most especially demonstrated by the way these feelings are expressed on the internet, a medium that the Chinese government has found impossible to dominate. Increased internet usage has coincided with a sharp increase in animosity directed towards Japan, with recent opinion polls reporting that less than 6 percent of Chinese view Japan as friendly or very friendly, while 43 percent said the opposite.
On my return to Australia I was determined to learn more about Japanese war history and enrolled in a post-graduate class at the University of Melbourne. The class upset me and I found it disturbing to do the required reading and to learn of details that I had previously only had a vague notion about. Most of all I found it upsetting to see that my classmates, most of whom were under thirty, with no direct experience of war, seem so unconcerned. They compared descriptions of battles in the Pacific to scenes that they had seen in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and appeared to have no concept that what we were studying was not a novel or a movie, but a tragedy that caused widespread death, suffering and destruction.
About half way through the course, all that changed. The topic was ‘atrocities’ and I braced myself for the unpleasant research. The material presented by the lecturer was far from predictable, however, and focused exclusively on the atrocities committed by the allies. Most of the group learned for the first time of the acts of barbarity committed by Australian, British and American troops against their Japanese foes. They were more shocked than I will ever be able to describe and they became completely sober.
Suddenly it was not ‘John Wayne’ saving the world from ‘evil’, but war itself that became evil. They learned that war corrupts humanity and defiles us all. The change in the class was palpable and by the end of the semester every student that had attended had become a pacifist. It is such a simple solution, and yet I had never completely understood before that our best hope for preventing wars in the future is to give a complete, ‘warts and all’ education to our youth about the true horrors of war.
Whoever glorifies and romanticizes war and those who fought and died in it, be they Japanese, Chinese, Australian or American, do a dreadful disservice to future humanity.
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