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Wallowing in Victimhood

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In news from Japan that barely registered on the radar screen of the U.S. media, the Japanese defense minister was forced to resign after making a comment that could be interpreted as trivializing the impact of the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

This was not big news anywhere but Japan, as politicians all over the world routinely put their feet in their mouths. It did prompt me to talk to my students about it. (I am an American English conversation teacher in Tokyo.)

I got mostly the reactions I expected, along the lines of “Because the bombs were uniquely destructive, and only Japan suffered their effects, Japanese people are sensitive about them, especially those who suffered or their relatives.” Definitely understandable, but it also reminded me of a sentiment I’ve heard a number of times, from English language teachers who’ve talked to their students about this topic: “Japanese tend to talk as if WWII started in August 1945,” referring of course to when the bombs fell and the war ended. In other words, Japanese focus on what their country suffered, not what their country did to others. It is the rare Japanese who brings up Pearl Harbor.

This is also understandable, yet ironic in its own way. For while Japanese understand their own sensitivity to the atomic bombings, their country utterly fails to understand the sensitivity of the countries upon whom they inflicted atrocities. Recently, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe retreated from his predecessors’ expressions of responsibility for Japan’s use of Southeast Asian women for sexual slavery during WWII, saying the military was not responsible, despite strong evidence to the contrary. Did he, or Japanese people, I wonder, consider how such actions would affect women who suffered such a horrific and shameful ordeal, or their relatives? Japan’s government continues their effort to whitewash history books, minimizing such atrocities as the Nanjing massacre in China. Many similar examples are available.

Yet, again, this is hardly unique. I wondered if I could come up with a similar situation in America, and it didn’t take long. 9/11 is still a very sensitive topic in America, and with good reason, of course. Any politician who was seen as trivializing it would find his career over instantly; even when libertarian Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul suggested in a debate that 9/11 didn’t happen in a vacuum and that we would do well to consider the consequences of U.S. actions overseas, he was pounced on by the other candidates, especially Rudy Giuliani, whose political raison d’etre is that he will protect the country from terrorism. Apparently, considering the causes of terrorism is not a possibility, and no doubt some 9/11 relatives would consider a discussion of the causes of terrorism to be tantamount to justifying the attacks.

The relatives were no doubt furious at seeing pictures in the media of some Palestinians joyfully celebrating in the streets upon hearing news of 9/11; that this is disgusting need not be said. But how many Americans have considered the perspective of a Palestinian -raised in a refugee camp, told many times about how the land their family had lived on for decades was stolen by the Jews, a relative or two killed, living their whole lives under foreign occupation. (I do not think that Israel has all the responsibility and the Palestinians none; this is just the perspective of a Palestinian.) To them, America is the country that supplies and arms their oppressor, and is its main defender and benefactor. Do we give them a second thought? Most of us, no. Should we be surprised when some of them celebrate that their oppressor’s benefactor was dealt a heavy blow? I wasn’t. Appalled, yes. Surprised, no.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the question “Why do they hate us?” was often heard; I couldn’t help but be sad that 9/11 was what it took to make people even care enough to ask the question. Culturally, America and Japan are very different countries, but they both focus on their own victimhood and refuse to deeply consider how their country’s actions might have affected others. Most people do this, either as a country or as individuals. Some situations give us the chance to notice and reflect on this. The more we do, the less fuel it will give to demagogues, and the wiser and stronger our country will be.

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About Shari

  • moonraven

    Most countries prefer to focus on their victimhood. It’s their “story”, and in many ways it’s a lot easier to live in victimland than to choose peace.

    That’s why the Radical Forgiveness folks have started a program of applying RF to countries.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Commenting here is an interesting experience, Chris. Somethin is wwwrong with the way the screen appears to the vieweer. Try and fix it if you can.

  • Fixed now. Thanks Ruvy.

  • Zedd


    Nice link between the two countries’ perspectives.

    Another interesting point is that we don’t talk much about the bombing of Japan but certainly commemorate what took place in Pearl Harbor.

  • To them, America is the country that supplies and arms their oppressor, and is its main defender and benefactor.

    The key thing you overlook here is that the Palestinians are being lied to when they are told that their problems originate with Israel or America. Their problems originate with the very people who are encouraging them to hate the US and Israel, the Arab states around them who are using them as pawns against Israel for their own benefit.

    There are many reasons to feel sorry for the Palestinians, but too many of their problems are of their own making, and their anger is misdirected. US support for Israel doesn’t cause their oppression and attacking the US or attacking Israel is never going to make things better for them.

    Until people stop living in willful self-deception they aren’t going to find solutions to their real problems.


  • Zedd


    Your point about willful self deception could be applied to every country and every culture of the world. That is part and parcel of what being a person is.

    What is important is not to concern yourself about others who are being willfully self deceptive but moreso ones own mental blocks. Because as we wag our fingers at others, we are surely guilty of the same. Unfortunately or errors are much further reaching as they affect the entire world.

    So as an American citizen, I would say, YES we have affected the condition of the Palestinians. Now how do WE fix that.

  • shari

    Dave–You’re absolutely right; I disagree with nothing you said. I didn’t mean to say that I agreed with the Palestinian viewpoint, I just said what it was. I certainly think that the Arab regimes use, and string out, the Palestinians’ plight so as to stir up anti-Israel sentiment, and use that and nationalism to distract attention from the illegitimacy of their autocratic governments.

    It is also true, however, that America could use the leverage that its largesse should give it to push the Israelis to be more forthcoming. I think it can’t be avoided that if we give them money and weapons, we’re complicit in what they do, we condone it. We overlook it because to do so serves our interests (and that of AIPAC, but that’s something that no American politician could say without being labeled an anti-Semite).

    And Zedd, yes, thank you, that was basically my point. We need to spend less time pointing fingers and more thinking about what we have done.

  • Historically the US has been a constant moderating influence on Israel. Except insofar as they can help us in the war on terror, we’ve generally been the best friend the Palestinians have. Because we have no real stake in the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, we’ve been responsible for initiating virtually every major move towards peace in the last 40 years. Short of wiping out Israel, what more can they expect of us?


  • Zedd


    We are not their friend if they don’t think that we are their freind. It’s not something that you can TELL someone that they are. I believe they must KNOW this for themselves?

  • I shouldn’t have used the term friend. True. We aren’t their friend. We are, however, generally interested in peace in the area, and have no stake in taking advantage of them, unlike the people they think are their friends.

    As for them not knowing that the US is less likely to screw them than anyone else around them, the evidence is abundant. If they choose to ignore it, what can we do?


  • Zedd


    What you express is what has perpetuated the negative attitude towards the West in most non Western people.

    You ignore our very devastating role in these people’s lives and choose to shrug at their cries. Your insistence is an indication of the persistent assumption of a broader and more rational mindset then they have. Dave this is what contributes to the White supremacist policies that rule our planet. You see affective White supremacy is not evil looking. It exists in the form that I just described BUT its affects are devastating beyond scope.

    If a nation sees us as impacting them negatively, it would only follow that we would examine that notion. What you have done is actually assert that something is wrong with them if they don’t see things like you do. As if there is an innate something which makes you be able to see they light and them roll around in confusion and ignorance. It is this attitude that contributes more than anything else to the imbalance on the globe.