I once taught English in Germany. Many of my students felt guilty about what their grandparents had done in the Second World War. Some of the grandfathers who were devout Christians carried the guilt every day of their lives. One good man, who’d done impressive things in his life despite having a metal plate in his head from the Russian Front ,was in agony in his 70’s because he wondered how he and other Christians could have done what they did in the 1930s and 1940s,.
On the other hand, students from Japan have told me the Rape of Nanjing is a myth, there were no comfort women, and China started the Mukden Incident. (Comfort women were Korean and Chinese girls who were enslaved by the Japanese so their men could have sex) Most of these students were fine human beings but the facts weren’t in their K-12 textbooks. It took until 2006 for a Japanese newspaper to break the news that Japanese, not the Chinese, had been behind the Mukden Incident (the Chinese call the debacle September 18th).
Why did this happen? The Republican Party, which was against the war before it happened, had the slogan “Who lost China?” MacArthur, who administered Japan, was convinced the Communists were the enemy and he forgot about how vicious the Japanese had been during the war. We needed allies to fight the commies. In Korea we encouraged the rich Yang ban, who had been collaborators with the Japanese, to take over the government, because with all their loot they certainly wouldn’t turn communist.
We were right to fear the communists, but for 30 years being ant-communist was the only consideration in our attitudes toward other governments.
At UCLA, and in many places around America, people of Japanese and Chinese ancestry, who had nothing to do with this history, are best friends. In fact, you’ll mostly see Koreans, Chinese and Japanese walking together and doing things that don’t involve whites. Because of their shared attitudes towards education they have strong bonds of friendship In this area America has been a true melting pot.
In Japan recently the Prime Minister went to the Yasukuni Shrine where the seven most evil Japanese war criminals have their ashes. Can you imagine Germans visiting a temple to Hitler placed over his bunker?
American citizens whose ancestors once lived in Japan believe what they’ve been taught about World War Two from their textbooks and have no interest in preserving the face of their ancestors. But they were brought up knowing the truth and, anyway, it was a long time ago.
For the Chinese, whose ancestors had been raped, disemboweled and beheaded, it is not an old memory. Every year the Prime Minister returned to the Koa Kannon temple was a slap in their faces. I’ve talked about how important face (Mianzi) is to a country that was treated badly by the white man and the Japanese for a century. It's a very important consideration. If the Japanese want to stay in denial, there will always be a gulf between them and Mainland Chinese. It’s too bad they don’t understand how 25-year-old Chinese feel about them, while we’ve been buddies with Germans for at least 30 years. Denial is not the cornerstone of friendship, and for a country that is growing old, with no real army, it could prove to be disastrous.