Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Forgotten Holocaust

“You’d think they’d make a bigger deal of it, since it all happened here,” a classmate said to me, regarding the comparative lack of fanfare (most notably, the lack of poppies) for Remembrance Day, or as it’s called here in France, Armistice.

Um, no – it didn’t all happen here. It happened everywhere. That’s why it was a World War.

I’m not saying this to disparage her, because it’s really not her fault. From my experience, I find that the history program of the Canadian public education system (at least in Southern Ontario) is severely incomplete. We’re pretty much taught that the World Wars centered in Europe, and then North America reacted in support. That’s such a limited view of what happened.

All the way on the other side of the world, in East Asia, lives were equally affected and devastated. There was a massacre in Nanking (what has been dubbed The Forgotten Holocaust) – a veritable genocide, where hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed in the span of six weeks. All kinds of atrocities took place beyond that city as well. Civilians were killed, raped and tortured in the most gruesome ways. My grandmother told me how she and her sisters had to cut off all their hair, smear their faces liberally with dirt and dress like boys on the very rare occasion that they absolutely had to leave their hiding place, for fear of being captured by invading soldiers to be used as comfort women. My grandfather had a brother who disappeared one day during the war and resurfaced three days later, insane, after being tortured by soldiers.

But unlike the Holocaust in Europe, what happened in Asia was never apologized for. In fact, to this day, there are still government officials in Japan and other authority figures who denied that it ever happened. They’ve even gone as far as writing the entire event out of history books and downplaying the death rates, despite the efforts of lobbyists all over the world, including local Japanese groups.

Like I said, in North America, what happened in Asia during WWII hardly gets mentioned, especially in mainstream media. There are people who think that the movie Lust, Caution was all about sex. But we’re making progress, and I feel optimistic.

I’ve been told that material on WWII in Asia has been approved and added to Canadian textbooks and that there are tours now taking teachers to Asian countries to educate them on the subject so that they can teach it. That’s a huge step in the right direction. Then maybe future parents won’t feel the need to do what my mother did – she gave a copy of Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanjing to my teacher when I was in grade five because she thought that the scope of what I was learning from history class at school was too narrow.

So today, let’s remember the World Wars for what they were – events that devastated the entire world – so that we don't downplay the suffering and the courage of millions of others.

Lest We Forget.

1 comment:

Nicole C said...

"Then maybe future parents won’t feel the need to do what my mother did – she gave a copy of Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanjing to my teacher when I was in grade five because she thought that the scope of what I was learning from history class at school was too narrow."

Your mother is awesome xD

and I totally agree about the history program in Canada, but I think it's improving, my ancient history course was pretty good

I think what bothers me most is people flat out denying certain events in history ever happening, that's what upsets me the most

<3 <3 <3