.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Showing Up At Yasukuni

Praying at Yasukuni in 1959 (my photo)

A group of right-wing though relatively non-famous heavyweights, except the Le Pen guy from France, visited the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, to which all the souls of Japanese military men killed in wars report with the testimony that they have done their duty.

As it happens, for the last few weeks my bedtime reading has been "Downfall," by David Westheimer (not to be confused with the movie of the same name about the last days of Hitler and his cohorts, down in the bunker in Berlin.)  This 1972 novel posits what would have happened if the two atom bombs had not been dropped, and it does this by following both the American and the Japanese experiences, equally, during the storming of the shores of Japan.  And numerous times in the book the spirits of the Japanese soldiers who are looking certain death in the face are strongly boosted by thoughts of how their souls are about to show up at Yasukuni. 

In 1959, during the college fellowship trip that I took, alone, to Japan, I visited the Yasukuni shrine, too, though not out of any ideology, except out of my constant wonder that a country with such a highly developed and actually irresistible culture could have, of its own volition, helped precipitate and then took a big part in such a generally though not totally criminal enterprise as the Second World War, which had ended only 14 years earlier.

I thought of Yasukuni as being the Japanese counterpart of Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which lay just across the river from my home in D.C., except that, as a foreigner, I could view Yasukuni at more of a distance.  I think that shrine had just been rebuilt after it was destroyed by the Tokyo firebombings, and it was mostly just another and one of the less distinguished in the long string of Japanese shrines that I visited that summer.  I remember it as being a plain and colorless place of gray and black concrete, almost drab compared to all the lavishly decorated and brightly colored temples, against the wood of their structures that had been darkened and aged to supreme dignity by the centuries -- and also hadn't been burned down.

Outside of Japan Yasukuni is often bitterly attacked as being a symbol of Japanese aggression, militarism, and imperialism in the War.  (For people my age, World War 2 is "the War."  We Americans are lucky in that each of our generations now alive has one particular war that it can call all its own.)

Wars automatically turn those who participate in them into people who, in the act of attacking voluntarily or in the course of defending must, commit numerous crimes, and aren't people who do those things criminals?

Like all the other wrongdoings that people feel they can't do without, that must be another of those facts that is generally recognized but is kept under a veil of pretense so thick that now there is not even any effort by anyone to try GWBush and his Neocon buddies as war criminals for what they did to Iraq, though that is a certainty as solid as Mt. Everest.

Le Pen touched on this point when he asked, rhetorically, why the Americans who dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki couldn't be called war criminals, too.

Being only slightly older than the young enlistees, draftees, conscripts and others who in World War 2 were shoved into the furnaces of death even more liberally than the Germans pushed their captives of many persuasions into the ovens and the mass graves, I looked on Yasukuni, unrealistically or not, as being essentially an anti-war place, where the Japanese went to lament and to regret instead of to celebrate all that absolutely uncalled-for carnage and the committing of wholesale murders, destruction, and the whole slew of other crimes.

But who knows what anybody is thinking, especially when you didn't grow up with them and don't speak their language? Still, as far as I could tell, nobody in the Japan that I saw seemed to have the slightest desire to take another shot at what they had just gone through.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home