Understanding the past on its own terms
Sun Jun 29 14:13:13 2008
With respect to the Nanking atrocities, the initial view in China was that they were no more interesting than any other brutal action of occupation. In order to get the attention and sympathy of European allies, they stressed the Japanese gas and aerial attacks, which were similar to World War I. The Chinese communists ignored the massacre because they wanted to stress the strength and pride of the Chinese people. After the war, the US had little interest in researching war crimes for fear it would disrupt relations with post-war Japanese leaders. And the Japanese pretty much ignored them. It was only about thirty years later, when the social and political structures had changed, that people were able to start to think seriously about the event. In the end I believe history is a dialogue between the past and the present. I don’t think we really want to work within the restrictions of viewing the past entirely from their own perspective.