于滨:The anniversary elegy

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于滨 (进入专栏)  

  

  When the "greatest generation", to borrow Tom Brokaw's phrase, finally fades away in East Asia's nations, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II - celebrated on August 15 to mark the day when Japan surrendered - may well be remembered as a turning point when the region did not move forward into the future but back toward the past, in both style and substance.

  While commemorations in Europe were joined by both victors and vanquished, Asians have gone their separate ways: the Japanese to Hiroshima, Yasukuni Shrine or Saipan; the Chinese to Beijing's Marco Polo Bridge, the Nanjing Massacre Museum or Harbin (where the Japanese biological warfare Unit 731 was stationed); and others to Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila, and so on.

  The substance and chemistry of those events also differ vastly in Europe and Asia. Gatherings at Normandy, Moscow, Warsaw, Berlin and Dresden conveyed not only painful reflection but also heartfelt remorse, reciprocal forgiveness, genuine reconciliation and a determination not to forget and repeat the greatest slaughter in human history. Europe has indeed turned a historical corner. In sharp contrast, the anniversary year in Asia has so far witnessed hyper-nationalism, rising mutual hatred, and intensifying interstate rivalry.

  

  The agony and irony of war

  

  There are plenty of reasons why Asians have not found it easy to become reconciled to the past, even after 60 years. For one thing, World War II both began and ended in Asia. It also lasted longer and was more devastating than the war in Europe. The ball started rolling in 1931 when Japan seized the three northeastern provinces of China and turned them into the Japanese colony of Manchukuo. This was five years before Hitler sent troops into the Rhineland, eight years before the official start of World War II in Europe with the German attack on Poland, and fully 10 years before Pearl Harbor in 1941. Japan's 1931 annexation of Manchuria was also the beginning of the end of the Versailles system put in place by the Western democracies in 1919. When the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations, ruled that Japan was the aggressor in the "Manchuria Incident", Tokyo angrily withdrew from it in 1933. This "unilateralism" of the Japanese was echoed and followed by Germany, which withdrew from the League in 1933. Italy followed in 1937, Austria in 1938 and Spain in 1939. The rest is history.

  Despite the different durations of the war - 14 years in Asia (1931-45) versus six years in Europe (1939-45) - the two theaters were intimately connected, ironically, by the action and inaction of the United States. The European democracies were totally consumed by their own war and paid little attention to Asia, save a major campaign by the British in Burma. The United States, a crucial weight in deciding the final outcome in both sectors, was still sitting on the fence. Harry S Truman, then Democratic senator from Missouri, explicitly expressed the feelings of many Americans when he said in June 1941, "If we see that Germany is winning we should help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill as many [of each other] as possible, although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances." [1] In actuality, ever since the 1937 Neutrality Act the US practiced a policy of "cash and carry". Belligerents could purchase certain war materials from the US if they paid cash and carried them away in their own ships. In short, it was an "MM" policy of maximizing profit while minimizing risks.

  Even after Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact to form the Axis bloc in September 1940, the only thing FDR (president Roosevelt) was able to do was "lend and lease" goods to the European allies, which they were expected to "return" after the war. In Asia, Japan remained one of the largest trading partners of the US, while the Emperor's Imperial Army devastated China's vast territory. Following the Japanese army's move into Indochina in the summer of 1941, the US "accidentally" initiated an oil embargo against Japan. This "mistake" was inadvertently made by lower-level bureaucrats who went ahead with a total stoppage of oil shipments to Japan when FDR meant only a partial embargo. Only after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor did the US have no choice but to declare war on both Japan and Germany. Thus the resolution of the war in Europe was hastened by events in Asia.

  Fast forward to 1945, when Asia was also the last to stop fighting. After 50 years of war with its neighbors and various Western powers in Asia, the unprecedented military ascendancy of the Empire of the Sun was finally arrested in 1945, thanks to the combined efforts of three continental powers - America, China, and Russia - plus US atomic weapons. This first war to engulf the whole of Asia therefore effectively made World War II a conflict on a truly global scale. The United States of America, the only real winner of the war,(点击此处阅读下一页)

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