Thursday, July 12, 2007

The perils of victimhood

Over at BlogCritics, an American English teacher in Japan has an interesting post about the similar ways in which Japan and America selectively embrace their history.

Many Japanese, she says, "tend to talk as if World War II started in August 1945." By this she means they focus on the harm they suffered in the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, not what their country did to others in the years before that. "It is the rare Japanese who brings up Pearl Harbor," she notes.

But America (and most nations and people) suffers from the same myopia. In America's case its a myopia about our modern Pearl Harbor, 9/11. While we (rhetorically) ask "why do they hate us?" we apparently aren't all that interested in the answer, preferring to think (in Japanese fashion) that world history began anew on September 11.

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.... Apparently, considering the causes of terrorism is not a possibility.

This isn't a new argument, of course. But the comparison with Japanese historical amnesia is an interesting twist that may lend some clarity. That comparison is not perfect -- Japan's role in its own demise was clear and within the established understanding of a conventional war, while our role in the causes of 9/11 are more indirect, subjective and murky. But the root point is the same: A general disinterest in what came before, especially any attempt to turn the camera on ourselves.

Such self-examination does not excuse the atrocity -- nothing does. But it would help explain how those 19 hijackers came to be aboard airplanes in the United States -- as opposed to, say, France or Britain -- on that brilliant fall day. Understanding the logic is the key to combating it; we cannot be assured of preventing another 9/11 until we understand what led to the first one.

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