Shutting Up

posted in: America, Iraq War, Journal | 2

Let me get this straight: I don’t hate Americans. I am angry at what the American government is doing and at those Americans who support it, but that doesn’t mean that I hate Americans, not even those who feel something had to be done about the New York tragedy.

Hate and anger do not automatically equate. I do hate, with all my heart, the madness that people like Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Powell, and Cheney, and non-Americans like Blair, Straw, Aznar, Koizumi, and Howard are pushing on the world, as much as what dictators, propagandists, murderers and warmongers in all other places take upon themselves to force on others. I hate what they stand for and what they actually are doing and I hate their hubris. But I don’t hate any people anywhere for their existence.

Just as one commenter expressed, I believe the people are basically good around the world, very much including Americans, whom most of my friends happen to be. Doubtless there are those who will read this post and, because in their hearts they have already divided the whole world into simplistic good and evil, for and against, construe any and everything I say as messages of hate and intolerance on my part. They won’t even be able to discern what I am attempting to say and why I am speaking out, because they have already decided who I am and what I stand for. That is their loss.

Over the last few days I have recieved a number of responses to my last political post. Some were quite supportive, others quite belligerant, one downright threatening. I have held back from replying, to sort my thoughts out and to measure the balance of the so-called hate and tolerance aimed at me. It is interesting that every single message that voiced anger about my criticizing Americans in any way predictably misconstrued my words as generalizations about all Americans and relegated the tone of my words to “hate”, though I uttered not one word of violence toward or wish to undermine America or Americans. It is also interesting that the only polite and even-toned messages were public, whereas the belligerant notes came to me privately, as if the writers had a personal vendetta against me. They attacked me as a person, attempting to intimidate me and draw me out into a name calling spree, one quite rude and insulting.

Personal attacks not withstanding, it is the desire to shut me up at all costs that irks me. From what I hear from my close American friends, voicing an opinion that is counter to the popular line is becoming frightening in the States. Fewer and fewer people who are opposed to the war in Iraq speak out for fear of their personal safety. Flag waving, though it has always been an American standby, has turned ugly as more and more it resembles the slogan-toting, demonizing ranting of the masses in pre-WWII Germany that my German grandfather, a man of peace and gentleness, spoke so bitterly about. By threatening me and using any kinds of taunts possible, those who seek to shut me up through intimidation like to hold up the line that they are allowing me to speak freely because that is what America is all about.

I am not living in America, nor am I, in my heart and in much of my upbringing and thinking, American in all the ways that Americans seem to categorize themselves. Yet a great part of me is American. Most of my family is American, including my father and brother, uncles, aunts, and cousins. I spent half my life living in America and all of my education in schools with American curriculi. Therefore I take great exception to any American who insists that I am not American. I just don’t happen to follow the touted line.

In other ways I am very Japanese. I grew up here, speak the language well, have a Japanese sense of humor, and exhibit many of the characteristics of Japanese sensibilities. I have never been threatened for what I say… ignored perhaps, but never threatened… here. Japan practices many of the ideals that America preaches, not, as so many Americans seem to feel they should claim rights to, because Japan lost the war and America was such a shining example to the world, but because the Japanese have always carried the ethos of decency and fairness within themselves and in their culture. Americans certainly have a lot of gall claiming that they were the architects of another culture’s identity.

So I will exercise my privilege recognized here in Japan and speak out about what I feel is wrong or right. I have no intention of shutting up simply because a few intolerant Americans don’t like what I have to say. There are many Americans who embrace my words and feel much the same way, about their own country, as I do. I live in a free world. This is my world as much as Americans’. And I really don’t care if, as the polls say, the majority of Americans believe that America is the freest, best country in the world. If it is so free and such a wonderful, peace-loving place then there really would be no need for feeling so threatened each time someone voices a differing opinion, would there?

Getting so defensive is a sure sign that a people are not secure in their beliefs and ethos. I care very much for America and I’d like to see the people feeling and living with less fear of the rest of the world.

The New York tragedy was an awful event and should be deplored, but that does not mean that people around the world should automatically be associated with it. Focusing on the New York tragedy and equating the whole of the rest of the world with that one unforgiveable event is basically saying that all the people in the rest of the world are evil. The Afghans, the Taleban, the Iraqis, Arabs in general, the North Koreans, indeed any people who have spoken up against what the United States is doing have all been made to look like monsters in the American press. But they are not monsters, they are people. And most of them are good people, just like most Americans.

Perhaps Americans who support Bush and his policies are fishing for unconditional support from me, I don’t know. But the world isn’t black and white and I am not in the business of taking sides simply because one person is ranting louder than another. Maybe I make people crazy because I stand in the middle and refuse to be brainwashed into demonizing their opposites, I don’t know.

Certainly a lot of Americans (and very few others) over the past two years have admonished me for saying positive things about Iraqis and Afghans and Japanese and Germans and what not. But all I ever do is look at someone as a human being first, with all the faults and virtues that go with the title, preferably sitting down to get to know one another before then deciding whether I agree with their opinions or not. I don’t care where they come from or what they look like or what their country’s history was. I do take issue with those who would attempt to interfere with this process of interacting with people or would work to color my perceptions of another human being. I make up my own mind about what I think of people, not someone else.

The other day in his letter one of the commenters laughed at me for calling the Japanese perception of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Tokyo fire bombing as the same as the American perception of the New York tragedy. He said there was a difference because America was at war at that time and America had the right to use any means at their disposal for ridding the Japanese threat. It didn’t occur to him that to those horrific people who flew the planes into the Trade Center it was war and they were using any means at their disposal to rid the American threat. But that is not the point. The point is that tragedies occurred in all incidences. Thousands of people died, most of them having absolutely nothing to do with the chauvinism of their governments. There should be no excuses found to cover up the guilt of committing such unforgiveable crimes.

I related this incidence to a close Japanese friend of mine and she blanched when I told her that the commenter had laughed. “Is that what Americans think?” she said in a whisper, “That Hiroshima was funny?” “No,” I had to reassure her. “Just those who think they are better than everyone else.”

Many people are going to dislike what I have to say here, especially among Americans. Let them dislke what I say and let them voice their opinions to their hearts’ content, but in no way I am going to back down just because someone doesn’t want me to say things he or she doesn’t like. Perhaps harsh words will cross paths, but it is better than silence. At least my words are hitting the target rather than flying off into oblivion.

2 Responses

  1. Mark Engvall

    I am a US citizen who is alarmed at the turn of political events here, and who can see similarities in the events in New York and the nuclear bombing of civilian targets in Japan.

    I would like to think that the majority of American citizens value differences of opinions. They may not fire off affirmations to a thoughtful posting, they may not even be represented politically, but they are there.

  2. Miguel

    Hello Mark,

    It is always good to know that there are people out there who are willing to at least extend a hand halfway, even if their opinions differ. I can talk to someone who is civil and who gives me the benefit of the doubt even while expanding on a topic in opposite directions.

    Even more heartening of course is someone who feels the same way as I do and is willing to join in the chorus against violence and kneejerk backlashing. The road seems to keep slipping back into the Middle Ages and it is an effort to keep going, so good company certainly makes it easier to bear.

    Thanks, Mark.

    cheers,
    butuki

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