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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Teachable Moment For Japan (And The World)

Before I begin, I want to stress that what follows are my thoughts on a national level, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the sympathy that any individual victim of terror (and their family/ loved ones) deserves.

Picture what would happen if a typical school district were to dispense with individual division of classes for kindergarten through 12th grade.  All subjects - maths, history, sciences, physical education, etc., as well as all meals, breaks and social activities - would include all students, regardless of age/grade.

Obviously the elementary students' behavior and inability to adapt to the norms and standards of the high school age students would create chaos, and would ultimately negatively impact the ability of the older students to move forward, learn and behave at an age-appropriate level.

Without the usual segregation by age/grade, the school would be doomed to endless squabbling and stagnation.  Simply put, instead of each grade learning, moving forward and being held to / related to on an age-appropriate pace / level, the older kids would be held back by the limitations of the younger kids. 

The world is no different, and we are suffering the results of our refusal to implement a hierarchy of expectations and privileges based on demonstrated level of development.

What we have today is a collection of mature nations being forced to conduct their day-to-day business in the company of  'younguns' consisting of dysfunctional, immature new arrivals, proto-states and non-state actors.  

We all pretend that anyone who can wrangle a seat at the negotiating table can be held to the same standards and equipped with the same ability to act rationally... simply by virtue of their ability to show up in a suit and tie.  

But in truth, the less-evolved players on the modern international stage are setting the glacial pace for the rest of us, and are creating a situation where nothing can move forward.

I have asked you to slog through this labored analogy because we are seeing the result that this low/no expectation approach can have on international relations.

Japan, by all meaningful measurements, is a full-fledged, mature nation.  Although culturally ancient, its modern history consisted of a dark childish (some would go so far as to say 'primitive') stage of development, filled with greed, savagery and all kinds of 'not playing well with others'.  

At the end of WWII, Japan was occupied and 'schooled' on how to behave if they aspired to join the family of nations... and they ultimately 'graduated' to take their place with the 'grown-ups.

Sadly, in the rush to push them through a fast-track curriculum, Japan was allowed to bypass an important part of their education.  In essence, they were allowed to skip a few grades without having to have had to acknowledge much of their past behavior/misdeeds (Turkey being another such country that fits into this category).

Which brings me to the current conundrum:  

Recent images of Japanese hostages held by ISIS being threatened with beheading, and the subsequent follow through on the threat in the case of at least one of the hostages, was/is indeed ghastly.  But given Japan's unacknowledged past, it is difficult to muster the full measure of outrage that they are demanding of the world. 

What irks me more than a bit is that the Japanese government' unabashedly calls these threats (and their ultimate realization) "outrageous" without the slightest sense of irony regarding their own past deeds.

This is actually a teachable moment for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, not to mention many other world leaders.  

Given Japan's wartime record of unspeakable atrocities (Google the phrases 'Rape of Nanking', 'Laha massacre', 'Banka Island massacre', 'Palawan Massacre', 'Tinta Massacre', 'Bataan Death March', 'Sulug Island massacre', and ''Comfort Women', if you want to scratch the surface of modern Japan's formative years), it would be an unparalleled opportunity for Japan to take ownership of its past and to explain to the world that nations (and would-be nations) that it is possible - necessary, even -to learn from the past and evolve to conform with modern norms of civilized behavior before being taken seriously.

Japan 1


Japan 2

Japan 3

Japan 4

Japan 5

By remaining silent about its past in face of such reminiscent present threats, Japan is signaling that each group, proto-nation and modern state should be allowed to mature and evolve at its own rate alongside the more developed geopolitical players; dooming the world to an eternity of unlearned lessons and repeated mistakes. 

And Japan is far from alone in its silence.  

The former colonial powers of Europe created much of the modern chaos in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, yet act as though the solution is to now give the unruly offspring of their foreign dalliances a seat at the grown-ups table without requiring them to demonstrate any mastery of the prerequisite coursework. 

It isn't enough to dress 'the kids' up in a suit and tie and pretend that everyone is equal.  The 'upper-class-men' among the modern nations must impose a rigorous syllabus of coursework and exams for the unruly 'younguns' specifically based on their own checkered past.   

It isn't enough to call the beheading of an innocent civilian 'outrageous'. That pronouncement must be accompanied by a detailed admission of what Japan did when it was 'younger' and less evolved.

Only then can the established nations set believable criteria for matriculation to a seat in the upper-class where expectations, privileges and responsibility are inextricably intertwined.

Posted by David Bogner on January 28, 2015 | Permalink


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Truly treppenwitz, this post.

1. Remember who gave the Japanese their schooling: Douglas MacArthur.

2. The Japanese sanitized their histories, because the truth was too shameful to bear.

3. Your insight that some nations are not ready for the grown-ups table may be the the greatest stroke of genius ever to grace your blog.

Posted by: antares | Jan 28, 2015 8:47:23 PM

Who exactly are the "upper-class" and "established" nations in this analysis? I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a world power that doesn't have abominable behavior in its history of development.

Posted by: Alisha | Feb 7, 2015 10:08:45 PM

To be fair, we did nuke them. That's not exactly a stern talking-to and being sent to bed without supper.

Posted by: Tanya | Feb 16, 2015 11:55:00 PM

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