Archive for World War II

Some strange rule

Posted in death, History, love, Reality Bites, sex and violence, society, Stayin' Alive, Storytelling with tags , , , , on February 11, 2009 by wizardsmoke

I’ve got some bold feelings right now which, rather than put into some sort of quaint “emo” rant as-per-usual, I’ll replace with this snippet from a nice (depressing) story, The Idiot, by Sakaguchi Ango, the WWII-era, anti-establishment, Japanese author.

(In the following, replace “200 yen” with “money” or even, “money during trying circumstances” and it’ll make a little more sense)

His way of living was unbearably trivial and he himself lacked the power to resolve this triviality. War — this vast destructive force in which everyone was being judged with fantastic impartiality, in which all Japan was becoming a rubble-covered wasteland and the people were collapsing like clay dolls — what a heart-rending, what a gigantic love it represented on the part of nothingness! Izawa felt a desire to sleep soundly in the arms of the god of destruction. This resignation to the force of nothingness had the effect of making him rather more active than before, and when the air-raid alarm sounded he would briskly put on his leggings. The only thing that made life worth living each day was to toy with the uneasiness of life. When the all clear sounded, he would be thoroughly dispirited and once more would be overcome by the despair of having lost all emotion.

This feeble-minded woman did not know how to boil rice or to make bean-paste soup. She had trouble in expressing the simplest thought and the most she could do was to stand in line to get the rations. Like a thin sheet of glass, she reacted to the slightest suggestion of joy or anger; between the furrows of her fear and her abstractedness she simply received the will of others and passed it on. Even the evil spirit of the two hundred yen could not haunt such a soul. This woman, thought Izawa, was a forlorn puppet made for him. In his mind’s eye he pictured an endless journey in which he would roam over the dark moorland with this woman in his arms and the wind blowing about him.

Yet he felt that there was something rather fantastic and ludicrous about the whole idea. This was probably because his external triviality had by now begin to erode his very heart in such a way that the frank feeling of love that was gushing up within him seemed entirely false. But why should it be false? Was there some intrinsic rule which said that the prostitutes in their apartments and the society ladies in their houses were more human than this feeble-minded woman? yes, absurdly enough, it looked as if there really was such a rule.

What am I afraid of? It all comes from the evil spirit of those two hundred yen. Yes, now when I am on the point of freeing myself from the evil spirit by means of this woman, I find that I am still bound by its curse. The only thing I am really afraid of is worldly appearances. And what I mean by “world” is merely the collection of women who live here in the apartments — the prostitutes and the kept women and the pregnant volunteer-workers and the housewives who cackle away in their nasal voices like so many geese. I know that there is no other world. Yet, indisputable as this fact is, I am completely unable to believe it. For I live in fear of some strange rule.

translated by George Saitou

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Neighborhood watch

Posted in Doom and Evil, Fighting, History, Reality Bites, society, Stayin' Alive with tags , , , , , on September 19, 2008 by wizardsmoke

What makes people turn on their neighbors? Economic hardship, starvation, limited resources. Perhaps it can all be summarized thusly by this quote about treatment of Allied POWs captured by the Japanese when they invaded the Philippines. Some POWs were forced into submarines to be shipped north to prison camps in Eastern Asia. As Ronald H. Spector quotes an eyewitness’ account:

When it was nearly full, guards came down and with whips began beating us farther back into the ship’s hold until it looked as if no more men could get in… Yet, more and more were coming. The ceilings were low, only about five feet high, but we were made to stand…we were crammed so tightly that if a man fainted he could not fall to the floor. He would be packed between them. . . . The men began screaming and fighting. They tore at each other, they fought and pushed. Their screams of terror and their laughter were terrible things. Suddenly, there was more room. The fainting and the dead were sliding down until men littered the floor underneath our feet. We had more room to move in. But under our feet were the bodies of dead men.

-Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan

Dehuman condition

Posted in Doom and Evil, Film, History, Reality Bites, society, Technology with tags , , , , , on July 16, 2008 by wizardsmoke

Do a person’s harmful or negative actions disqualify their artistic or social endeavors? Do the ends justify the means? I mean, if someone is a wretched wife or a nasty person or an abusive father or a bully, does that make their art or philanthropic social contributions more or less worthwhile? Or do we have to separate them from their work? Like, in the famous case of Wagner, is his music held accountable or penalized for his anti-semitic views? Do we consider Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi’s extra-marital affairs to be impediments to admiring their virtuous causes?

On the individual level we can say the ends justify the means because an abusive spouse doesn’t directly effect the larger social group. The individual’s contributions to the broader human experience can somehow outweigh their atomic family damage. Or so we tell ourselves, when incubated from dealing with the suffering of the afflicted.

Ah, but if we excuse some people, how do we consider folks such as Joseph Mengeles or Unit 731 if they actually come up with valid research? What about the medical advancements of wartime conflict? Do the ends justify the means? I say fuck ’em, but I guess each one is a totally individual issue, isn’t that right? And from an economic viewpoint, the cold evanescent waves of society, only one thing matters (guess what that is?). Where we stand on the issue morally doesn’t seem to decide things. Political and social morality seems like a feigning stance sometimes. Moral issues — since when have those actually mattered in the economic progress of society? It often seems like morals are defined by economic conditions. *shiver*

Genocide, the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking, Unit 731, African-American and South American slavery, colonization, the killing and displacement of the Native Americans or the Ainu or the Saami — they all functioned via one initial political policy: dehumanization. Treating the group in question as if they were less than human.

Yeah, we all know that’s what it means. It’s in the history books, dummy. But think about it: the reason for these groups to be dehumanized was not an individual choice made person-to-person (well, it was but they didn’t each spontaneously arrive at that choice). The decree was given from above, by the government and religious leaders; the idea was given that these groups were a threat, were the other, were out to get us, that they were not like us, that they were not human.

See, dehumanization is the first step in committing mass genocide. It just takes propaganda and a lot of straw-man building. Once people have a higher authority telling them it’s okay — nay, even good — to commit heinous murder, because the other is a threat to one’s people and culture, it becomes morally acceptable (and sometimes rewarding) to do so amongst members of the dominating group.

How people let themselves fall into believing this kind of sinister propaganda crap I don’t wanna know, but if you convince yourself of something for long enough, eventually you’ll believe it. Likewise, as soon as you’re convinced some person or group is being manipulative or has a veiled agenda or that there is a conspiracy theory afoot, everything they do will seem to validate your suspicion! Not that these suspicions are always wrong, but you see why it’s so risky…

Dehumanization, that’s bad. But that’s implying only humans receive quality treatment! What about the animals? Doesn’t a good human being treat all beings with the same kindness? Are the scientific achievements that result from experimenting on animals worth the price any more so than when the test subjects are humans?

Hrmm… the thing that worries me is what happens after we kill off all the animals. With no one left to kill or eat, we’ll turn on each other or validate individual existence by ethnic background. Isn’t that right? Once things get competitive enough, at the very least we’ll be designating an individual’s value by nationality or caste or whatever. Ha, as if we didn’t do that already!

Anyway: I don’t know if I want to live in a world without wild animals, and in which humans meet their friends and mates on computer-exclusive social networks. It’s starting to make me cry!

______

*I should point out, the two most disturbing movies on the Holocaust I think I’ve seen are The Grey Zone and the documentary Shoah. They’re so draining you can’t even shed a tear.

Loser Takes It All

Posted in Doom and Evil, Fighting, History, Reality Bites, Technology, World of Emotions with tags , , , , , , on July 12, 2008 by wizardsmoke

The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are two of the ugliest–if not the ugliest–single acts of violence in human history. I can think of no greater symbolic shameful event for any nation than that of being the only recipient of an atomic bomb attack. What a deathblow to the collective psyche! For Japan, a nation with a strong sense of honor and pride, this must have been unusually horrific.

Everyone is a loser in war, but the people who really understand it are those who actually lose or are defeated, overtaken. After all: “He who has been harmed by you, knows you.” (Blake) That’s one of the main themes in the classic ninja film, Samurai Spy. There are other good themes in that one, parallels to Cold War espionage, etc., but this is the meat of it. The film’s director, Masahiro Shinoda, makes a strong point: sometimes the person whom is most alive is actually the one who dies.

As he says in an interview, the victor can be the real loser sometimes. The victor is forced to live on without intimately perceiving the conflict. The victor, though blessed in good fortune, does not truly understand the price of war. And what is a war without knowing it intimately? I don’t mean the fighting itself, I mean the price of it, the toll it takes on the loser.

Grave loss and tragedy are not helpful to one’s well-being, but they can create a legacy. The A-bomb (along with going to the moon) is one of the single most memorable events of not only the 20th century, but human history (funny how though we often look back and only remember the best of times, memorable history is forged by humanity’s worst moments). Here is where the director’s point resonates. We can say that no one else but the Japanese understand the atomic bomb — just as no white person really feels the effects of black slavery, nor any man understand a woman. Oh sure, we can speculate, imagine and theorize. But the rest of us do not know it for ourselves.

For the moment, only one nation has experienced a nuclear blast upon its population. But… how many weapons have only been used once and then discarded? People are so irresponsible and selfish, it really makes you worry. World War I was the end of chivalry, but World War II brought mass civilian deaths and a lack of humanity unlike any previous war: it featured weaponry that proved we can actually destroy our entire planet. War has always been hideous, but modern weaponry has made war the combat equivalence of a lab sterilization. People are treated like bacteria.

I suppose in the aftermath of such carnage nothing is accomplished by a focus upon individual blame or faults of the participatory parties. This only exacerbates the damage done. And revenge doesn’t heal the hole left in your heart. Only time can fill that one in.

Nagasaki aftermath