Pendant la Deuxième guerre mondiale, nous considérions les Japonais comme des chiens jaunes aux yeux bridés qui croyaient à des dieux différents. Ils voulaient notre perte parce que notre mode de vie était différent. Et nous, nous voulions les anéantir parce qu’ils étaient différents. N’y aurait-il pas par hasard comme une certaine ressemblance avec ce qui se passe aujourd’hui? Tom Hanks
Comment les Chinois peuvent-ils continuer à se battre avec toutes les pertes qu’ils ont subis? Je les hais! Journal de soldat japonais
Contrairement à la croyance la plus courante, les actes les plus terribles ne sont pas forcément commis sous l’emprise du désespoir, mais sont fréquemment le résultat d’un excès de confiance. (…) les régimes totalitaires ont une conception particulière de la guerre, qui correspond à leur conception du politique. La victoire doit être absolue, le pays ennemi devant être anéanti ou transformé en une sorte de colonie. Jean-Louis Margolin
Le récent film populaire récent de Clint Eastwood, Lettres d’Iwo Jima, est un reflet symbolique des temps. Le film dépeint le côté sensible et contemplatif du général japonais Tadamichi Kuribayashi, une sorte de héros tragique impuissant devant l’approche meurtrière de l’écrasante puissance de feu américaine. Il n’apparaît pas tout à fait comme l’ancien officier impérial que pendant une décennie il avait vraiment été et dont la défense d’Iwo Jima jusqu’au dernier homme s’inspira largement de son précédent et brutal commandement de la terrifiante occupation japonaise de la Mandchourie. Victor Davis Hanson
La Guerre du Pacifique fut probablement la guerre la plus sauvage dans laquelle notre pays a jamais été impliqué. Nous avons combattu un ennemi dont la brutalité était inimaginable pour nous avant que la guerre n’ait commencé. Nous avons très rapidement appris que le soldat japonais était un soldat qui combattrait jusqu’à la mort et vous torturerait et mutilerait si par hasard vous étiez fait prisonnier. Nous les avons vus volontairement sacrifier leurs vies dans des charges insensées aux cris de banzai et les vagues d’attaques aériennes de kamikazes. Nous avons vu un peuple qui semblait prêt au suicide national plutôt que de se rendre et mettre un terme à une guerre qu’ils ne pouvaient tout simplement pas gagner Aussi suis-je circonspect des jugements unilatéraux des gens comme M. Hanks, vivant confortablement comme célébrité méga-millionnaire et séparés des plages de Tarawa ou des jungles de Buna ou des rues de Manille par l’abîme du temps et l’expérience. Brad Schaeffer
Citizens should not have to look to our actors and intellectuals for answers, but, in the absence of political accountability, they often do. After the release of The True Story of the B-17 Slaughter, Gary Cooper thankfully came forward to remind us how President Roosevelt took us into a British war that we were utterly unprepared for. Next look for Coop’s recently completed and powerful American Gestapo this fall. Likewise, Jimmy Stewart remarked from the front lines above Germany (so unlike our president, who failed to serve in any of America’s past wars) that it is hard to know who the real enemy is after we have bombed the children of Hamburg. And Clark Gable is currently preparing a documentary on the Pacific theater, 12/7, that outlines the racist nature of that campaign that seeks the extermination of all the living Japanese we encounter.
Finally, we welcome the upcoming courageous anthology edited by John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner, Worse Than Our Enemies?, that charts the near criminal direction of American foreign policy under this administration’s plans of total and endless war, of preparing for a new imperial conflict against the Soviet Union before the current one with Germany and Japan is even over. It is in this context that the venerable John Ford recently resigned from the Navy, and instead will produce a series of films Why We Shouldn’t Fight that will reveal what was really behind this needless campaign of annihilation against the Japanese. Victor Davis Hanson
Quand, après la Maison Blanche, Hollywood se mêle d’histoire…
En ces temps étranges de révisionnisme politiquement correct où le premier président américain du Tiers-Monde et Pleurnicheur en chef est embaumé vivant tant pour ses coups de force législatifs et ses reculades devant tout ce que la planète peut compter de régimes voyous ou autoritaires que pour ses dénigrations systématiques de son propre pays ou de ses alliés …
Pendant que, pour la galerie, Londres joue à renvoyer un diplomate d’un pays allié engagé dans la même lutte contre le terrorisme international …
Et où, plus près de chez nous, un journaliste risque le licenciement pour avoir révélé le secret de polichinelle de la surcriminalité statistique des Français d’origine africaine ou arabe …
Retour, avec l’historien militaire américain Victor Davis Hanson, sur le dernier petit joyau de politiquement correct et d’équivalence morale d’Hollywood et d’une société aussi « ignorante de son passé que confuse sur son présent« .
A savoir la récente déclaration du plus populaire et plus titré acteur des Etats-Unis Tom Hanks.
Après certes une brillante série télé de 10 épisodes sur la 2e Guerre mondiale coproduite avec Steven Spielberg et tirée d’un ouvrage de l’historien américain Stephen Ambrose (« Band of Brothers », « Frères d’armes » en français, accompagnés des témoignages d’anciens combattants) sortie à la veille des attentats du 11 septembre 2001.
Et à l’occasion d’une nouvelle série tout aussi prometteuse sur la Guerre du Pacifique (« The Pacific »), tirée des témoignages de deux Marines.
Se sent obligé, sans parler de la très douteuse distinction tuer/anéantir, de ramener la guerre contre le Japon de la 2e guerre mondiale et la guerre actuelle contre les jihadistes… à un simple effet du racisme, américain bien sûr!
Oubliant juste quelques détails en passant comme…
L’immigration massive des Japonais aux Etats-Unis avant-guerre et l’alliance américano-japonaise pendant la 1ère guerre mondiale comme l’alliance sino-américaine pendant la 2e …
Le massacre, outre Nankin, de millions de Chinois, Japonais, Coréens, Philippins et autres Océaniens par le fascisme et militarisme du général Tojo et de sa clique comme, à l’origine de la guerre, l’attaque surprise (japonaise, faut-il le rappeler!) de Pearl Harbor …
Le développement, qui n’avait rien d’antijaponais, d’armes de destruction massive (bombardements massifs, bombes atomiques) d’abord pour la campagne européenne contre les nazis, qui, comme les Japonais eux-mêmes, n’auraient pas hésité une seconde à les utiliser s’ils les avaient eues …
La reconstruction japonaise de l’après-guerre directement financée par les Etats-Unis …
L’aide massive et militaire, pour en revenir à la période actuelle, en faveur des musulmans des Balkans, Somalie, Kowait, Irak, Afghanistan, comme l’immigration tout aussi massive et continuée, 11/9 nonobstant, desdits musulmans aux Etats-Unis …
Is Tom Hanks Unhinged?
Victor Davis Hanson
March 13, 2010
Much has been written of the recent Tom Hanks remarks to Douglas Brinkley in a Time magazine interview about his upcoming HBO series on World War II in the Pacific. Here is the explosive excerpt that is making the rounds today.
Back in World War II, we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?
Hanks may not have been quoted correctly; and his remarks may have been impromptu and poorly expressed; and we should give due consideration to the tremendous support Hanks has given in the past both to veterans and to commemoration of World War II; and his new HBO series could well be a fine bookend to Band of Brothers. All that said, Hanks’ comments were sadly infantile pop philosophizing offered by, well, an ignoramus.
Hanks thinks he is trying to explain the multifaceted Pacific theater in terms of a war brought on by and fought through racial animosity. That is ludicrous. Consider the following.
In earlier times, we had good relations with Japan (an ally during World War I, that played an important naval role in defeating imperial Germany at sea) and had stayed neutral in its disputes with Russia (Teddy Roosevelt won a 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for his intermediary role). The crisis that led to Pearl Harbor was not innately with the Japanese people per se (tens of thousands of whom had emigrated to the United States on word of mouth reports of opportunity for Japanese immigrants), but with Japanese militarism and its creed of Bushido that had hijacked, violently so in many cases, the government and put an entire society on a fascistic footing. We no more wished to annihilate Japanese because of racial hatred than we wished to ally with their Chinese enemies because of racial affinity. In terms of geo-strategy, race was not the real catalyst for war other than its role among Japanese militarists in energizing expansive Japanese militarism.
War in the Pacific
How would Hanks explain the brutal Pacific wars between Japanese and Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, Japanese and Filipinos, and Japanese and Pacific Islanders, in which not hundreds of thousands perished, but many millions? In each of these theaters, the United States was allied with Asians against an Asian Japan, whose racially-hyped “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” aimed at freeing supposedly kindred Asians from European and white imperialism, flopped at its inauguration (primarily because of high-handed Japanese feelings of superiority and entitlement, which, in their emphasis on racial purity, were antithetical to the allied democracies, but quite in tune with kindred Axis power, Nazi Germany.)
Much of the devastating weaponry used on the Japanese (e.g., the B-29 fire raids, or the two nuclear bombs) were envisioned and designed to be used against Germany (cf. the 1941 worry over German nuclear physics) or were refined first in the European theater (cf. the allied fire raids on Hamburg and Dresden). Much of the worst savagery of the war came in 1945 when an increasingly mobilized and ever more powerful United States steadily turned its attention on Japan as the European theater waned and then ended four months before victory in the Pacific theater. Had we needed by 1945 to use atomic bombs, or massive formations of B-29s when they came on line, against Hitler, we most certainly would have.
We should also point out that for many Americans, initially in 1941-2, the real war was with the Japanese, not the Germans (despite an official policy of privileging the European theater in terms of supply and manpower), but not because of race hatred, but due to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Until then (Hitler would in reaction unwisely declare war on the U.S. on December 11, 1941) Germany had been careful to maintain the pretense of non-belligerency, while Japan chose to start a war through a rather treacherous surprise assault at a time of nominal peace — thus inciting furor among the American public.
Despite Hanks’ efforts at moral equivalence in making the U.S. and Japan kindred in their hatreds, America was attacked first, and its democratic system was both antithetical to the Japan of 1941, and capable of continual moral evolution in a way impossible under Gen. Tojo and his cadre. It is quite shameful to reduce that fundamental difference into a “they…us” 50/50 polarity. Indeed, the most disturbing phrase of all was Hanks’ suggestion that the Japanese wished to “kill” us, while we in turn wanted to “annihilate” them. Had they developed the bomb or other such weapons of mass destruction (and they had all sorts of plans of creating WMDs), and won the war, I can guarantee Hanks that he would probably not be here today, and that his Los Angeles would look nothing like a prosperous and modern Tokyo.
What is remarkable about the aftermath of WWII is the almost sudden postwar alliance between Japan and the U.S., primarily aimed at stopping the Soviets, and then later the communist Chinese. In other words, the United States, despite horrific battles in places like Iwo Jima and Okinawa, harbored little official postwar racial animosity in its foreign policy, helped to foster Japanese democracy, provided aid, and predicated its postwar alliances — in the manner of its prewar alliances — on the basis of ideology, not race. Hanks apparently has confused the furor of combat — in which racial hatred often becomes a multiplier of emotion for the soldier in extremis — with some sort of grand collective national racial policy that led to and guided our conduct.
An innately racist society could not have gone through the nightmare of Okinawa (nearly 50,000 Americans killed, wounded, or missing), and yet a mere few months later have in Tokyo, capital of the vanquished, a rather enlightened proconsul MacArthur, whose deference to Japanese religion, sensibilities, and tradition ensured a peaceful transition to a rather radical new independent and autonomous democratic culture.
Hanks on the Recent War
Hanks quips, “Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?” That is another unnecessary if asinine statement — if it refers to our struggle against radical Islam in the post 9/11 world. The U.S. has risked much to help Muslims in the Balkans and Somalia, freed Kuwait and Iraq in two wars against Saddam Hussein, liberated or helped to liberate Afghanistan both from the Russians and the Taliban, and has the most generous immigration policy toward Muslims of any country in the world, ensuring a degree of tolerance unimaginable to Muslims in, say, China or Russia. Hanks should compare the U.S. effort to foster democracy in Iraq with the Russian conduct in Chechnya to understand “what’s going on today.”
In short Hanks’s comments are as ahistorical as they are unhinged. One wonders — were they supposed to entice us into watching the upcoming HBO series on the Pacific theater? But if anyone is interested in the role of race on the battlefield, one could probably do far better in skipping Hanks, and reading instead E.B. Sledge’s brilliant memoir, With the Old Breed, which has a far more sophisticated analysis of race and combat on Peleliu and Okinawa, and was apparently (and I hope fairly) drawn upon in the HBO series. (Sledge speaks of atrocities on both sides in the horrific close-quarter fighting on the islands, but he makes critical distinctions about accepted and non-accepted behaviors, the differences between Japanese and American attitudes, and in brilliant fashion appreciates the role of these campaigns in the larger war. One should memorize the last lines of his book.)
It would be easy to say that Hanks knows about as much about history as historians do about acting, but that would be too charitable. Anyone with a high school education, or an innate curiosity to read (and Hanks in the interview references works on the Pacific theater), can easily learn the truth on these broad subjects. In Hanks’ case, he is either ignorant and has done little real research, or in politically-correct fashion has taken a truth about combat in the Pacific (perceptions of cultural and racial difference often did intensify the savagery of combat) and turned it into The Truth about the origins and conduct of an entire war — apparently in smug expectation that such doctrinaire revisionism wins applause these days in the right places (though I doubt among the general public that he expects to watch the series.)
All in all, such moral equivalence (the Japanese and the U.S. were supposedly about the same in their hatreds) is quite sad, and yet another commentary on our postmodern society that is as ignorant about its own past as it is confused in its troubled present.
Tom Hanks’ Pacific War Revisionism
March 12th, 2010
Is there something in the water in Hollywood? Or is it just that difficult to stay grounded in reality when you are paid $20 million for six weeks of work in which you bring fantasy to life? I expect left-wing drivel to spew from the mouth of a Sean “I (heart) Hugo Chavez” Penn and his ilk. But et tu Tom Hanks? Now there is a blow to the solar plexus I didn’t see coming.
Mr. Hanks’ newest project, The Pacific, is a companion piece to Band of Brothers about to be aired on HBO. If Band of Brothers is any indication of the quality of this new mini-series, it should be a delight for amateur historians like myself (especially one whose father was in the 1st Marines—albeit Korea not WWII—explaining my deep interest in the Pacific War).
However, the actor/producer’s recent statements about the Pacific War seem a bit out of whack with the history itself – one that Hanks of all people should understand. “Back in World War II,” he says, “we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?”
First of all, Mr. Hanks makes a fundamental error in labeling Japan’s cassus belli as some sort of national objection to our “way of living.” It was more practical than that. The island nation lacked any raw materials and thus waged a war of conquest to obtain what it needed; particularly in Southeast Asia from which it imported most of its rubber, ore, and especially oil. As for the Americans, the Japanese viewed the U.S. Pacific Fleet as the greatest threat to its ring of island fortresses that protected their empire as well as a very real and growing threat to their sea lanes. Knowing that our industrial might once ramped up would be overwhelming, they gambled on destroying our fleet with one knock-out blow at Pearl Harbor. It didn’t work.
It was the very under-handed nature of the attack itself that brought out the animosity in the U.S. populace against the Japanese as opposed to Germans or Italians. But as those throughout Asia who fell under Japanese military rule could testify, Dai Nippon’s racism was of a much more overt and vicious kind. In fact, Japan had been waging a brutal war against their “inferior” Chinese neighbors in the region for a full decade before she ever set her eyes on Hawaii. For Mr. Hanks to subtly omit the visceral racism instilled in the Japanese from on high, and expressed in such atrocities as the Rape of Nanking or the sacking of Manila in which hundreds of thousands of helpless innocents were butchered by Japanese soldiers in the most violent and sickening of ways, is to falsify by omission.
Now, no one can deny that our own racism played a part in our prosecution of the war. After all, the United States in 1941 was a much more European-descended nation which could account in part at least for the incarceration of Japanese-Americans while German/Italian Americans got a free pass. Part of it was a matter of our educational system. As the late William Manchester observed, American kids’ textbooks in the 1940s taught that civilization started at the conjunction of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and marched steadily westward to culminate in North America at the waters of the Pacific. So it was natural that we viewed the war in Europe among common ancestors in places like France and Italy (places we knew well) in a different light than the war in the far off Pacific with a nation so alien to us and that blatantly attacked us while we literally slept.
But racism was not something unique to the West. If most Americans viewed the Japanese as a diminutive buck-toothed and bespectacled Gilbert & Sullivan race, the Japanese viewed their Occidental enemies as hairy beasts, unclean, barbaric and on a par with dogs — even going so far as to display American POWs in animal cages in their city zoos.
And those Asians who were nonetheless non-Japanese, be they Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Burmese, etc. were subjected to sadistic cruelties and unimaginable violence that could only be rationalized by a people indoctrinated through systematic propaganda into believing themselves “spirit warriors” utterly superior to those races whose countries they now controlled by force.
But much of the sense of a bloodlust, or desire for “annihilation” on the Americans’ part to which Mr. Hanks refers is misdirected in the sense that this is the way Americans prosecuted both fronts, especially from the air. It is estimated that the USAAF bombing raids in the ETO killed over 300,000 German civilians. Having a common genealogy did not spare the people of Dresden, Bremen, Essen, Cologne or Berlin from our bombs.
In another interview, Mr. Hanks cites as evidence of his claims of American “racism and terror” that “it would seem as though the only way to complete one of these battles on these small specks of rock in the middle of nowhere was, I’m sorry, to kill them all.” Naturally, the actor conveniently leaves out the fact that the Japanese rarely surrendered but rather chose to fight to the death… and take as many Americans with them in the process. In war it is “get or get got” as my dad used to say… especially when fighting a fanatical enemy whose stated goal was to kill ten Americans before they died. So only those who have fought an enemy who would often feign surrender and then hurl hand grenades at their captors can judge the men in the field. I would imagine if the Germans fought to the death, rather than surrendered en masse, that the history of the ETO would be just as savage.
Perhaps the most ignorant observation Mr. Hanks’ makes, however, is his comparison to our modern day war against terror. To make the claim that we are waging war on Islamofacists because, presumably, we view Muslims as “different” not only is an insult to the nation but betrays a stunning ignorance of contemporary history. The fact is that no nation has done more to protect, defend and better the lives of the world’s Muslim populations than the United States. From ending the Muslim genocide through force of arms in the Balkans to overthrowing murdering despots in Iraq and paving the way for a freer society, this nation has been a most positive force in the lives of millions of Muslims around the world. The ones waging war on those who are different because they are different can be found cowering in caves hiding from F-18s and A-10s… they are not the men and woman in the cockpits, nor the nation they defend.
So in answer to Hanks’ question: “Does [killing those different from us] sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?” I can answer that—NO! Next question.
The Pacific War was probably the most savage war in which our country has ever been involved. We fought an enemy whose brutality was unfathomable to us before the war began. We very quickly learned that the Japanese soldier was one who would fight to the death and would torture and mutilate you if you were taken captive along the way. We saw them willingly sacrifice their lives in senseless banzai charges and waves of kamikaze air assaults. We saw a people who seemed perfectly willing to commit national suicide rather than surrender and end a war they could not possibly have won. So I am wary of the one-sided judgments cast by the likes of Mr. Hanks, living comfortably as a mega-millionaire celebrity and separated from the beaches of Tarawa or the jungles of Buna or the streets of Manila by the chasm of time and life experience. I certainly hope his 10-hour epic will be more true to history than his own take on events… otherwise I may find myself as disappointed in the production as I am in the producer himself.
Why Does Japan Keep Revising its Wartime Past?
Victor Davis hanson
Japanese society has for far too long seen itself as the victim rather than the aggressor in World War II. The most recent prominent pronouncement shows this beyond doubt. But America’s own self-flagellation over the Pacific War only encourages and enables revisionists in Japan to distort history.
During the last 60 years a now predictable postwar narrative about WWII has emerged from contemporary democratic Japan. An ex-general, a current diplomat, an influential intellectual or corporate CEO–at an unguarded moment–gives a lecture, writes an article, approves a textbook, or provides an interview suggesting that Japan was without much fault in the Pacific War.
Sometimes the argument maintains that imperial Japan committed no atrocities, either in its occupied Asian territories or against prisoners of war. On other occasions, the theme is more racial: the Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere was a protective order aimed at rolling back Western colonialism and liberating kindred Asians from European oppression.
That the Chinese, Filipinos and Koreans overwhelmingly welcomed American wartime help in freeing their territories from Japanese occupation is forgotten.
These examples of Japanese revisionism are legion. During the 1995 50-year commemoration of the end of WWII there was a renewed effort on the part of Japanese historians to convince a younger generation that stories about the use of « comfort women » from Korea and China–who were forced as prostitutes to serve Japanese soldiers–were exaggerated, if not altogether false.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s 2006 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine enraged most of Asia. The monument honors not just Japanese war dead, but also a number of convicted Japanese war criminals.
More recently, in November 2008, Air Force Chief of Staff Toshio Tamogami was fired for writing that Japan was not the aggressor in WWII, as part of his argument to end controls on the use of Japanese military forces.
Apologies–and More Revisionism
When such revisionism surfaces, a howl of Western protests follows–often with Chinese, Korean and Philippine supporting choruses.
Factual rebuttal from abroad is aired–reminding Japanese that the horrific Unit 731 tortured thousands in the course of medical experiments. Perhaps as many as 10 million Asian civilians perished under Japanese occupation. At least a third of all prisoners of war held in Japanese captivity died.
In reaction, an embarrassed Japanese government publicly, though often reluctantly, reprimands the offending revisionist.
At that point, the controversy dies down–until the next outburst. And we expect such serial recurrences because at least three generations of postwar Japanese have learned in their schools that a « peace-loving » Japan of the 1930s and 1940s was attacked by the Western powers, fought a largely defensive war on behalf of fellow Asian peoples, and suffered disproportionate wartime damage.
Unlike present-day Germany, which accepted Nazi culpability for WWII and the Holocaust, Japanese society was never completely restructured by the occupying powers. Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s occupation did not delve into matters of atonement–or the culpability of the Japanese emperor in the rise of radical Japanese militarism.
Recently, there is a general worry that such revisionism seems to be on the increase–and the Japanese government less apologetic about its frequency. The further we are distanced from WWII, so too the fewer Allied war veterans there are to provide firsthand remembrances of Japanese atrocities and to remind the public of the viciousness of the imperial Japanese army. But there are other, more subtle reasons that explain why Japan increasingly reinvents its wartime history from that of aggression to victimhood.
Japan’s Asian neighbors are no longer failed states. China, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines are now regional economic rivals, with increasingly proud nationalist agendas based on newfound affluence.
Encouraging its citizens to feel less remorse about WWII ensures the Japanese government that it need not, in guilt and atonement, grant other competitive Asian countries economic concessions or cede ground in diplomatic disputes.
The economic and military rise of a capitalist, authoritarian billion-person China terrifies the Japanese. After all, Chinese warships and jets now routinely « stray » into Japanese waters and air space.
In addition, the continued existence of an imposed « Peace Constitution » limits the ability of the Japanese military to proactively meet perceived threats. In the mind of the Japanese military, if WWII can be proven to have been a defensive effort, then there is no current need to be hamstrung by constitutional restrictions on the use of force.
In this revisionist view, these legal barriers came largely as a result of American imperial hubris rather than legitimate fears of future renewed Japanese aggression.
Moreover, the chronic economic troubles in the U.S. and the popular media’s fascination with « American decline » have fostered a new sense of Japanese superiority–and an apparent need to remind Japanese society of their past parity with the U.S.
In this case, Japanese revisionism often takes up the theme that Japan was « tricked » into attacking Pearl Harbor. Or perhaps it lost the war only due to its own tactical mistakes, or the use of unfairly murderous American weapons.
The suggestion pervades that there must be some mitigating circumstances that explain why today’s prosperous and moral Japanese once were crushed by the now struggling–and often decadent–Americans.
Political Correctness Run Amok
But there is another–and more disturbing–catalyst for Japanese wartime revisionism about the savagery of the imperial Japanese military. And it has nothing to do with the Japanese themselves.
We in the U.S. are now almost into a half-century of political correctness, in which our own American history has been subject to radical reinterpretations.
In the early 1960s, there began in earnest a laudable effort to emphasize the contributions of women, minorities, homosexuals and others to the building of America, and to encourage more discussion of our national lapses than just our successes.
However, by the 1970s and 1980s, an entire industry of institutionalized multiculturalism and utopian pacifism had grown up to focus, in one-sided fashion, mostly on the pathologies of American history.
Our schools began to assume that the U.S. alone had suffered from slavery, racism and sexism. Apparently, the sins inherent in mankind were more exclusively the sins of American history–as if because America was not perfect, it was therefore not good.
Such radical reinterpretations of American history focused especially on WWII. In the first two decades of postwar history, our schools once focused on the dastardly surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. We once learned of the horrific savagery of the Japanese military, and the gallant heroism of the American soldier in the Pacific–at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
The tragic but necessary choice to use the atomic bomb ended the war and prevented millions of American and Japanese casualties–inevitable in any planned invasion of the Japanese mainland to end the war.
In contrast, under the new left-wing revisionism, a racially chauvinistic and aggressive U.S. often unfairly coerced a weaker Asian country into a war of annihilation. Often, WWII is seen as a sort of Oriental precursor to American carnage in Korea and Vietnam.
Under the doctrines of multiculturalism, all cultures are of equal value and merely « different » rather than any less successful. Our abhorrence of Japanese militarism supposedly derived more from misunderstanding and ignorance of other civilizations than legitimate faith in moral absolutes.
Pacifists, trained in « peace and conflict resolution studies, » try to convince students that diplomacy, not a lashing out after Pearl Harbor, might have better ended hostilities.
The doctrine of moral equivalence and proportionality stressed that there was not all that much difference between Japanese aggression on Dec. 7, 1941, and American « overreaction » in August 1945.
The new narrative now went that the Japanese had killed only a few thousand American combatants at a distant base to begin the war. Yet we had vaporized tens of thousands of Japanese civilians to end it over the skies of the Japanese homeland itself.
Rarely now do American students, whether in primary schools, our high schools, or at universities, know much about the Bataan Death March. The horrors of Okinawa and the savagery of street fighting in Manila might as well be ancient history.
Clint Eastwood’s recent popular film about Iwo Jima, Letters From Iwo Jima, is a symbolic reflection of the times. The movie portrays the sensitive, contemplative side of Japanese Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, a sort of tragic hero who finds no escape from the murderous approach of overwhelming American firepower.
He does not quite appear as the decade-long veteran imperial officer he really was, whose death-to-the-last-man defense of Iwo Jima drew on his earlier brutal command during the horrific Japanese occupation of Manchuria.
In many contemporary American schools, the Pacific Theater is presented largely through three themes: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the wartime internment of Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans in camps in the American West; and the heroic labors of American women–the millions of once-neglected Rosie the Riveters–in our factories at home.
The message to American youth becomes mixed. The annihilation of Japanese citizens through nuclear weapons seems to have been more a war crime rather than directed at military targets to shorten the war.
Our « camps » at home were about the same as the enemy’s abroad where millions perished. And women on the home front, not our mostly male soldiers on the islands of the Pacific, were the real forgotten heroes that won the war.
If Japanese society never underwent a necessary re-examination about its wartime aggression, its American counterpart most surely did concerning its own retaliation. But it proved as distorted in demonizing our military heroes as the Japanese efforts to whitewash its militarists.
This reinterpretation was not lost on contemporary Japanese elites: if America itself was unsure of who really started the Pacific War and why, and which side bore the greater culpability for atrocities, then why should Japan worry much about reverting to a view that similarly blamed the Americans?
If we are to remind Japan that our present cordial alliance nevertheless hinges on honest acceptance of our once shared wartime history, it is not enough in piecemeal fashion to express outrage at each successive example of unapologetic Japanese revisionism.
A better approach would be to discuss WWII more honestly here at home. We need to apprise the next generation of American youth that a mostly underarmed democracy was attacked at a time of peace.
And its subsequent defense was not the moral equivalent to the aggression of a fascistic military power, bent on further conquests in the course of an ongoing war in Asia and the Pacific against its neighbors.
Once we relearn the truth of the Pacific Theater, it is more likely the Japanese will, too.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and military historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, where he is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow. He has written 17 books on ancient and military history, and is currently a weekly syndicated columnist with Tribune Media Services and the National Review Online magazine.