Sunday, October 02, 2011

Hokkaido II

This article by Philip Seaton had interesting tendrils stretching out in several directions.  The occasional use of academic-speak seems entirely appropriate rather than designed to obfuscate and keep the unwashed at bay.  "Identities are multilayered and situational," for example, could lead to drivel but in this case is the lead-in to an intelligent discussion of the meaning of war memorials and remembrances in Japan.  
Aspects of people’s multilayered identities, therefore, are used individually or in complex combinations according to the situation to determine whose war experiences are identified with and the nature of historical consciousness. Within this process, family, friendship group or furusato identities are just three of the many identities that may be employed, but they are significant for being based on the closest emotional, biological/social and spatial bonds that human beings possess. National identity is now often described as the sense of identification with, in Benedict Anderson’s suggestive phrase, the “imagined community” of the nation. By contrast, the closer one gets to “home” the less is “imagined”. In particular, the family is the ultimate “unimagined/real community” in the sense that it is built on intimate knowledge of the personalities and day-to-day and face-to-face actions/experiences of relatives.
Contrasting this with the American experience,
For both the war and postwar generations in the UK and US, using family, local or other identities to challenge national views of war history is risky given the widely believed and morally comfortable dominant legend. In this situation, family and local identities tend to play a supporting role to the dominant legend in national discourses and are used primarily to add nuance to rather than challenge national history.
It is easy to overplay that "dominant legend" idea from a Western academic POV when one is simply trying to kick the US in order to look like a brave intellectual, seeking ever-more-obscure counter-narratives to highlight. But it is also an absolutely true idea when held in proper tension, and deserves discussion. I was drawn to the article through a chain of discussions of Japanese rationalization and reluctance to admit wrongdoing. There remain those in Japan who justify the attacks as an integral part of the liberation of colored races from colonialism.
I think the Japanese contributed to the change from colonization to liberation of other colored races around the world. It is a fact that Nobel Peace Prize winners from southern Asia have said that it was thanks to Japan that they could gain their independence. (Ueno Seiji, soldier)
I can't imagine who he means with that. Aung San Suu Kyi from Burma is my only guess, and she doesn't seem likely. And if that were Japan's aim, why Manchuria? Why Nanking? Why the enslavement of Koreans? Perhaps there is much that as an American I simply cannot see. But the lengthy discussion of this is mostly spot on, as it illustrates that what is true for soldiers everywhere was also true for Japanese soldiers. Great patriotisms fairly quickly resolve into thoughts of defending one's hometown, one's family, or upholding the honor of one's region or one's regiment. There is not much difference in the end between CS Lewis's quote "In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism (such as Gaius and Titius would wince at) about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato." and Inomata Kiyoko's quote from her brother who fought in China.
Recounting an incident when he had cried as he held a dying comrade in his arms, he said: “Y’know Kiyoko, when soldiers die they don’t shout banzai to the emperor. They say their mothers’ and wives’ names.”
Seaton teaches at the University of Hokkaido.

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