Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Won't Miss #31 - culture of victim-hood (reflection)

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I'm a person who favors balanced perspective. I have mentioned "yin" and "yang" many times in posts and I find it far more difficult to believe in the starkness of "good" and "bad". I think that the world would be a far better place if we taught people perspective-taking in school. By that, I mean that we helped them place themselves very effective in the shoes of another person rather than simply adopt an attitude that they stand on the better, higher ground.

One enduring frustration for me since returning to the U.S. is how reactionary people can be and how incapable they are of seeing value or validity to opposing viewpoints. It's as if people feel that understanding an opposing viewpoint is the same as accepting it and choosing not to change the world. I wrote a post about gun control in which I said I understand where such thinking comes from. I don't believe it comes from a fundamentally "evil" or "wrong" place, but from a perspective that I personally do not embrace. That doesn't mean I won't continue to oppose personal gun ownership, but simply that I know why people feel the way they feel and it's not because they are stupid, mean, inherently violent, or inferior in their critical thinking skills.

If you truly want to be open-minded and embrace the complexity of life, you cannot paint things as being all black or all white. In fact, I think we do our children a disservice for their futures if we indoctrinate them into such thinking. Generally, I felt that Japanese people were better at perspective-taking than most Western folks (and Americans in particular), but the huge acceptance to this was anything related to World War II.

There's a South Park joke about how the Japanese talk about the atomic bombs as if they were standing around minding their own business when America just decided to annihilate a bunch of them. That joke comes from the fact that Trey Parker spent some time in Japan and studied Japanese (and possibly also because his former wife was Japanese). He had some insight into the highly polarized and biased way in which Japan teaches its children about WW II. Trust me when I say that American kids aren't being taught that what the U.S. did to Japan was a good idea. They are well aware of the horror that resulted and as many (if not more) Americans are prone to viewing the bombs as unnecessary as necessary. In Japan, well, South Park got it right.

I continue not to miss the culture of victimhood that surrounds the way in which the war is regarded and the way in which it presents a one-sided view of history to Japanese children.


  1. "exception", not "acceptance" in the second to last paragraph.

  2. There's a subtlety in the Japanese response that I think Americans don't really understand. Isn't it true that the Japanese focus much more on the aftermath and downplay what the Japanese were doing before the bombing (and why the U.S. bombed them, except that "it was war")? So in Japan they don't exactly say "U.S. was evil and Japan was good" but "War is evil and Japan is an innocent victim of war"? Do I have it right?

    1. You are right that they don't say the U.S. is evil. However, that's actually not what I'm talking about. I'm saying that they only speak of the war in terms of their status as A-bomb victims. They do not talk about what Japan did in the war (such as Pearl Harbor, invading China and Korea, etc.). They mention the war only as, "war is bad and we were victims of that badness."

      The truth is that they, from all external appearances, are remarkably unspecific about *who* harmed them. However, they mainly focus on the harm they experienced and do not speak about the harm they did.

      I'm not sure if that addresses your point. If not, then please forgive my misunderstanding!

    2. That, and they keep downplaying their own heinous war crimes like it's a dedicated hobby...

    3. Orchid64, thanks, that addresses my point nicely. I found it very frustrating how Koreans couldn't seem to get past the war and it seemed clear to me that their obsessive hatred was keeping them back, culturally and emotionally.

      Paradoxically (Asia is full of paradoxes), I came to realize this provides a perverse incentive for the Japanese to keep focusing on themselves as victims and ignore the pre-bombing atrocities. So they benefit in two ways: they save face AND they keep the Chinese and Koreans in a state of belligerent arrested development.

  3. Ah, just last night I was thinking almost the same thing. I wondered if it was feasible to teach cognitive/social psychology to children in school so they grow up knowing how the brain works and thus become less inclined to believe in the 'rightness' or 'wrongness' of any one opinion. If growing up, we knew about narrative bias, confirmation bias, inattentional blindness, and all the other ways our thinking is flawed where we believe it is perfect, then it could save us a lot of arguments and misguided judgements, or so I pondered.

  4. I also have yet to encounter a Japanese person who will admit that Japan was an aggressor in WWII (or before that in Eastern Asia). I probably never will, because the couple of times a conversation went into this direction, the conversation partner became very aggressive (passive and active, as in hitting the table with his fist) and gave me the cold shoulder / chose to break off contact.

    I reckon most simply haven't been taught in school about such grave aspects of their history and choose to ignore negative things, as otherwise one has to assume that they're all (with a handful of exceptions) trying to actively whitewash history. Which of course is not going to work and only serves to isolate the Japanese from the rest of the world. They see themselves as victims, we see them as aggressors, and there is no middle ground.

    As I'm a big South Park fan, I'd like to ask if you can remember which episode this scene was in? I sort of remember it but Google doesn't help. Thank you!

  5. There's a fascinating book I found once in the uni library called "The Enigma of Japanese Power" by Karel van Wolferen. While now a bit old and in some ways out of date, it's still a detailed examination of how the Japanese power system operated up to the 70s and 80s, on psychological, cultural, social, financial and political levels, so it certainly covered WW2. One of the most interesting ideas I came away with from that was how the Japanese army, navy, Emperor and the people at large were not especially meshed in the way "our side" were during this war - in fact I rather got the impression that the army and navy were sometimes behaving in a manner that harks back to the feudal system and its autonomous lords under the Japanese Emperor. (Now it's been a few years since I read it but I'm reminded to go read it again because I've got it on my shelf!) I remember it approached the topic of WW2 in a way that explained a deal of the Japanese action and attitude in that war, and I remember it really was quite necessary to have it explained, because it was very different to the social set-up during WW2 that we in the UK experienced, or indeed the USA. People seemed in some ways utterly disconnected from what was actually going on, but obviously the propaganda was there if we're to remember the suicides reported at the point of Japan's surrender, some people being told by their own they would be routinely raped and brutalised by the incoming American force and were better off dead, others simply unable to imagine life in an occupied nation and unwilling to go on living in it, etc.

    You seem to be right on the mark about the kids of Japan not being taught about the war in a balanced manner, hearing a bit about that lately too, and wasn't it just recently a famous band - Muse, maybe? - had to yank the use of the (old/military) Japanese flag from one of their music videos because it severely offended some people in S Korea or China (they apparently equating it with the Nazi Swastika for the atrocities Japan committed during the war). I was only vaguely aware of this, Muse didn't apparently know it, but also apparently quite a few Japanese didn't either because it just isn't brought up over there? We don't hear a lot about the brutalising of ordinary Germans after the war ended by the Allies, but I think a point should be made of it if you're going to teach about war, that both sides are often as bad as the other. (In our schools we generally have to study a year or two of WWI and its drawn-out sufferings, and come away with a sense that it was all extremely stupid and that both sides were responsible; although I wish we'd done more on WW2 - they didn't touch on that much when I was in school).

    Wolferen mentions specifically this idea that what has also been bad for Japan in experiencing the atomic bombs was that from it many felt "not only did they suffer, but they suffered *uniquely*"... meaning it's easily been turned into both a humbling experience and also one which reinforced a pathological sense of Japanese 'uniqueness' and superiority. Apparently for some that national suffering is a case for people to feel that they understand something we all don't, and could never possibly understand... which probably isn't a very helpful view if you combine it with a general ignorance about why the bomb was dropped in the first place. Surely something so culturally significant to the Japanese as the A-bombings, which obviously permeates their culture so deeply that I can see their lasting fascination with it from all the way over here - should be taught about in Japan's schools?! :/

    1. I've talked to people from Hiroshima and they told me that they usually lie to other Japanese when asked where they're from, because there is a history of discrimination and bullying against Japanese from Hiroshima and Nagasaki because they are still seen as "impure", even today. It is very difficult to get a job or apartment once people find out you were born in one of these cities.
      It seems like the Japanese only mention the atom bombs when it is useful, i.e. when interacting with the foreign world, but on the inside choose to believe that it only affected people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki who must therefore be ostracized to the end of time.

    2. That's awful. I wonder if those affected by the recent Fukushima disaster are treated similarly? Or is this ostracism of those hailing from those cities affected by the A-bombs more like an unwanted reminder rather than anything to do with any sort of real (nuclear/genetic) contamination? I'm wondering what reasons people could have now to think demonstrably healthy people from these places deserve treating as if they have a disease 68 years on. We all bathe in the light of a giant fusion reactor in the sky every day. One might as well say that anyone living near a power plant is 'impure' and shouldn't have a job...

      Do the Japanese people at large have a 'fear' of radiation or those living near it? I remember after Fukushima, even people here started talking about how terrible nuclear power is and that we should shut down all our nuclear plants. The idea an earthquake could destabilize a nuclear power plant somehow meant that we shouldn't build stronger and safer power plants with things like earthquakes or cooling failure in better mind, but just completely ban them (something I don't think we could ever afford to do anyway). A lot of people seem to be very afraid but still quite ignorant about nuclear power, but I don't think I've encountered anywhere before an attitude of shunning the victims or victims' descendants of it.

  6. I have heard of some bullying of children relocated from the disaster area. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any attempt to stop the misinformation. Most charities focused on helping the children/orphans from the disaster that I've talked to don't touch on that... more fundraising and travel and camps.

  7. I apologize for my poor English .Hope you could understand.

    I expected your reply and you would tell me something I have missed or haven't noticed about Japan on that ww2 issue.残念です。

    It's hard for you to believe whatever I say .Coz' you don't know me,my friends,my mom(Di..d..you.read ..my..previous ...comment..?)
    I admit we japanese are a kind of stupid nation in a sense, yeah....unfortunately we are...(Of couse ,not all people)But not stupid enough to believe that japanese militaly were in china and korea at the time of ww2,becouse they were asked to be there, bombed at/in(???)Darwin in Australia ,coz asked to do.

    I promise, I never come to your page and send any messages again. Anoying you is not what I want to do.But ,Please ask your reliable japanease frinds,if they think that japan was inocent victim of the ww2 and did nothing wrong
    Ask them if they have watched some tv programs about Parl houber(I have a lot ...not a lot, maybe 3 or 4 times(NO declaration of war always mentioned )).
    And I also want you to ask them is if they have sense of guilty towards countries Japan attacked at the time of the ww2 or not.

    You lived in Japan long enough to know a lot about Japan and Japanease people.So I was very curious to know the reason behind your opinion?/ conclusion?.

    you said
    "Trust me when I say that American kids aren't being taught that what the U.S. did to Japan was a good idea. They are well aware of the horror that resulted"

    Americans took human being to the moon. japanese invented a heated toilet seat.
    Hea..ted toil..let.....Sorry for comparing those two.

    Don't you think a little bit unfair to think Jpanese kids are aware of nothing.

    At least,My friends my mom and I, don't think we were just victims and did nothing wrong(probably most of japanese think this way,I guess).

    It's important for teachers how to teach,what to teach.But like you said
    "American kids aren't --------that resulted"
    The most important thing is doing their own resarch when kids(not only kids,also growing ups)are aware of someting making no sense,strange, interesting,wierd...etc . That is what study(~ies ?)is about,isn't it?That what we(?)/people(?)'ve been doing, right?
    What the goverment says is not what people blieve.

    Please ask your Japanese friends about their ideas for ww2

    Sorry for may poor English.
    疲れた ふぅ~。

  8. What I find amazing is that the war vets I've met so far have been more open minded and forgiving then a lot of people I know who've never experienced war. I thought it would be the opposite way around. In the history books I got an idea of the brutality of war but through talking to people ~ the humanity side really came out.

  9. I find it a little amusing that you're mentioning Japanese victimehood culture with Hiroshima, but yet you mention Pearl Harbour as if... Well, you're still believing Japan did a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour and the USA was completely taken off guard.
    Let me tell you how it happened (French, here, so I don't have any interest in any side) :
    1) it is now known that the USA could get and decipher the communications from Japan, so the attack was known to happen. It was not a "surprise".
    2) The USA governement WANTED to enter the war, but of course the public opinion didn't see it interest and was opposed to it. The USA already tried to bait Germany via their support to Britain, but Germany was very cautious and stayed away.
    3) So the USA decided to enter the war via its Pacific area, thus putting their ships where they had nothing to do : close to the Japanese fleet.
    4) The Japanese fleet sent a lot of messages that were deciphered by the USA services, but they weren't answered, on purpose.
    5) and now we have an attack on our fleet from those sneaky Japanese, and now the opinion is completely in favor of us entering the war. Good job !

    You may chose not to publish my comment, it's OK. I just felt you hadn't been updated on the latest History researches (I know my generation had the same problem) when I saw you mentioning Pearl Harbour in 2013...


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