August 15th marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. For decades around this date, Japanese prime ministers have offered declarations for what their government did to their neighbors back then. Over the course of the past few days, I have seen plenty of articles about Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement and how his words were received by a few countries, including America. Headlines seem to speak volumes about a country’s agenda and intentions. Or would it be the president’s? Here’s mine.
Truth be told, I’m not into politics. I have my reasons, but they will be saved for another time. I am however transparently into people and how they treat each other based off of past events, current situations, and future possibilities. As I’ve read news articles this week, I have been engrossed by how headlines and statements can be phrased differently based on which outlet is feeding the information.
The list and pictures could go on while sources within the same borders contrast in their opinions. For example, what CNN says above seems to be the opposite of what the New York Times is trying to get across to their readers.
What I’d like to do is see this story from the angles of the Chinese, Japanese, and American.
According to Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying, Japan “needs to recognize and reflect on its history to win the trust of its Asian neighbors and the international community.” If trust still needs to be won, then the trust obviously isn’t there. I don’t know who she is speaking for as far as neighbors and community, but this statement is not to be taken lightly. China’s sources seem to be seeking an apology for the millions who were affected by WWII. I try to imagine the depth of this while feeling saddened that many of my students’ parents on WeChat are posting celebratory and deprecating comments about Japan. Is forgiveness an option? I dare ask since our English office of Chinese, Canadian, and American descent last year had moments of tension due to China/Japan relations being discussed. Each time, it seemed that the foreigners “don’t understand.” I want to. I seriously want to.
What are Chinese people expecting every year in the statements? A checklist of words, the LA Times surmises, that include “colonial rule,” “aggression,” and “apology” like the prime minister did back in 1995? Clear expectations from both sides would definitely help.
From Prime Minister Abe’s speech, he echoes the apologies of the past but doesn’t see a need for more in the future. “Postwar generations now exceed 80% of Japan’s population.” This has me wondering how much of China’s population is postwar. Numbers anyone? From my American perspective, I’d be hinting at how repetitive apologies, over time, become meaningless. How does this differ in Asian culture? I’m all ears there. How long or much will it take to “win the trust”?
But wait a minute, how could people say this statement was “watered-down” or not enough? Maybe it’s because of how Japanese textbooks still discuss WWII and other events? (Side note: This is an issue that takes place worldwide. Just look at Texas’ recent controversy.) Is Japan’s long-term goal to alter future generations and their knowledge of WWII events? It is one thing to learn from one’s history so not to be doomed by it, but it’s a whole other ballgame to change history. As a teacher myself, I ask: How can my students learn from history if it’s modified to fit one’s agenda and show that mistakes of the past weren’t ours?
I haven’t personally experienced a time where millions of Americans have died from war. Therefore, I can only share something a black American coworker of mine shared last year. This was over a conversation at lunch when he, a Canadian, and I were discussing why the Chinese in our office took so much offense to our questions and opinions. He said, “If I could, I’d tell them how I could still be mad at white people because of what happened years ago.” We also came to a 9/11 point where the topic of radical Islam was approached. None of us were directly affected by either of these events, so we have been quick to forgive. We think those who have direct connections struggle much, much harder. Meanwhile, forgiveness and love should be the ultimate goals. Right?
I’m not surprised to see the Pew Research Center say that “Americans believe that Japan has atoned for its actions during WWII.” That’s probably where I (and probably my students) don’t sit well with some Chinese.
Nonetheless, I think it’s clear to see that every country has its history and its blind spots. While one group points their fingers at another, the phrase that “three fingers are pointing right back at you” becomes rather less cliché.