Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Op-Ed, ManilaStandardToday
April 13, 2005

What are we to do when evil doesn't befall us, the late writer Susan Sontag once asked - when the pain that is endured is the pain of others? Rarely can questions be as difficult - or vital. Computers are useless, said Pablo Picasso. They can only give us answers.

"Why is evil not everywhere?" asked Sontag. "More precisely, why is it somewhere but not everywhere?" Because some choose to remember and some don't? [1]

This year is the anniversary of many things. It has been decades since the last world war. Which occasions are we to commemorate? What shall we remember to forget? A just war? Just war? Liberation? The end of evil? The alleged end of evil?

Between 1929 and 1940, the period that saw the Nazi machine increase in size, influence and aggression, American investments in Germany "accelerated by more than 48 percent " while dropping "everywhere else in Europe."

During the war, with American government support, US companies continued to operate in Germany involving firms which used concentration camp slave labor. In fact, while US bombs hurled death at the fascist horde, "American pilots were given instructions not to hit factories in Germany that were owned by US firms. As a result, German civilians began using the Ford plant in Cologne as an air raid shelter."[2]

After the war, the same moral force: it is "a matter of record that the Pentagon did, in the late 1940s, hire two Nazi doctors to lecture and conduct research at the Air Force School of Medicine in Texas."

Lecture on what, you might ask? Why, on technology transfer, of course. According to the scholar Daniel Barenblatt, the two men employed by the US government, "Dr. Kurt Blome and Major General Walter Schreiber, had conducted death camp experiments in which prisoners were killed by plague, typhus, and tuberculosis infection, according to evidence presented at the Nuremberg trial."[3] Nice teaching syllabus.

The row of over Japanese textbooks is not an internal affair of Japan, but a question affecting the "justice and conscience of mankind," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang recently. The Chinese official was criticizing the Japanese government's renewed encouragement of schoolbooks that glossed over Japan's wartime atrocities.

"We solemnly require the Japanese government to take concrete deeds to honor its commitment to reflect on its history of aggression," said Gang, who was merely prescribing a cure.[4] Forgetting is like gangrene - it eats away at the moral fiber that attaches the mind with the heart:

"The [Japanese] publishers' initial decision to include references to the 'comfort women' in their history textbooks in those days largely reflected the widespread mistaken perception about so-called comfort women," crowed the editorial of the Japanese paper, the Daily Yomiuri. "It was believed both at home and abroad that those women had been transported for sexual servitude," the editorial continued. "However, the perception has been proved wrong. Given this, publishers had a good reason to remove references to 'comfort women' from their textbooks." [5]

Instead of the "masochistic" view of national history, hissed neo-fascist Japanese organizations led by the Association for New History Textbooks (Tsukurukai), what must be propagated is "a 'proud' view of a pure, honourable Japanese history" - one where comfort women are classified as "greedy prostitutes."[6]

Is it possible to prostitute memory?

Of punishments and perfidies, the Philippine province of Pampanga was thought to have had its fill - the volcanic tantrum of Mt. Pinatubo comes to mind along with the protracted presence of one of America's largest overseas military bases. But sometimes there is always room for more of the same.

In a town of the province called Mabalacat, the statue of an imperial Japanese pilot stands on a pedestal of stones stacked like a pyramid in the middle of a garden ornamented with newly manicured grass, flowers and open sky. The statue is relaxed as he peers, hand on hip, at the red Japanese arch marking the garden's entrance and the mountains in the horizon. The figure is that of a Kamikaze pilot, and the square of earth on which the stolid pilot stands is the Kamikaze Shrine, a memorial to the suicidal human instrument of Japan's war made possible by Japanese money and the support of the town's government.

The Mabalacat Tourism Office calls the shrine a "Peace Memorial" and says that the memorial is "not for the glorification of the Kamikaze but rather for the use of war history as a tool for the promotion of peace." However, there is no explanation regarding Japanese imperial ambition, which hurled the region into chaos, or about the catastrophic consequences of Japan's hideous war. There are instead sentences almost gleefully talking of Japanese Zero-type fighter planes successfully blowing up US aircraft carriers and of the "first successful Kamikaze mission" witnessed by "Hiroshi Nishizawa, Japan's greatest ace pilot with 103 kills confirmed."

Like an obscure American town staking its claim to fame through billboards boasting "Home of World's Biggest Potato," the entrance to the Kamikaze memorial heralds - in capitalized letters and supplied with an exclamation point - the curious Disneyland-like distinction of a Lt. Yukio Seki described as "THE WORLD'S FIRST OFFICIAL HUMAN BOMB!"

Those who purchase incense sticks and candles in the shrine are given brochures in Japanese showing the photograph of Mabalacat Tourism Office head Guy "Indra" Hilbero dressed like a Kamikaze pilot, whose uniform somehow resembles the explosive-sutured dress of today's suicide bombers. In place of the grim bearing of the suicidal militant, Hilbero stands, hands on hips, beaming and grinning like a kid.[7]

In his mind, a vacuum. In his chest, a void.


[1] "The Truth of Fiction Evokes Our Common Humanity," essay by Susan Sontag read on the occasion of her receipt of the Literary Award from the Los Angeles Public Library, April 7, 2004. Essay republished by on December 29, 2004, the day after Sontag's death.

[3] Daniel Barenblatt, A Plague Upon Humanity: The Secret Genocide of Axis Japan's Germ Warfare Operation, HarperCollins, 2004.

[4] "It is a matter of justice: Beijing," The Nation-Bangkok, April 8, 2005.

[5] "Textbooks and sovereignty," editorial of The Daily Yomiuri published by The Nation-Bangkok, April 8, 2005.

[7] The author visited the Kamikaze shrine on March 23, 2005.

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