Thursday, February 5, 2015

History written by the losers

They say that history is usually written by the winners, but if the losers become powerful there is also the good chance they can re-write it to suit themselves.

Following on from an earlier blog about what really happened during the Rape of Nanking, this article by author Isobel Wolff recently appeared in BBC magazine online about the female prisoners of war in the Far East who never get the coverage that their male counterparts do in literature.  The article also drew attention to the fact that British politician Nick Clegg's mother suffered imprisonment as a child. Daily Mail article here.

Several years ago, there was the excellent TV series Tenko and also the Australian film Paradise Road which was inspired by extraordinary women like Margaret Dryburgh and Betty Jeffrey which didn't receive the recognition it deserved, partly because distributors were cagey about offending Japan. See this 1997 article from the Los Angeles Times for comments about the film.

So, is it fine to keep alive the memories of some event like the Holocaust, but less politic to remember other outrages against humanity because of causing offence as a result of changing diplomatic alliances, trade and economics?

A Russian childhood friend of my mother, whom she last saw in Surabaya in 1941, disappeared into a Japanese POW camp somewhere in Java and was never heard of again. Maybe by some miracle she did survive the ordeal, but does what she suffer matter less than what happened to the survivors of Auschwitz or other similar camps in Europe?

There has been the occasional flurry of petitions and media reports into the "comfort women" of the Japanese, but these stories soon seem to disappear from the front pages. Why? One might go so far as to detect some sort of racism at play here because the majority of victims were Asian women and perhaps if a lot more Western women other than the Dutch had suffered, the international campaign for justice might have been more vigorously pursued. Read here about Jan Ruff O'Herne.  There are various Youtube videos available about her, such as this one.

Just yesterday, this article appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun regarding "errors" in an American history text book that "dishonor" Japan in which it is stated:
' ... References to comfort women in the textbook read: “The Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted, and dragooned as many as two hundred thousand women age fourteen to twenty ...” and “The army presented the women to the troops as a gift from the emperor ...” These descriptions disregard historical facts.
The recruitment of comfort women took place mainly through private-sector business operators. Investigations by the Japanese government have discovered no document that proves women were forcibly taken away by the wartime army to serve as comfort women. ...'
Sadly, there is no justice forthcoming for those very elderly women, most of them in Korea, Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere, still hoping for a genuine apology and compensation from Japan. 

It seems the "historical facts" of the Japanese nation remain different from those of their victims. Once the first-hand accounts are no more, will these women then be written out of history altogether?

For anyone interested in this topic, Google searches will find many articles and some confronting images on the controversies surrounding comfort women. 

It is difficult to find a really good list of books about women who were imprisoned by the Japanese or forced into being comfort women, but here are a few:

Surviving Tenko, the Story of Margaret Turner

The Real Tenko

A Woman's War

On Radji Beach (about the massacre of Australian nurses, with only one survivor, Vivian Bullwinkel whose biography is Bullwinkel)

White Coolies

Song of Survival

The Comfort Women

Comfort Woman