Below is the keynote speech that I presented at the recent Biennial Conference of the “Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia” (GA). The conference was held on November 15-16, 2014 in Milpitas, California.
Good morning. First of all, I want to thank the conference organizers for organizing this important conference and for arranging such an interesting and relevant program. On the one hand, I am honored to have been asked to give the Keynote Speech. On the other hand, I am concerned that I may not be able to live up to your expectations. But I will give it my best try.
The topic I was asked to speak is “The Opportunities and Challenges of Preserving the True History of Sino-Japanese War in the 21st Century.”
Larger Implications of This Issue: First, I think that this topic is actually broader than the words may imply on the surface. It is not just the matter of finding out what really happened in Asia during WWII. Let me explain. I think that deep down in their hearts, most historians who have studied this subject generally speaking know what happened in WWII in Asia, in particular, about the atrocities that occurred all over Asia. However, because of the political positions of their governments and political leaders, often they are reluctant to say and write what they really think since that could adversely affect their career or their ability to get research funding. When you couple that with the Western mass media which reflects closely the position of their governments, the end result is that the true history of WWII in Asia is almost never taught in high schools, and most Westerners know very little about what happened in Asia during WWII. And whatever they know may be very much incorrect or distorted. It is not just that the students don’t know, even the teachers of world history usually also don’t know. Therefore, the topic of preserving the true history of the Sino-Japanese War is very much related to the state of the West-China relationship, especially the U.S.-China relationship.
U.S.-China Relationship and Role of U.S. Government: Beginning shortly after the end of WWII, because of the possibility of the Chinese Communist Party winning the civil war in China, the West-China relationship, especially the U.S.-China relationship, has not been good. For more than 65 years, with the possible exception during the short period before and after the Nixon visit to China, the U.S. policy toward China has been to surround, isolate, and weaken China. As China became stronger from both the economic and military perspectives, especially during the last 5-10 years when China has become the world’s second largest economy, instead of adopting a policy that could lead to a win-win situation, the U.S. has adopted a very antagonistic policy toward China, and has recruited countries like Japan, Philippines, and Vietnam to serve as her front-line pawns to implement her antagonistic policy.
There are many things that one can point to for reaching the above conclusion. I only have time to give a few examples.
Shortly after the end of WWII, the U.S. did not prosecute any of the Japanese scientists, doctors, or leaders who led Japan’s deadly, inhumane, and massive biological and chemical warfare. Why? It was in exchange for getting their knowledge and data associated with developing those weapons of mass destruction. This has been documented in several books and articles, including those by American medical historians. Unfortunately, it is still not a well-known fact to the American public. The U.S. likes to use double standards. On August 26, 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “The use of chemical weapons in attacks on civilians in Syria last week was undeniable and that the Obama administration would hold the Syrian government accountable for a ‘moral obscenity’ that has shocked the world’s conscience.” But on the much more massive use of biological and chemical weapons that Japan unleashed on China during WWII, do we hear Kerry or Obama mentioning moral obscenity?
The U.S. also decided not to prosecute Emperor Hirohito even though he was a hands-on emperor who was fully aware of and approved what Japan did during the war. If the Emperor of Japan did not do anything wrong, then that helps the Japanese people to feel that their country also did nothing wrong, and Japan was the victim, and not the aggressor. Therefore, Japan does not need to acknowledge and apologize for the so-called atrocities of WWII.
On December 25, 1953, the U.S. had no right at all to decide unilaterally to include the Diaoyu Islands as part of the Ryukyu Islands whose administrative rights would be handed over to Japan in 1972. This complicity by the U.S. helped to create a dispute which should not have existed in the first place. Furthermore, especially in the last few years, the U.S. has on many occasions stated an internally inconsistent foreign policy: On the one hand, the U.S. says that she doesn’t take a position regarding the territorial sovereignty of these islands, but on the other hand, she says that these islands are covered under the Japan-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. In other words, the U.S. is willing to go to war in Asia that it has no moral or legal reason to be involved, unless the reason is to weaken China at all cost.
Another example of the U.S.’s antagonistic policy to weaken China is her deep involvement from early on in the recent protests in Hong Kong. The U.S. was directly and deeply involved in seeding, planning, creating, and supporting the recent protests and chaos in Hong Kong, as have been reported repeatedly by Tony Cartalucci, an independent American geopolitical analyst based in Thailand. This is not to say that there are not legitimate social concerns by the citizens of Hong Kong, but the protest that China is not following the 1997 agreement on establishing Hong Kong as a Special Administration Region of China is bogus. One could argue that China should do more to improve the welfare of the people of Hong Kong, but why does the protest have to take the form of actions that violate the laws of Hong Kong, especially taking into consideration that these actions would have been suppressed immediately and with force during the 150 years of colonial rule under Great Britain. Such actions are also unlawful and would not be allowed in the U.S. So why is the U.S. seeding, mentoring, and supporting actions on an internal issue of China, except that it is part of the U.S.’s policy to weaken China. Let’s consider an analogy. How would the U.S. government and the American people feel if the Chinese government was involved in seeding, mentoring, planning, organizing, and supporting an Occupy Wall Street protest This is just the most recent example of the U.S. interfering in the internal affairs of China in an attempt to weaken China.
More discussion of the U.S.’s antagonistic policy toward China can be found in the recent book Target: China: How Washington and Wall Street Plan to Cage the Asian Dragon by William Engdahl.
The reconstruction of Japan after WWII was completely under the control of the U.S. If the U.S. had wanted Japan to acknowledge and apologize for the massive and inhumane atrocities that the Japanese military inflicted all over Asia, the U.S. could have easily persuaded Japan to do that. But it did not, even after almost 70 years have elapsed since the end of WWII. Why? The only explanation is that the U.S. wants to use Japan as her partner and her major frontline pawn to surround, isolate, and weaken China.
When an established champion athlete faces stiff competition from a new emerging challenger, the established athlete will look within himself and his team to examine carefully every aspect of his and his team’s training and physical and mental preparation in order to improve their performance. Similarly, now that the U.S. is facing stiff competition from China as the world’s number one economy, she should look within herself for ways to improve the country as a whole, instead of trying to sabotage China. Let me carry the analogy to sports a little farther: Is the U.S. behaving like Tonya Harding when she tried to beat the competition from Nancy Kerrigan in the 1994 Figure Skating competition by conspiring to try to break Nancy Kerrigan’s right leg?
Opportunities: Let’s now discuss the opportunities and challenges of preserving the true history of the Sino-Japanese War in the 21st century that most of us in this room face as Chinese Americans or Chinese Canadians living in the U.S. or Canada. Because we are bi-culture and our roots were in China, to a large extent we are ideally suited to help accomplish this objective. We care for and love our mother country, but we also care for and love our adopted country, the country where most of us are citizens and where our children and grandchildren most likely are living or will live. We know the history and culture of both countries. Many of the elderly among us had personally experienced the Sino-Japanese War. Most of our parents and grandparents had suffered through the Sino-Japanese War. Based on our own or our parents/grandparents’ recollections, we can bear witness to what transpired during the Sino-Japanese War, and no one can deny the authenticity of what we or our parents/grandparents experienced. Furthermore, we are in a good position to assess the positives and the negatives of each society, then and now. Therefore, organizations like GA (Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia) and ALPHA (Alliance for Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia) are in the best position to spearhead the movement to preserve the true history of the Sino-Japanese War in the 21st century.
Challenges: However, those factors that give rise to opportunities for us are also the factors that make it difficult for us or create challenges for us. Because most of us are of Chinese descent, sometimes it makes it more difficult to persuade Westerners that what we are saying reflect the truth and our analysis is objective, because they may think that we are biased toward China. This is especially difficult and sensitive if the issue involves criticizing the U.S. for its complicity as in the case of preserving the true history of the Sino-Japanese War. Let me offer an analogy. When we see that our children are doing something wrong, we don’t hesitate much to point out or criticize their mistakes. However, if someone outside of our immediate family criticizes our children, we may feel offended and become defensive for our children.
Because of the complicity and involvement by the U.S., it makes it doubly difficult for us to achieve our objective. However, we are not going to give up. We just have to work harder and smarter, and have a long-term perspective.
What Should We Do? How then should we attack this problem? First, our activities must not only target Chinese Americans and Chinese Canadians, but the American and the Canadian public at large. As a matter of fact, our primary target audience should be the American and the Canadian public. Furthermore, we must have patience and commit to a long-term struggle, because the buy-in by Westerners to this cause would take time to develop. At first, they participate because they see the injustice of sweeping that kind of atrocities under the rug. As they learn more about that part of history, they may understand better why certain things have happened or why certain things have not happened. They may be able to correlate the actions of their own governments to the developments involving this issue. As their understanding deepens, they will see that the complicity of their own governments is contributing obstacles to the cause they support, and the American and Canadian public may then take actions to remedy that. This takes foresight and courage. That is why we feel such a loss with the recent passing of Dr. Pete Stanek, a former President and a pillar of Global Alliance.
Let me make it very clear, when Americans see that our government’s actions are detrimental to the welfare of the American people and also to world peace and when those actions are not consistent with the American values we so proudly proclaim, then criticizing our government is the right thing to do, and it is a patriotic thing to do. Similar remarks apply to the Canadians.
As we previously mentioned that the Western leaders and Western mass media have been purposely dragging their feet in setting the record accurately on the true history of the Sino-Japanese War and have been adopting an antagonistic policy toward China. Consequently, the Western public has not been getting information that are based on facts and analyses that are objective. Today many people find a lot of their information via the web, in particular via Wikipedia. Therefore, one of our efforts should be to set up a task force to facilitate the writing and submission to Wikipedia of relevant articles on this part of history. Not only that we can be the authors of some of these articles, we should also explain the process and facilitate others who are not familiar with the process to make it easier for them to write and submit. If we do this properly and on a big scale, then it could have a tremendous impact on raising the knowledge base of the Western public, and the Chinese American or Chinese Canadian public as well. I think many people have thought about this idea. For example, I have heard it from Ying-Ying Chang almost a year ago and more recently from several people in the Baodiao group.
When GA or ALPHA organizes our programs, like the annual Peace and Reconciliation Asia Study Tour, which types of professionals should we focus on? We should continue to do what we have been doing during the last 10 years, i.e., help to educate high school world history teachers and other educators (to a smaller extent, also colleges and middle schools). The goal is that these educators will incorporate this part of history into the curriculum of their world history courses, and the curriculum guides and teaching plans they develop would facilitate other teachers to do the same. This way, the teachers can help to increase the knowledge of students about this part of history. Besides reaching out to their students, these teachers should be encouraged to reach out to the public at large, e.g., via presenting talks at libraries and other community programs, writing articles for magazines, posting articles or comments in websites, or submitting letters to the editors. We also do not necessarily have to restrict to world history teachers; our experience has shown that other professionals can also contribute in a major way, e.g., film makers, lawyers, English teachers, journalists, public officials, etc.
We need to form alliances or collaborations with more groups. Ideally these alliances or collaborations should be long term, but short-term alliances or collaborations can also be beneficial. We do not necessarily have to find groups whose objectives are identical to ours. As long as our objectives overlap and there are short-term benefits, then we join forces and jointly sponsor certain programs. Based on our experience, we have done this on many occasions with several types of groups, e.g., WWII study centers in colleges, Holocaust centers or commissions, book clubs, libraries, college Asia student associations, established Chinatown companies, cultural associations, etc. As mentioned previously, we want to reach the American public or Canadian public audience, so it is important that these alliances and collaborations are not just with Chinese-American or Chinese- Canadian organizations.
A group that should be of special benefits to join forces with is the Korean-American or Korean-Canadian organizations. They are very organized and have made headways with elected public officials, and have done pioneer work on the comfort woman issue. For example, the first Comfort Woman Plaque was installed in 2010 in the city (or borough) of Palisades Park, New Jersey. It was approved by the City Council of Palisades Park, whose population has 51.5% of Korean ancestry according to the 2010 Census. It has both the highest Korean-American density and percentage of any municipality in the U.S. When the Japanese government (including a personal visit by the Japanese Consul General of New York) failed to persuade them to change their mind while dangling economic incentives for the borough, it was reported by the New York Times. As a result, Comfort Woman memorial plaques and statues are being erected in many other places in the U.S. and other parts of the world. An alliance/collaboration with Korean Americans will broaden our base from a Chinese-American or Chinese-Canadian base to an Asian-American or Asian-Canadian base. We should also foster opportunities to form alliances or collaborations with Japanese both inside and outside of Japan. There are righteous and courageous Japanese who recognize the injustices of the Japanese Imperial Army and are working to preserve the truth about that part of history. Let me just mention two such heroic Japanese: Tamaki Matsuoka and Naoko Jin who have dedicated their lives to use primary sources to preserve that part of WWII history.
We have emphasized that the complicity of Western governments, especially the U.S. government, has created major obstacles to achieving our objective. Therefore, we must be much more involved in the American political system. Even though Chinese Americans and Korean Americans make up only 1.23% and 0.55%, respectively, of the American population, their percentages in certain congressional districts in certain states such as California and Washington could be significantly higher. One or more influential Congress representative, especially a senior member of a key congressional committee could be very influential. Their views will be much less likely to remain unreported by the mass media, and their letters to the editors will be much more likely be published.
In the U.S. there is an organization called Committee of 100, which is a group of prominent Chinese Americans with the mission to “pool their strengths and experience to address important issues concerning the Chinese American community, as well as issues affecting Sino-American relations.” We need to reach out and interact more with the Committee of 100 because they could be influential, have good contacts, and could provide financial resources. Similarly we should reach out and interact more with other similar organizations.
The political atmosphere in the U.S. in the last few years is very much anti-China. Constantly we hear negative remarks by American political leaders and negative coverage by American newspapers, television, and radio. These negative remarks are often not true and biased, and they are getting more and more, and worse and worse. Such atmosphere is not conducive at all to preserving the true history of the Sino-Japanese War, and more importantly, to world peace. Such atmosphere poisons the relationship between the two countries that mean the most to us, U.S. or Canada and China. It could even lead to war between U.S and China. Furthermore, the consequences in the future will be very grave for Chinese Americans, especially for our children and grandchildren. We are not crying wolf when there is no sight of the wolf anywhere. We are crying wolf because the wolf is just around the corner.
The China Side: Let’s also address the China side. Although China does have many social and political issues that need to be addressed, they are not the originator of the cause of the problems between the U.S. and China, especially on the issue of preserving the true history of the Sino-Japanese War. China of course can play a key role on this issue. However, because most of us are U.S. citizens (or Canadian citizens) and we are living in the U.S. (or Canada), we do not have much influence over how China is run. Nevertheless, we urge China, besides paying attention to improving her economy and military strength, should also put more attention on improving her soft power, in areas such as the human spirit, the motivation guiding one’s livelihood and behavior, the caring of fellow men, the reduction of the gap between the rich and the poor, the non-abuse of power, and clearly defining and following rules and regulations, etc. These are similar to the ideas discussed by Professor Donald Chang of the University of Science and Technology of Hong Kong in his just published Chinese book 道德战争 : 现代中国在价值观上的挑战, or Moral War as the English book title. By significantly increasing her soft power, China will be more successful in winning the hearts and minds of the Chinese people and people all over the world.
Summary: In closing, we reiterate that the task of preserving the true history of the Sino-Japanese War is not just reaching an academic agreement on what happened, but it intertwines closely with the U.S.-China relationship. The complicity of the U.S. government has created many obstacles and has made the task much more difficult. We must remove those obstacles and keep the U.S. from creating more obstacles. Our being bi-culture and having a good understanding of the history of China and the U.S. provide us opportunities to try to solve this problem. However, as discussed earlier, the factors that give rise to opportunities for us are also the factors that make it difficult or create challenges for us. We discussed several steps that we must take, including:
- Our primary target audience should be the American or Canadian public
- Set up a task force to write or facilitate others to write and submit articles about this part of history, as well as related subjects, to public websites like Wikipedia
- Help educate teachers and other professionals about this part of WWII history who in turn help to educate the students and the public
- Form alliances or collaborations with other groups inside the Chinese-American community or the Chinese-Canadian community
- Because this is not just a Chinese-American or Chinese-Canadian issue, form alliances or collaborations with other groups outside of our community to create a broader united front. In particular, seek collaborative opportunities with suitable American organizations. Another group is the Korean-American community, as well as those courageous Japanese who have dedicated their lives to preserving this part of history.
- Involve much more in the American and the Canadian political systems. If we are successful in selectively targeting certain political offices, our voice cannot be so easily dismissed
- Reach out and interact more with the Committee of 100 so that their prestige, influences, and resources can be utilized for our cause
- We must fight with all our resources to counter the anti-China and anti-Chinese political atmosphere that currently exists in the minds, words, and actions of Western political leaders and their collaborative mass media. It is important to recognize that criticizing the U.S. government for its erroneous and dangerous policy is both patriotic and the right thing to do as American citizens. We care for and love our adopted country, and we want the U.S. to be a successful and prosperous country, a country where our children and grandchildren live and will live.
- We also need to encourage China to put more emphasis on improving her soft power
The Power of One: The task of preserving the true history of the Sino-Japanese War is important, but it is much more important than that, because it is related to Sino-U.S. relation and to world peace. Furthermore, the quality of the livelihood of our children and grandchildren depends critically on how successful we carry out this fight. We know that it is a very difficult fight, but we should not shy from it, instead we should double our effort and take it on with all the strengths we can muster. I want to end this talk by repeating a quote from Iris Chang who said “Please believe in ‘The Power of One.’ One person can make an enormous difference in the world. One person – actually, one idea – can start a war, or end one, or subvert an entire power structure. One discovery can cure a disease or spawn new technology to benefit or annihilate the human race. You, as just one individual can change millions of lives. Think big. Do not limit your vision and do not ever compromise your dreams or ideals.”
As a matter of fact, about 150 years ago, we had an example of the Power of One. In 1868 Anson Burlingame, the American Ambassador to China and then China’s Ambassador to the Western Powers, almost single handedly got the Burlingame Treaty signed between the U.S. and China that was the first equal treaty between China and a Western power. Unfortunately due to his early death in 1870 at age 49, there was no lasting impact from this treaty. Later in this conference, you will hear more from David Chai about Anson Burlingame.
Yesterday on my flight from Newark to San Francisco, the documentary film I saw “Waiting for Mamu” is another illustration of the Power of One. It describes how Pushpa Bashnet, a woman in Nepal, set up a school for 40+ children who were in jail, because their parents were in jail, and house them, educate them, and train them to be educated and responsible youths. Keeping in mind that these children have many relatives, friends, and acquaintances, together with media coverage, she is already impacting thousands of people. Since many of these youths will grow up and impact many other people, the number of people impacted in a positive way will be in the hundreds of thousands or even millions two-to-three generations later. As Bashnet mentioned “Today I am changing someone’s life. Tomorrow they are changing someone else’s life.” For her work, she was recognized as the “2012 CNN Hero of the Year.”
Each one of us may be only one person, but together we can start a movement that can overcome huge odds and change history.
This talk was video recorded, and you can see it (3rd item) at: