Having a Chinese wife, in-laws (who experienced Japanese wartime occupation and brutality personally) and friends, I have heard from several sources that the Chinese (citizens and ethnic) have donated less to the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/reactor disaster than they did to Haiti’s terrible earthquake tragedy. Far less. Both disasters were horrible human catastrophes, but ethnic Chinese have a much harder time working up sympathy for Japan.
If what goes around comes around, the Japanese of 2011 are reaping from Chinese what the Japanese of the 1930s and 1940s sowed in China and other parts of east Asia.
Westerners (with the possible exception of the Brits, who had a lot of World War 2 experience with the Japanese) have trouble understanding that the way they feel and think about the Nazis is exactly the way east Asians think of Japan. The histories on both sides of the world are frequently taught in geocentric and ethnocentric ways, making Asians often less sensitive to the Westerners’ revulsion of Hitler, just as Westerners are less aware of Japanese Imperial atrocities.
If you were to have a “Holocaust-off” between Hitler’s Nazis and Japan’s Imperial Armed Forces, it would be a very close call who was the most monstrous.
My motto for FoxNEWS is typically “We distort, you decide,” but in this article (“Old Wounds Make It Hard for Some Chinese to Find Sympathy for Japanese Victims“), they got it exactly right. Read the article and more history, and learn.
This discussion, for me, segues into another equally important question: Why has the West extended such a degree of historical forgiveness to Germany while there is still seething, multi-generational anger in Asia against Japan?
On one level, this should not be surprising. There are plenty of ethnic and national grudges which have been passed down from generation to generation and century to century. You can look at regions as disparate-yet-similar as the American South and the European Balkans.
While a small percentage by population, there are plenty of Southerners in the U.S. who fly General Beauregard’s battle flag, the Stars and Bars, and wait for The South to rise again. In the Balkans, you have anti-Muslim and anti-Turk feelings going back at least a thousand years.
So what has made the difference between how the post-WW2 world views Germany versus how it views Japan? I think it boils down to one word: Penitence.
I don’t think any nation in world history has done as much as post-war Germany – and I say this as a Jew — to show remorse and penitence. We’re not just talking about financial reparations to victims and their families, some of which Japan has also done. We’re talking about genuine, conscious, diligent, unrelenting reform of an entire national society and culture, from how it writes and teaches its own history to how young Germans view themselves and their nation. The Germans have transformed themselves as a people in profound ways that no other nation ever has, to my knowledge.
Japan, on the other hand, has done the national equivalent of an adolescent apologizing while rolling their eyes. As I understand it, Japanese history books still rationalize the reasons for pre-war Japanese Imperialism as Asians attempting to take control of their own destiny from European Imperialists. They acknowledge few if any of the holocaust-class atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers against Chinese particularly, and other non-Japanese in general. Essentially, as a nation, the Japanese show relatively little true remorse for their 20th century history.
The roots of this difference between Germany and Japan is probably in the way they lost the war. The Allies made it plain to their domestic publics that conditions for ending the war were simple: Unconditional surrender from the Axis Powers of Germany, Japan and Italy.
Nazi Germany was completely conquered and occupied. The allies had complete control of the shape of post-War German government. In Japan, it was an entirely different story, although not much was made of it politically at the time.
In spite of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese were prepared to continue fighting unless their surrender came with one exception: The preservation of the Emperor. In spite of the subsequent war crimes trials of war-time Japanese leaders, this one condition on surrender due to the fact that the Japanese were both able and willing to continue fighting the war – possibly for years — even with no hope of ever winning, shaped post-War Japan in ways that resonate today.
“He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.” – George Orwell
In Germany, ‘de-Nazification’ was accomplished with varying degrees of success and enthusiasm. The equivalent was true in Japan as well, but in Japan you had a surviving government and cultural infrastructure working to put the best possible face on its past.
The Japanese are not alone in this kind of revisionist history. Just ask a young Chinese in the Peoples Republic about Tiananmen, and you get blank looks.
Young living Japanese have no personal responsibility for what their parents or grandparents did, nor are they to be blamed for what they haven’t been taught and don’t know. But as a nation, Japan and its leadership must someday take the leap of remorse and humility which will begin the forgiveness they must have if Japan is ever to be considered a true Asian partner by other Asian nations, rather than forever a feared and hated nation apart.
The show, in its entirety:
World War II: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II
World War II in Japan: http://www.worldwariihistory.info/in/Japan.html