THE DIALOG TAPES #1: History, Collective Memory, and Revisionism

By K. David Du (@Kentsinoroyale)

Welcome to the Dialog Tapes, where Nationsmith writer K. David Du writes about everyday issues we shouldn’t overlook. The writer encourages Nationsmith fans to send in their stories and responses to this week’s topic.

This is the inaugural web article for my new, regular ongoing column for nationsmith.com. It’s been over eight months since my friends and I have started this website for the consumption of our regular readers and fans. Thank you all.

Now, for this column I have two requests and two assurances for my readers:

1) Participate. Other readers will be spinning their stories about their lives. Take an active role in listening.

2) Share. You may have a story that you’d like to tell, what matter is you stay on topic.

So, if you abide by my requests, I will do the following:

1) I will write this column on a weekly basis and I will participate, share, and collaborate with you, the readers.

2) I will try to keep this column as fun as possible. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

Today, I’d like to start this new column with a topic I believe many people have experienced: history, memory, and revisionism and their ramifications in society. Traditionally, we have a few ways of recording and commenting events throughout time and space: history written by primary sources, memories recalling events that have happened, and lastly, revisionism of history told by people who are secondary authors of history.

In this column, unlike my usual nationsmith long-form column, I’d like to specifically focus on anecdotal experiences and stories, but for this article I’d like to focus on the topic about World War II, a truly devastating event in human history.

Traditionally, in our learning of the Second World War, we have focused on the European theater, which focuses on Nazism, the Holocaust, and the Allied Victory in defeating the Nazis. However, the Pacific Theater, aside from the our usage of the atomic bomb, continues to be something of a footnote in the terms of how we (as Americans) try to understand events such as Japanese Imperialism, the Rape of Nanjing, and the experience of the war from the view of its victims (from both sides). As Americans, we are simply not immersed into events outside our ethnocentric views of the world: we won both wars, yet we have not seen the world through the lens of people we believe are peripheral to the victories.

So history records a victory, some McNamara style statistics, and Instruments of Surrender from both Japan and Germany. The documents are there, they exist in some old archive in Washington, D.C. In fact, there are many history books which disseminate major military maneuvers, strategies, tactics, and diplomatic histories of World War II. It’s been covered extensively.

Another way we can document history is by memory. In this case, I am speaking of collective memory. How we remember events is just as important as how we record history through primary sources. My grandfather had told me about that era, when I was younger, about the savagery of the Japanese in their persecution against Chinese cities, towns, and hamlets. Furthermore, there are anecdotal accounts of Chinese women being pushed into service as comfort women for the Japanese Military during the war with girls as young as ten being pushed into prostitution. For these reasons, many people in China and all across East Asia still fear in the resurgence of Japanese Imperialism. It’s a collective memory that doesn’t need to be written.

Alternatively, the collective memory Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been collectively remembered by the Japanese of that era as a warning against Japanese militarism. Even though there are strict constitutional guards against militarism (such as Article 9 in the Japanese Constitution), many Japanese will remember of the price the Japanese people paid for imperialism.

Certainly, Germans have been told many times and are required by constitutional writ to acknowledge their militarism and genocidal history against European Jewry and other victims of Nazism. They keep intact concentration camps so that the young may visit them and learn from their history. They are taught to remember and take part in a perpetual reconciliation between Germany and its victims.

For Americans, we remember the Attacks on Pearl Harbor, MacArthur’s Pledge to Return, and of course, the great victory against Japan. As Americans, we remember moral wrongs, promises, and victories, which is quite different than how the other civilizations remember. As a civilization, we don’t worry too much about the past and we will overlook major event as a footnote: did we win or lose? We write books or film movies celebrating or mourning what was and what might have been.

Lastly, I would like to write about revisionism of history and it involves both history and memory. Revisionism is how we depict history in a distorted manner, which may use some historical supporting facts, and of course, because of revisionism people will “remember” or “forgetting” events differently.

Again, my examples would include holocaust deniers, the small minority of Japanese militarists, and perhaps those would see fit to erase less than shining examples of history such as our own history of interning Japanese Americans during the Second World War.

So, in this article I have written about how we write history, how we remember history, and how we continue to write history in ways that will distort it.

In the comments below, I’d like to hear about your examples or stories. What historical events have prompted you to remember things differently or how have you somehow recounted history in a way in which it distorts historical facts?