Skip to content

{ admitted“” } Search Results

Losing Your Language

Another book I looked through today was a fascinating memoir by a Osvald Harjo Moskva kjenner ingen tårer (Moscow knows no tears). Harjo was raised a Communist in northern Norway. Even before World War II his family often housed Russian intelligence officers and helped them transmit intelligence back to the Soviet Union.

During the war Harjo, who spoke both Norwegian and Finnish, worked with anti-German communist partisans in the north and continued to help Russian radio operatives and other spies get their intelligence back to the Soviets. Another captured partisan gave up Harjo and his father’s name to the Germans. He was arrested, tortured and interrogated for weeks by the Gestapo before finally escaping thanks to the help of a sympathetic Norwegian policeman. Harjo then fled to the East with partisans and eventually crossed into Soviet controlled territory.

This is where the tragedy of Harjo’s memoirs begin. He had the audacity to send Stalin a letter early in 1943 with some minor complaints about the conditions in the North, suggesting that there were perhaps some administrative problems he might want to look into. Very soon after Harjo was arrested and accused of being a German spy. Later charges were brought against him for leading the Germans to a Russian radio operative, which Harjo claims in his memoir was impossible since he had not worked with the operative he was supposed to have given up.

The rest of the book traces the more than a decade Harjo spent in Soviet camps until December, 1955. It seems as though pressure from the Norwegian government, including pleas from labor party prime minister Einar Gerhardsen during his visit to Moscow in 1955 were instrumental in his release. He tells of his final meeting with a Russian officer who asks him if he was “dissatisfied with his experience in the Soviet Union.” Harjo writes that he replied, “I have sat in prison camps for 13 years, convicted of crimes I did not commit.” The officer says that upon review of his papers, he realizes that the conviction was a mistake but that Harjo should never have admitted to the Gestapo (under torture) that he had spied for the Soviet Union and that he hoped that Harjo would only tell the truth about the Soviet Union upon his return to Norway.

The book was unique among the Norwegian war memoirs I looked through but was nowhere near as eloquent or powerful a work as some of the other memoirs of Soviet gulag experiences I have read. Clearly the horrors of the experience gave him deeply bitter feelings about the cause he dedicated his life for until he was imprisoned and this does come through clearly. Harjo notes in his final chapter how, in contrast to the active support he received from the anti-Communist labor party in power then (as now), the Norwegian Communist Party had no interest in helping him.

There was one short passage in the book that interested me more than anything else and it doesn’t really have anything to do with the books main themes. Harjo writes that one day in the “grey monotony of camp number 14″ he suddenly met with a surprise:

Jeg våknet og satte meg opp i køya. På gulvet framfor meg sto det en kortvokst, lubben kar. Han spurte på russisk hvem jeg var. “Jeg er nordmann,” svarte jeg. Da kom det på syngende Finnmarksdialekt: “Æ e’ også fra Norge, æ e’ fra Kiberg”. Det var Otto Larsen. Jeg hadde ikke sett en nordmann siden 1944. Vi snakket litt sammen på norsk, men vi hadde vanskeligheter med vårt eget språk, så vi gikk over til russisk…”

Harjo had woken up one day to find himself face to face with a new cellmate. The man asked him, in Russian, who he was.

Horjo answered, “I am a Norwegian.” Then he replied in a singing Finnmark dialect “I am also from Norway, I’m from Kiberg.” It was Otto Larsen. I had not seen a Norwegian since 1944. We spoke together a little in Norwegian, but we had difficulty with our own language and switched over into Russian.”

I have posted previously about my fascinating with code-switching, or switching between several languages in daily communication, not the least because I do it frequently myself. What is described in the above passage, the loss of full command and comfort in the use of one’s native language is another phenomenon I’m interested in. I first encountered it with my first girlfriend in college. I met her upon her return from several years of living with a German family in Germany, and for a number of weeks she had trouble putting her thoughts into normal English sentences, even though English was her native tongue. My mother, who is a native Norwegian speaker also sometimes switches into English when we speak Norwegian together either because she feels more comfortable with English or finds speaking Norwegian tiring.

Here we have another example of this phenomenon. Two Norwegians from northern Norway meet in a Russian prison camp and after briefly speaking to each other in their native tongue switch into Russian because of “difficulties” with their native tongue.

Book First in Shibuya

Going to bookstores when I’m back in Japan is one of my favorite things to do. Along with going to my favorite ramen noodle shops, hole in the wall cheap udon shops, and meeting friends, bookstores are right at the top of my Tokyo to-do list. Today I took a fellow historian and my host while I’m here to lunch in Shibuya. I spent most of the afternoon studying in a coffee shop and then went to the large Book First bookstore nearby.

Sometimes though I leave the bookstore with really mixed feelings. In fact, I feel a rant coming on… The sections of the bookstore I spend most of my time in (Modern Japanese history, Modern China/Korea history, and the 文庫 paperback section) inevitably have a range of offerings that just disgust me. I can’t help feeling like Shibuya Book First’s selection has gotten worse since when I lived here last in 2004.

Book First is not like the more heavily populist/right-wing smaller bookstores and does have a decent selection of materials. Today I bought the new introduction to modern history of East Asia (『未来を開く歴史』) written cooperatively by historians from China, Korea, and Japan who are trying to develop educational materials for the future. I was also pleased to see several volumes of a new series of books published by the joint Japan-Korea history group with some great looking articles in them (a bit pricey, I’ll get them at the library). Today there was even a full display dedicated to Edward Said translations which included some kind of showing of a documentary about him.

On the same floor though, as you approach the history books, I couldn’t help but notice a whole slew of new editions of Nitobe Inazô’s Bushido and various silly books on how contemporary Japanese should recover their Bushido warrior spirit and a pride in their people.

For the love of Lugalbanda, why can’t the nation just roll over and die…please…doesn’t the 21st century have enough to deal with? What I would give to be alive the day when we can all tear up our passports and laugh at how nonsensical the whole national project was. Those of us who wish to destroy the nation find ourselves continually narrating its violence in the tragic mode, but no one has mastered the tragic mode better than the nationalists themselves. At some point we have to embrace the comic mode and highlight the resounding stupidity of it. We have to move from celebrating the creative and imaginative nature of these communities to a more focused effort at reminding ourself of its farcical core. When it is someday finally severed from the state and that unholy union is finally broken, leave it be…but until then I say spare it no satirical sting; offer it no shred of credibility.

Ok, where was I? The history section seemed to have gotten a bit worse. Maybe it is just me but the selection for nationalist revisionists seems to have expanded somewhat. While not a very scientific measure, to give you an idea, in the standard “Nanjing incident” (Nanjing massacre) section, 4 out of 12 books were of the “what massacre?” variety. This despite the fact that three of the remaining volumes were compilations of interviews with Japanese soldiers who admitted participating in the slaughter (two of them) and of interviews of victims. I have written about one of these important works here at Muninn. I just cannot understand how, with such excellent empirical material out there, any major publisher can still put out such crap. What made it worse was that both of the books about the Nanjing occupation out on display were of “what massacre?” variety. One was a whole book dedicated to talking about the problematic pictures of the massacre (there are indeed many pictures used in Chinese materials about the massacre which have nothing to do with the occupation of Nanjing in 1937 or are otherwise problematic), and the other was a work discussing KMT party archives showing how they mobilized propaganda to spread anti-Japanese sentiment in the aftermath of the occupation of Nanjing. I don’t have any problem with either of the central claims at work in these two prominently displayed books (that there are many problematic pictures about the massacre and that the Nationalists and later Communists milked the massacre for all its propaganda potential) – it is just that neither of these facts prove a damn thing in the face of a mountain of evidence about the widespread slaughter.

Another really well-done right-wing book out by the fascist PHP publishing company I saw prominently displayed was a guide to “Must-know history facts about modern Japanese history” This book was essentially a well-organized manual for those sympathetic to any and all Japanese nationalist silliness. Divided into about fifty short and very concise chapters, it covers all the most controversial themes in modern Japanese history (with bonus chapters on the Dokdo/Takeshima crisis, all of Japan’s other “indisputable” disputed claims, etc.) There was about as much nuance and balance in these books as there is blue in the Japanese flag. Unfortunatley, unlike the many other babbling works by various nut jobs out there, what I think makes this kind of book highly effective was its “executive summary” approach – kind of a briefing booklet. For example, to take the Nanjing massacre chapter as an example, it provided nice one-paragraph summaries of the key arguments of the opposition and counter-arguments so that the defensive nationalist reader will be well-prepared for any debates they might get into with “masochistic” and unpatriotic countrymen. For example, it had one paragraph with pre-war Nanjing population estimates (to prepare the reader for a triumphant take-down when Chinese casualty estimates are shown to be higher, no mention of course of the swelling population of the city due to refugees), it counters the “Safe Zone” violation arguments with the classic “Chinese soldiers were throwing off their uniforms and pouring into the zone [Implied follow-up: so what was the poor Japanese military supposed to do if not charge in and start grabbing/killing males at random]” Of course, there is no mention of the fact that captured soldiers were gunned down by the thousands (Of course, if they had to admit this fact, which many Japanese soldiers there at the time do, they would respond with the classic and feeble, “But we had no food to feed them, and no resources to detain them indefinitely…it is the Chinese military which must take responsibility for leaving its forces in Nanjing to die while its commanders fled.”)

It is so exhausting to see this kind of crap. I’m so tired of it. It is so distracting. I wish I could just ignore it, as I usually do, but the fact that this kind of material reaches a growing audience, in ever more effective formats means that it would be irresponsible not to keep myself relatively familiar with the kinds of vacuous claims being made. Of course, the best way to deal with this is not always to get into the trenches and lower ourselves constantly to their level of repetitive and simplistic discourse, but it remains important for historians in our field to issue the occasional royal smack-down. I am happy to report, however, that what I saw today confirms that they don’t seem to have produced any significant new material other than their regular score of long-ago refuted or irrelevant nonsense. The demand for their drivel though, seems to continue unabated, and I suspect it will grow if nationalist sentiment continues to grow. Ultimately, any time spent thinking about this distracts those of us interested in Sino-Japanese relations history or wartime/colonial history in modern East Asia from the more challenging and, I believe, important work of moving beyond the huge shadow of some of these (non-)controversies. It is not just for the sake of reconciliation in the region, but because the violence of war goes well-beyond a few symbolically important events. There are so many questions to ask, so many issues worth addressing and I so wish we could finally get to the stage where the study of violent wars and imperialism can move beyond the perpetual national mudslinging and nationalist whitewashing that continues today.

Harvard Crimson on the Clash of Civilisations

In Harvard’s “university daily since 1873,” the Harvard Crimson we find an excellent example of the general lack of geographical knowledge often attributed to the United States. Here is the opening paragraph of a provocatively entitled editorial, “The Clash of Civilizations” discussing the current cartoon crisis:

When it comes to problems with free speech about Islam, Denmark is something of a hotspot. Islamic radicals murdered Danish film director Theo Van Gogh in 2004 in response to his short film “Submission Part I,” which juxtaposed documentary footage of husbands beating their Islamic wives in the name of Allah and the same women praying, their bodies covered in verses from the Koran. In Islam, any visual portrayal of the prophet is blasphemous and last year, it seemed that the Dutch were too afraid of reprisals from Muslim fundamentalists for author Kåre Bluitgen to find an illustrator for his children’s book about Muhammad. A major Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten responded by publishing twelve “blasphemous” cartoons last September to “test whether fear of Islamic retribution has begun to limit freedom of expression in Denmark.

I think the author, an undergraduate English concentrator, would be greatly helped if someone were to tell her a few basic, but important facts:

People from Denmark are called “Danish”
Danish ≠ Dutch
Dutch people come from the Netherlands
The Netherlands is not the same country as Denmark

We can then move on to more nit-picky points like:

Theo Van Gogh is Dutch, not Danish
Kåre Bluitgen is Danish, not Dutch

This problem continues through the article, as when we are told that, “it makes no sense for Dutch Muslim protesters to burn the Danish national flag while claiming that they are not being respected by the state.” Also, we learn that, “Dutch illustrators are not the only ones who feel intimidated by Islamic fundamentalists.” Indeed, I hear that some Danish illustrators are having trouble too.

Heineken-1

These sorts of mixups are common of course, and admittedly the Dutch and Danish have a lot in common (they both make cheap beer with green labels for example) but I’m a little dissapointed that the editorial staff at the Crimson didn’t notice this.
Picture 5

UPDATE: Since this article I realize that the Dutch-Danish mix up is even more widespread than I imagined. A friend of mine, a certain PhD student friend of mine at Columbia U also mixed the two up. Also, on the most recent Daily Show, when Jon Stewart is mocking the Danish in a skit about attacks on KFC in Pakistan, he threatens the crowd, who were laughing a little too hard, and says something like, “Hey, I’ll throw all you Belgians out!” Why would he mention Belgians when talking about Denmark, unless he though Denmark was the Netherlands?

Dexterity and Chopsticks

At a dinner recently, I was told by a Korean friend of mine that the now famous Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk recently claimed that the Korean metal chopsticks (which I find admittedly relatively hard to use in grabbing greasy noodles and other slippery food items) have developed the dexterity of the Korean people to such a high extent that it allows them to be better at the detailed work of science at a microscopic level.

Ah yes, I found Hwang’s quote online here :

Their secret weapon? A mastery of wielding steel chopsticks. “This work can be done much better in Oriental hands,” he says. “We can pick up very slippery corn or rice with the steel chopsticks.”

It has been mentioned many other places as well, including a Wired news article. Also, it apparently isn’t just manual dexterity, it is our very mental capacity for concentration which is at stake here in chopstick use:

To use chopsticks, the use of some 30 different joints and 50 muscles is required. The use of chopsticks thus stimulates the cerebrum far more actively than does the use of a fork. The everyday practice of using chopsticks is said to enable people to improve vital developmental functions, such as muscle control, coordination for handling small objects, and mental concentration. It is a well-known fact that practicing certain hand movements during early childhood, such as playing with string or molding clay, are helpful for developing the brain. Some have conjectured that the reason Korea was able to become a global leader in semiconductors, despite a late start of some 30 years, was because of its people’s manual dexterity, which is especially well suited for delicate work. Moreover, they claim that such manual dexterity is a product of Korea’s chopsticks-user culture. A similar interpretation is used to explain the exceptional success of Korean athletes in such sports as golf and archery.

When I did Kyûdô archery in Japan, I was told that the fact I came from Norway, which is made up of a “hunting and gathering people,” contributed to the speed of my improvement in skill. If only we used metal chopsticks in our hunting villages along the fjords.

Yomiuri and Asahi Editorials

Sayaka has some good commentary about some of the editorials in Yomiuri. Here are a few lines from recent editorials from Yomiuri and Asahi to give you a sense of their flavor. I have just skimmed them all so if I missed any important statements in them, feel free to email me.

I am not doing full translations of this so it is better to read the Japanese if you can, but for everyone’s benefit I quickly made some half-translations that often change the original wording and skips some material:

April 14th

日本の動きを牽制(けんせい)するための政治カードとして、歴史問題と反日デモを利用していることは明らかだ。…これは明白な国際法違反だ。「外交関係に関するウィーン条約」22条では、侵入や損壊からの大使館の保護、大使館の「安寧の妨害」や「威厳の侵害」の防止に、その国は「適切なすべての措置を執る特別の責務」を負う。

English Summary (not full translation): It is clear that the Chinese are using the history problem and protests as a “history card” to constrain Japan… [the attack on the consulate] is a violation of international law.

April 17th

中国政府は「デモは、歴史問題での日本の誤った態度に不満を持つ市民の自発的な行動だ。責任は中国側にない」との主張を繰り返している。こうした無責任な態度が、デモの暴徒化を助長している。…江沢民前政権以降、中国政府は徹底した愛国「反日」教育を行ってきた。いわば自業自得ではないか。町村外相は17日に訪中し、日中外相会談を行う。外相は、謝罪と補償を改めて迫るだけでなく、反日感情の政治利用ともとれる中国政府の姿勢を直接ただし、是正を求めるべきだ。

Summary: The Chinese claim the protests are a spontaneous reaction to Japan’s attitude to the history question and isn’t their fault. This is an irresponsible attitude and only contributing to the protests. China has supported nationalist policies in China since Jiang Zemin’s regime. Isn’t this a case of “you reap what you sow?” Not only should Japan ask for and apology and compensation but we should confront China about its political use of anti-Japanese sentiment.

April 18th

李肇星外相から、謝罪はなく、「歴史問題が中国人民の感情を傷つけている」と、事実上、デモを容認した。… 「歴史」認識の問題について、中国側は小泉首相の靖国神社参拝、歴史教科書などを問題視した。だが、いずれも、日本の内政問題である。…日本の歴史教科書は、中国のような国定教科書ではない。一党独裁の全体主義国家のように、歴史観、思想・信条の統一や、検閲はできない。…考えるべきは、歴史的事実としては疑問のある内容も多い「反日」愛国教育の問題ではないか。

Summary: The Chinese haven’t apologized but have essentially consented to the protests. They complain about Yasukuni and the textbook incident but in both cases this is a domestic issue. Japan’s textbooks are not government issued textbooks like China’s. We can’t censor them in the way a totalitarian dictatorship does. Shouldn’t we be focusing our attention on the anti-Japanese nationalist education in China with its historically dubious content?

Compare them to some selections from the Asahi (on average longer) editorials related to the protests:

April 12th

アジア、とりわけ中国との関係は、日本の外交にとって最重要の柱のひとつとなってきた。侵略戦争の過去をどう清算するかというだけではない。体制の違いを超えて隣の大国と安定した関係を築くことは、将来の日本の安全と繁栄のために欠かせないという判断があったからにほかならない。…90年代に強調された愛国教育が、若者たちの心に反日意識を植えつけた面も否めない。そうした点は、中国にも十分考えてもらわなければならない。わけても暴力の取り締まりについて、中国に強く注文をつけるのは当然である。 しかし、日本政府はそうした中国の問題点を見据えたうえで、効果的な外交をしてきただろうか。残念ながら逆だったと言わざるを得ない。その根底にあるのが小泉首相の靖国神社参拝だ。首相は「戦没者に追悼の誠をささげ、不戦を誓う」と説明する。だが、中国侵略の責めを負うA級戦犯を合祀(ごうし)した靖国神社である。参拝をやめてほしい、という中国側のたび重なる要請を聞き入れず、なお参拝に意欲を見せるという姿勢が、どれほど中国の人々の気持ちを逆なでし、「過去を反省しない日本」という印象を広げてきたか。…首相はことあるごとに「世界の中の日米同盟」を強調する。だが、アジアでの足元が定まらないままでは、結局、米国の力にすがるだけの国になってしまいかねない。

Summary: Japan’s foreign relations with China and Asia are very important. It isn’t just about dealing with the aggressive war of the past. Creating a stable relationship with our strong neighbors is important to the stability and prosperity of Japan. We can’t deny that the nationalistic education has increased the anti-Japanese sentiment amongst the young and we need to get China to realize this. Of course we need to complain to the Chinese about the violence but has the Japanese government really done effective diplomacy for dealing with this? No, on the contrary, we have things like Koizumi’s trips to Yasukuni. It is the same Yasukuni which has A-Level war criminal enshrined in it and we continually ignore the wishes of China and thus spread the idea that we are a Japan which doesn’t regret its past. The prime minister has emphasizeded a “US-Japan alliance situated in [the global environment] but as long as we don’t take care of our relations with Asia, we are ultimately forced to be a nation that clings to America.

April 13th

中国の報道 事実を伝えてほしい …われわれはデモの激しさに驚き、投石を制止しなかった当局の姿勢に怒りを感じている。日本政府の抗議に対し、非を認めようとしない中国外務省の態度には失望している。 同時に日本のメディアは、なぜこんなことが起きたのかをさまざまに分析し、歴史問題に対する真剣な対応を小泉首相に求めたりもしている。 ところが、当局によって報道が統制される中国の多くの人々には、それも知らされない。知っているのは、事件の直前まで中国のメディアが繰り返し報じた大量の日本批判だけではないか。…愛国教育などによって、多くの中国人は侵略当時の日本軍の写真や映像を繰り返し見ている。その半面、武力による紛争解決を禁じた憲法を持ち、核兵器は持たず、戦争に加わることのなかった日本の戦後史はほとんど知らされていない。靖国神社や一部の歴史教科書の問題ばかりが強調される現代日本への認識には、相当な偏りがあるのではないか。…今回の事件とともに、日本社会の多様性をありのままに知ってほしい。このメッセージが中国の多くの人々に届くよう願うばかりだ。

Summary: We want the Chinese Media to tell the truth. We are surprised at the aggresive nature of the protests and the rock throwing….the Japanese media has analyzed its causes and urged Koizumi to address the history problem. However, most of the Chinese people are simply unaware of our efforts. All they hear is the Chinese media’s repeated criticism of Japan…Because of their nationalist education most Chinese know see plenty of pictures of the Japanese military from the period of the war of aggression. And yet, they know nothing of the Japan in the postwar period which has adopted a peace constitution, abandoned violence, and which has no nuclear weapons. Isn’t it true that China’s perception of Japan is overly biased towards consideration of the Yasukuni and history textbooks issue? We want China to give its people the message that Japan is in fact a very diverse society.

April 16th

日中会談 まず投石事件に決着を…厳しいやりとりは避けられそうにないが、まず中国側が投石事件への責任を明確に認めることが会談を進める前提になる。一国の大使館が夕刻から深夜まで被害にさらされていながら、警官隊は制止しなかった。それにもかかわらず、中国外務省が「責任は中国側にない」としていることに日本国民は憤っている。…日中間において歴史問題が重要であることは私たちも訴えてきた。だが、たとえ反日デモの背景に歴史問題があったとしても、大使館が被害にあうのを黙認した責任は免れない。

Summary: We must engage in negotiations on the premise that China takes responsibility for the rock throwing incident….The police did not stop them. Not only that but the Chinese government claims they have no responsibility to take in this issue and have further angered the Japanese people. We have also admitted that the history problem is important for the Japanese to consider but even if that is the cause of the protests, they must accept responsibility for the damage to the consulate.

April 18th (This link will not be right after tomorrow)

 日中会談 「愛国無罪」の危うさ…中国側は、反日デモが度重なる破壊行為に及び、日本人のけが人さえ出ていることを軽く考えすぎていないか。…一連のデモで、参加者たちは「愛国無罪」と叫んでいる。愛国主義の行動に罪はない、という意味だ。そう叫べば、政府が手を緩めることをデモ参加者たちは知っている。共産党や政府自身が「愛国」を宣伝してきたからだ。

Summary: The danger of “Patriotism is Innocent”…Hasn’t the Chinese side taken the damage and injury to the Japanese too lightly? The protesters all yell that “Patriotism is innocent” Actions taken in the name of the nation are not crimes. The protesters know that if the cry this out the government will loosen its grip. This is because the Communist party and the government have themselves made the cry for “Patriotism”

It is obvious to see Asahi’s efforts to maintain a balance and some sympathy with China’s calls for Japan to confront its history better. But I also detect and increasing frustration in their editorials and articles as they turn their focus increasingly to the China side.

Japan’s Apologies to China

In this post I have assembled together as many unique statements including apologies or statements of regret towards China. Please read the introduction to my post on Japan’s apologies to Korea which applies equally here. Briefly, my position is that I think the apology issue is the wrong issue for those concerned with historical revisionism in Japan to spend their energy on. Not only do I think Japan has already apologized, but I believe such national apologies have little or no worth and aren’t worth the hot air they generate. In fact, neither do they satisfy the Asian countries they are directed towards (if and when they ever find out about the statements) but they increasingly inflame otherwise sympathetic Japanese who feel they are forced to engage in constant self-flagellation. This distracts them from the more important historiographical issues at stake on all sides. On the other hand, it is also highly inaccurate to portray the “apology diplomacy” of Japan as a story of repeatedly issuing unambiguous statements of admitted guilt and apology. These statements vary greatly, and were often issued with great reluctance and in the face of opposition from conservative politicians who etertain the most revisionist historical positions.

Note: There is overlap between this and my last posting, simply because some statements referred to all of Asia or at least to both Korea and China.

Let us begin:
Continue reading ›

Japan’s Apologies to Korea

It has been hard to keep up with all the renewed excitement generated by the anti-Japan protests in China. It has reopened discussion on all the classic issues in Sino-Japanese relations since the early 1980s.

In a series of blog entries (one on apologies to Korea, one on apologies to China, and one on revisionist gaffes by Japanese government officials), I think I want to collect some reference materials that might be useful to interested readers on this issue. I’m very busy with school so I won’t promise to be as thorough as I would like (nor can I say when I’ll finish all three) but would appreciate if others will consider emailing me with more material for inclusion in future updates to these entries. They will thus be in flux without the usual “UPDATE” marker.

These statements vary from blunt apologies to vague and ambiguous statements of regret. Some of them had an interesting aftermath which led people to question their sincerity and actual content. Keep in mind as you read that my own position on this issue is this: I’m frustrated at how pathetically uninformed many of the people who are discussing this issue online and throughout the media are. I think it is ridiculous to claim that Japan has never apologized, nor do I find such apologies particularly useful as such statements of national regret are of limited value to the victims of past aggression and violence. If you want to be angry about “whitewashing” the past, then this is not where your energies should be focused. On the other hand, I am equally frustrated by right-wing (and increasingly mainstream) Japanese commentary which seems to think that the story of apologies is one of repeated clear expressions of admitted responsibility and which fails to see how conflicting messages given by leading government officials, especially among the increasing numbers of conservative bureaucrats and politicians who read the revisionist accounts of Japan’s past war, can create a complete lack of trust among the agitated peoples of Korea and China in the genuine and sincere feelings of regret which are still felt (and when given the chance, expressed) by the majority of people in Japan.

Important: I’m pooling this together from all sorts of sources, many of them online and thus of dubious accuracy (especially since many right-wing sites are compiling these statements for their own rhetorical purposes), let me know when you find mistakes. Also, I don’t really want to deal with the various translations and such for right now so I’m going to just pool them together and we can sort the appropriate translations vs. official translations out over time.

Ok, let us begin:
Continue reading ›

Tale of a Norwegian Soldier

On April 9, 1940, Norway’s neutrality came to an end when German naval forces launched their attack. In less than 24 hours, Narvik, Egersund, Arendal, Trondheim, Bergen, and my hometown of Stavanger had all been occupied. Oslo and the rest of the country were quickly taken. The king and the rest of the government retreated northwards as they resisted the German advance, but both abandoned the country on June 7th and set up a government in exile. By mid-June organized resistance was squashed and Germany ruled Norway relatively quietly until the end of the war. Perhaps the only major upset was the fact that, unlike their occupation of Denmark, they were unable to take Oslo in time to capture the king and legally elected government, which they had hoped would continue ruling during the occupation. Instead, they fled and the exiled government officially joined the allied cause.

In my family, mom is the expert on Norway’s experience of World War II, or at least that part of it fought on the oceans. She has a massive website dedicated to Norway’s war at sea and my grandfather’s part in it. The vast majority of Norway’s merchant marine joined together to form the world’s largest shipping company, Nortraship, and would become a vital support line supplying the Allies throughout the war. Some 30,000 Norwegian sailors participated and almost 4000 sailors lost their lives (see some stats on my mom’s site here and here).

I’ll let mom handle the ships and some of the untold stories of their many sailors. Today’s post is but to mention the tale of one Norwegian soldier, a Sverre Ryen from Sel in Gudbrandsdalen, which I found retold by Karsten Alnæs in his Historien om Norge volume four, En Ny Arbeidsdag (Gyldendal 1999). I have a particular interest in his case, and those like it all over the world during his time. Below I translate a few of Sverre’s own words, admittedly stripped of their context, in order, I hope, to reveal a certain element of continuity between this soldier’s experience and those of millions of others like him.
Continue reading ›

US Torture of Detainees

I hope everyone understands what has been going on in at least one military detention camp in Iraq. The most extensive article I have read on this is in the New Yorker, which other articles seems to quote often. There is a very disturbing slide show with photographs of the US torture online as well. While there are many other cases in recent US history that can and have been debated, let us all come to terms with the fact that this is beyond any doubt an example of War Crimes. The US military has an internal procedure for dealing with this and has already admitted the severity of the crimes. The damage to the US reputation is already irreversible but, as in the case of all other War Crimes trials, if the offending state cannot appropriately deal with the crimes of its soldiers and sufficiently punish the soldiers involved, then I fully support submitting them to an international court. Of course, America has done everything it can to avoid subjecting its troops to the “whims” of international criminal law. It is time for the US to admit that its soldiers too, albeit a small minority, are capable of inhuman acts of cruelty and that we have no monopoly on justice.

Update:There are some good posts about this issue. See Demolish Abu Ghraib at Crooked Timber. Mark Kleiman makes some good observations. Also see the posting over at Keywords.

Early Postwar Reconciliation with China

On Monday I joined my friend Jaehwan to hear a presentation by Daqing Yang, a professor of George Washington University whose work I’m very fond of. His presentation, on Japan’s early postwar relations with China through the perspective of reconciliation studies started with two questions: Did the “history problem” between Japan and China exist before 1982 (the first textbook controversy)? and Did Japanese work for reconciliation with China after the war? Yang argued yes on both accounts. He concludes that Japan achieved “thin reconciliation” or a very limited reconciliation but was reservedly optimistic that future efforts to expand efforts at reconciliation between Japan and China can be achieved by shifting the emphasis from inter-governmental to inter-societal exchanges.
Continue reading ›