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December 11, 2005

The Veneer of Civilization

I grew up hearing stories of the Japanese aggression in China during WWII. I have this incredible emotional attachment to WWII (not as bad as 1989 though). Part of it is because I feel like it's such a recent past--I am only the second generation after WWII, and my grandmother was the one that had her schooling disrupted and had to flee. Somehow in the back of my mind I always had this image of the Nanking Massacre that just won't leave me. I am sure I learned it in high school, as part of our Chinese history course, but it wasn't just history. It always felt like some strange mpeg file that would replay and replay, the horrors of which haunt me all the time.

Well part of it was because the Japanese Government hasn't formed a policy on what to do with this "recent" but not-really-so-recent-anymore-past. Actually they might have already formed a policy of not confronting this past. They have offered "compensation" sans admission of guilt. But many of the so-called survivors of the atrocities have already passed away, and really I think that a formal apology to all of Asia would be much more adequate than setting up some privately-funded compensation scheme that does not implicate government responsibility.

I am writing this paper on sexual violence against women, to begin with Japan's comfort women system in WWII. I explained how the international tribunals treated issues of sexual violence. Then I argued that there should be a self standing provision for sexual violence in the Rome Statute. I wanted to go as far as saying that only women should benefit from such self-standing provision (men are also sexually assaulted at war, but call me a reverse sexist, I don't really care too much if men get raped, and I explained that in very nice language in the paper). This paper alone is turning me into a budding radical feminist and I am not kidding.

It is a kind of topic that keeps me excited although in a strangely sadistic way. I mean, I get to sit in front of my little Dell laptop, bitch about every single injustice against women in wars waged by men (although now there are active women perpetrators, which is something new), and then all that I can do is to lament thousands of years of wars and sufferings, and be happy that at least I don't have to go through such trauma.

Funny how the reality of human rights scholarship draws on a constant tension between compassion and sadism for the individual writing about it. Just reading those facts alone is a peek at reality through the torturer's eyes. Sometimes I wonder if, beyond being glad that I am not a victim of these crimes, I somehow also connect to the viciousness by the sheer remoteness of being a human being myself.

Looking back upon the millennia of history, it appears clear that no race or culture has a monopoly on wartime cruelty. The veneer of civilization seems to be exceedingly thin—one that can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war.

Iris Chang, 1968-2004
The Rape of Nanking

Posted by sinogeek at December 11, 2005 02:56 PM


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