Friday, December 10, 2004

"The matters are too controversial, the events are too recent to be seen with objectivity, the facts are still coming in, blahblahblah…"

Does anybody remember how World War II was treated in the French press and in French schools during the 60th anniversary of D-Day? Why is it that I see similarities between the country mentioned in Howard W French's New York Times article and a number of nations in Europe?
… many [Chinese students] believe that [in World War II] Japan was defeated largely as a result of Chinese resistance, not by the United States.

"The fundamental reason for the victory is that the Chinese Communist Party became the core power that united the nation," says one widely used textbook, referring to World War II.

No one learns that perhaps 30 million people died from famine because of catastrophic decisions made in the 1950's, during the Great Leap Forward, by the founder of Communist China, Mao Zedong.

… Most Chinese students finish high school convinced that their country has fought wars only in self-defense, never aggressively or in conquest, despite the People's Liberation Army's invasion of Tibet in 1950 and the ill-fated war with Vietnam in 1979, to take two examples.

… Asked why Chinese textbooks do not mention such matters as Tibet's claim to independence at the time Communist troops invaded, Ren Penjie, editor of a history education magazine in Xian, said: "These are still matters of controversy. What we present to children are less controversial facts, which are easier to explain."

Others said such events were too recent to be seen with objectivity, or that the facts were still coming in, both of which are common explanations offered by Japanese historians who defend the lack of candor about Japanese atrocities in World War II.
Oh, but events like Bush's war in Iraq, they, by no means, are too recent to be seen with objectivity. In cases such as those, it is entirely clear as spring water that they in no way are "matters of controversy", but examples of unscrupulous American imperialism, while the "peace members'" claims to nobleness and nobility are just as undeniable facts devoid of controversy. Good thing the Chinese have their masters in Beijing to tell them that.

Incidentally, do you know how many discussions, or arguments, I've had with Frenchmen (and -women) in which, when the evidence started going against them and their defences start breaking down (Paris's role in the oil-for-food scandal, Iraqis being overwhelmingly critical of the supposed "peace camp's" supposed pacifism, etc), they retreat to positions that, if not exactly the same as, then very much mirror those of China (and Japan, which, after all, is a Western-style democracy)? They go "Well, it's too early to tell" or "let's see what the Iraqis say a couple of years from now", my favorite having to do with the Baghdad couple who named their son George Bush: "Does their kid still bear that name today?"

"The matters are too controversial", "the events are too recent to be seen with objectivity", "the facts are still coming in" are all entirely rational comments, of course, except that they are never applied to George W Bush (the American original), Uncle Sam, capitalism, and American policy in the Middle East. In other words, in Europe as in Asia, the language of tolerance and pausing before making judgments is used in an entirely self-serving manner.
"Quite frankly, in China there are some areas, very sensitive subjects, where it is impossible to tell people the truth," said Ge Jianxiong, director of the Institute of Chinese Historical Geography at Fudan University in Shanghai and a veteran of official history textbook advisory committees. "Going very deeply into the history of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and some features of the Liberation" — as the Communist victory is called — "is forbidden. In China, history is still used as a political tool, and at the high school level, we still must follow the doctrine."
By the way, China is one country (the others include Russia and Vietnam) that France is working hard at engaging in closer relations with (along with Germany), at the detriment of Uncle Sam. Offhand it may sound unfair, but still, one is tempted to think, Birds of a feather…