The delicate art of forgetting

I enjoyed Ted Mcallister’s essay on Front Porch Republic “Iris Chang and the Delicate Art of Remembering“, and the following really clarified things for me:

With regard to the harm that bad history was doing to Japan, Chang offered a simple but compelling question.  Is Germany better for having confronted the Holocaust?  Of course we can ask the same question (as she did) of other nations who have a dark episode in their past, but the contrast with Germany is powerful because of the parallels and the differences.  If we believe that Germany is better today because they learned to remember well then we have to assume that Japan has been harmed by its refusal to confront its own past.

Now I know why something’s been rubbing me the wrong way about Chang.  To me it’s obvious that Germany is immeasurably worse for its obsessive, pathological “confronting” of the Holocaust.  Why in the world would we imagine that people are made better by dwelling on the sins of their ancestors?  Patriotism and filial piety are eroded, to be replaced with a pharisaic pride in one’s own presumed moral superiority.  Germans would certainly be better as people and as a people if they saw their heritage as a glorious thing to live up to.  So let’s face it:  Chang’s project is going to wreck Japanese culture, not improve it.

Not that I think The Rape of Nanking was written as some act of Chinese vengeance.  I think the dynamic behind the celebration of this book lies closer to home.  Iris Chang–who was Chinese-American, not Chinese–” became a celebrity, especially for the Chinese-American community”.  Note that’s the Chinese-American community.  As the article notes “the Chinese government largely ignored the massacre for decades”.  Why would the massacre at Nanking be so much more interesting to Chinese-Americans than to Chinese?  In America, the status of minority groups is determined by victimology.  The Jews play their Holocaust card.  The blacks have their history of slavery.  The hispanics are poor.  What have the Asians got?  And the Chinese are even lower placed than the Japanese.  The Japanese, after all, have that whole WWII internment and Hiroshima thing going for them.  Chinese-Americans have such low status, they might as well be white.  So it’s not surprising that they should react with such enthusiasm to a book that shows that they, too, are victims.  What we have here are ethnic groups jockeying for positions on the American minority pecking order, with The Rape of Nanking put into service as a bid for the Chinese to displace the Japanese.

A final point I can’t resist making:  why, when we talk about “remembering the past”, do we always mean remembering the crimes of the past?  Don’t we have any duty to remember the accomplishments of our ancestors, from which we still benefit?  Why imagine that we learn more from studying murderers than studying artists or missionaries?  Why is a nation defined by its worst atrocity rather than its cultural edifice?  There’s something perverse in what we have decided is worth remembering.

10 Responses

  1. There’s something revolting about the phrase “delicate art” when it is applied to anything but, say, threading a needle or removing a speck of grit from someone’s eye. It’s not only an effete phrase, but when applied to memory, it’s also also manipulative and wrong. Memories of the morally obligatory sort are brutal, and wrestling them into the full light of consciousness is hard work, not a delicate art. You’d think he was coaxing a shy bunny out from under the gooseberry bush.

    But the phrase “delicate art” is hardly innocent. Once we admit that memory is is a delicate art, we open our memories to subtle criticisms. “Oh no, your memory isn’t quite right yet. Try again. Keep working on it.” In other words, the epicene phrase “delicate art of memory” is a cover, either for the ruthless command to conform your memories to the official version, or the selfish impulse to shape your memories to your own advantage.

    Christians have a special relation to two types of memory, both of which are relevant to this post. The first is remorseful memory experienced as guilt, and this we know is to be remembered, confessed, atoned, and then FORGOTTEN. The second is the unpopular memory expressed in witnessing, which is the moral obligation to voice a truth that might get you stoned (in the biblical, not the hipster) sense.

    In the modern world our “delicate art of memory” gets this exactly backwards. It says that people who bear witness to an event in the wrong way are “revisionists” and “deniers,” and it of course enjoins “Guilt without end, Amen, Amen.”

  2. The 15th of August was the Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary (I am not Catholic, but I have family members who are). It also is the anniversary of the battle of Roncesvaux, where Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, died – never yielding unto death.

    A lot of people my age and younger are only passingly familiar with the King Arthur story, let alone the stories about Charlemagne and Belisarius (which cover a lot of the same themes). A friend of mine has kids who know all about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but haven’t ever heard of Grimm’s fairy tales.

  3. “A friend of mine has kids who know all about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but haven’t ever heard of Grimm’s fairy tales.”

    Thus is displayed the harm capitalism does to tradition.

  4. Yes, continual Holocaust-guilting is uncharitable on the part of the Jews. The vast majority of the German people were Christians during WWII. Not esoteric National Socialists and not Wotanist Neo-pagans but Christians. The Wehrmacht was very Christian and I do not believe that the Wehrmacht is on any level equal in culpability to the Waffen SS. Nor do I blame non-German groups that joined the Waffen SS as a sort of necessity like the Tsarist Cossacks or even the Indians(even though they were rather left-wing and pro-Stalin). Actually, I’m not too sure about the Indians.

    Also, the cruel way the allies treated the German people, the amount of debt, the forced abdication of their Kaiser to be replaced by the morally corrupt Weimar government, and the constant socialist revolutions created conditions amenable to Hitler’s rise. I do not blame the German people, just the Nazis, who are long dead.

  5. As for Japan, some might say Japan started to die when the Emperor revoked his divinity(which made the Japanese soldiers feel betrayed and is kind of similar to when the Kaiser abdicated) and that Yukio Mishima’s suicidal death was the final nail in the coffin. There is an article in the archives of The Spearhead that shows the differences between the Japanese that just came out of the War and the modern-day Japanese herbs(I’ll link to it when I can). Japan is long dead.

    Pat Buchanan has compared the death of Christianity in the West to the death of Japan’s pre-war and wartime faith.

  6. The Hitler-Holocaust religion is the dominant religion in today’s West.
    It has no god-but it does have a Satan named Adolf from all whom all evil flows. The oddest thing about this religion is that it pays almost no attention to 100 million murdered by radical egalitarians in the 20th Century alone. It has no patience for stories about the Holodomor or The Great Leap Forward. It suffers a severe lack of imagination when confronted with the reality of whole families of Poles, Chechens, Tatars and others locked in cattle cars for weeks before their arrivals in Siberia or Kazakhstan. All obvious but unthinkable.

    Earlier stuff:
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig5/masson1.html

  7. I had heard that the U.S. occupation was pushing for the Emperor to revoke his divinity, although I don’t know if it’s true. If so, I wonder how our officially agnostic rulers could be so blasted sure the Emperor was not a god.

  8. I find the betrayal of the Cossacks to be heartbreaking myself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betrayal_of_the_Cossacks

    The horrors committed by Hitler were unthinkable as well, but that committed by radical egalitarians were far, far worse. Stalin in Russia and Mao in China were horrible.

    Kaiser before Fuhrer, Tsar before Kremlin, and Huangdi before Chairman. Any day, every day.

  9. If that is the case, then to hell with the U.S. The U.S. has destroyed the traditions of too many countries. In fact, I kind of hold it indirectly culpable for the horrors of 1789.

    Here is that link I referred to: http://www.the-spearhead.com/2009/11/22/here-come-the-herbivores/

    It’s sad that Yukio’s vision died with him. Yamamoto Tsunetomo(the author of the Hagakure) would be proud of a man like him.

    Even though I am a believer and believe that every one should be Christians, I admire Japanese Paganism and the Japanese Imperial Cult due to the masculine and conservative values in both.

  10. […] Mad Monarchist is fearless!  A while back, I thought I was really offending established pieties by saying that the attention given to “the rape of Nanking” is largely driven by Chinese […]

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