Thoughts on Sept. 11
"Seek first to understand...."
Parallels with Pearl Harbor
Most of us by now have heard of the parallels drawn between the
terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 and Pearl Harbor (nevermind Pearl Harbor
was directed at military, not civilian, targets).
Well, for some reason Pearl Harbor started popping up in my life just
before Sept. 11. It started a couple days before, when I
talked with my (Japan-born) mother about Japanese culture and history,
and wound up discussing the causes of WWII. And just a few days after
September 11th, I went to a previously scheduled job interview where,
again, the topic of Japan and World War II came up.
What struck me from those conversations was this:
Pearl Harbor and its aftermath were, in many ways, the outcome of
misunderstanding, crappy role models, and prejudice -- on both
The West Treated Japan Badly. Japan was poorly treated by the
colonial powers it was trying so hard to be "one of." Japan was
generally treated like a second class citizen of the world. American
diplomats(?) went so far as to use racial slurs to refer to Japanese
officials, further alienating Japan and pushing it toward war. And
don't forget, Japan was "opened up" by an America that wanted to use
the country for its own benefit -- and Japan's colonialism was
following in the steps of the European countries that had gone that
Japan Was Screwed Up Too. Internally, Japan had very little
experience with foreign cultures. The Army, which had little
experience overseas, apparently severely underestimated the power of
the West, and overrode the wiser Navy in military matters (the Navy
had been to many ports and hence knew better). Also, conditions
within the troops were apparently deplorable -- many were treated
terribly and knew no better, and hence turned around and dumped even
worse on their prisoners of war and colonial subjects. The patriotic,
religious fervor probably just made everything worse.
So, Pearl Harbor was, in many ways, the natural outgrowth of the seeds
sown before, throughout many levels of society, across the world.
This is not to excuse the crimes of war, but to point out some of the
What is the opposite of misunderstanding and bigotry? Understanding,
tolerance, and compassion.
What about Now?
As I watched footage of the terrorist attacks on New York, I thought
about the US' unintentional but nevertheless crucial part in the
crimes. Oil companies that deliberately sit on alternative energy
patents like the proverbial dog in the manger, keeping us dependent on
foreign oil; yes, I believe that our oil money helped pay for this!
The way we trained bin Laden ourselves. The policies in the Middle
East. I read a (no-longer available) news story at Boston.com that described the
cultural ignorance of the U.S. (and the Middle East), the
two-facedness, and the incredible suffering in the Middle East... to
which the U.S. has been in part contributing, even if not for the sake
of hurting people deliberately.
Note though, the roles individuals play, on both sides. For example,
in the above-mentioned news story, there was a line about how Egypt
saw "...pictures of grinning US seamen painting ''Happy Ramadan'' on
the missiles destined for Baghdad" (a friend points out it's the
equivalent of defiling the holy day of Christmas to a Christian). And
conversely, we saw images of some Palestinians rejoicing after the
terrorist attacks. What callousness and indifference on BOTH sides!
The incredible hatred and anger these things stir up! And how much
more these will serve to provoke more hatred and violence!
Would people who understand the sanctity of human life behave this
way? Would people who have deeply studied other cultures and have
come to appreciate those cultures act this way? Would people who have
learned the meaning of real love act this way?
I don't think so. The problem is that respect, understanding, and
compassion are difficult to build up out of hatred and fear. The
problem is also that these things must be built up on both sides of a
conflict. But that should not stop us, especially those of us who can
see into two or more different cultures, from trying!
We Can Do a Lot of Good
So, in this case, in addition to seeking justice, we should also be
trying to love our enemies. Turn curses into blessings. Germans,
our former enemy from WWI and WWII, turned out to the tune of 200,000
at the Brandenburg Gate in sympathy for the events of Sept. 11. The
British, a bitter enemy long ago, is now grieving with us ... proof
that time and good will can heal wounds. The Japanese are now close
trading allies and political friends, despite Pearl Harbor and the
bitter war that followed, only a generation or two ago. Americans CAN
do good in the world, and HAVE done good in the world, and that good
is appreciated and repaid in kind. Never forget that we are not
powerless to stop hate.
Never forget that it is excruciating poverty and pain and hopelessness
that turns people into haters, whether in the Middle East or in the
inner cities. And what the world needs is a reduction in hate and
an increase in love.
What Should We Do?
So, even as the war machine grinds on (may it work for justice, not
for sheer revenge), we can and must do what is in our power, no matter
where we are, to forge bonds of understanding and respect with those
whom we touch -- and we can touch people all over the world. And
those of us who are privileged to be part of a cross-cultural exchange
must use our vantage point to reach the rest of society and show what
seeking to understand first can do.
Here are some ideas (some of which I'm sure have
been published many times over in the newspapers and mailing lists,
which is whence some of these came from :)
- Pray for wisdom and compassion for us all, and for healing for
the suffering. (Or, in aikido-speak: "Send positive Ki out to the
- Get to know people who are different from you, who are outside
your "comfort zone." A person I know related how it seems people not
used to outsiders are those who are coldest and most uncaring toward
outsiders, while people in a cosmopolitan city are much more open.
Familiarity can bring compassion. (Just remember, there are jerks
in every society on earth.)
- Demand that the US be compassionate and just in its treatment of
its current enemies. We should not descend to the level of hatred,
bigotry, needless violence, and policies that bring suffering
to civilians. Enemies can become friends ...
but they must be treated with respect and civility if that is
to ever happen. Starvation and poverty do not produce peace
and friendship. What might happen if we reached out to help
the suffering? What if we acted as a GOOD role model?
- Read up on the history of the crisis in the Middle East -- all sides
- Read about Islam (note that, just as the Hebrew ("Old") Testament
can get bloody or apparently nasty, so too do Islamic texts -- read
and make up your own mind); it's also worth
brushing up on other religions in general, too
(e.g., Huston Smith's The World's Religions (Amazon's
reviews)). Now is especially the time to dig deeper into
spirituality and find out what's important to you.
- Show support and compassion for Muslims in your neighborhood.
- Make sure voices for understanding and compassion are
- Study a foreign culture. If you're interested in anime, study
Japanese culture. If you're interested in Irish folksongs, study
Irish culture. Whatever it is -- have a look and see what
it's like to be from "somewhere else." Glimpse how the
US looks to newcomers -- it's an eye-opener!
- Denounce and fight against bigotry and hatred wherever you see it --
but fight with compassion, not self-righteousness (remember,
belligerence causes defensiveness, and defensiveness causes
people to stop listening).
- Reach out to your neighbors. Say hi. Help them out. Pray with them.
- Volunteer at a soup-kitchen, Red Cross center, or other place where
you can do some extra good and be surrounded by those who want to help
- Fight poverty, prejudice and injustice in your own community; the
plight of the inner cities, for example,
seems like a symptom of our own societal hypocrisy
- Donate blood periodically
- Donate to the Red Cross or other aid agency directly (not through
telemarketers or anything like that).
- Live your life to the hilt!
- Be extra loving with your family and friends ... but hey, I'm sure
most people are doing this one already!
Note: I realize it is frighteningly "easy" to say "love your enemies,"
and another thing entirely to live it when it is your own family or
loved ones who have been affected. Each person's circumstances are
different; what is natural for one person is a horrendous battle for
Copyright 2001, 2002 Eri Izawa.
Ethnic and Racial Stereotypes in Manga,
including some history
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