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Manoa 13.1 (2001) vii-xii
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Twice a year, Manoa's editors gather significant new writing from throughout Oceania, Asia, and the Americas, and focus on a particular country or region. Silence to Light, the current volume in the series, features literary and graphic narratives from and about Japan. Some of the pieces illuminate little-known events that occurred during the war that ended in 1945, while others are reminders of the many ways we continue to be affected by the darkness and silence that the war brought about. Fiction, poetry, memoir, and art of the kinds presented here--because they are experiential and immediate--make vivid the truth that, like all wars, World War ii was not a political abstraction or a single historical event. Rather, it was the destruction of the everyday lives and ultimate destinies of husbands and wives, daughters and sons by a form of collective madness. Moving and powerful, the pieces in Silence to Light leave little doubt that war is the worst failure of human empathy.
For Americans, 2001 is the sixtieth anniversary of the Japanese military strike on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into the conflict. But Pearl Harbor was not the beginning of the war. Throughout Asia, the year 2001 is significant as the seventieth anniversary of the war's actual beginning, in 1931. That year, Japan's Kwantung Army seized Mukden, Manchuria, and began Japan's large-scale military expansionism and colonization throughout Asia and beyond. Events during the first ten years of the war are still vivid for many people in Asia, particularly in China--despite the campaign of forgetfulness that has been waged in Japan and, ironically, abetted in the United States, where Pearl Harbor Day continues to be marked without recalling the larger historical context.
Contemporary examples of Japan's continuing denial of responsibility are many. In November 2000, Kajima Corporation, the country's largest general contractor, was forced to begin compensating the families of Chinese who were enslaved in Japanese copper mines during the war. Many of the laborers were beaten and tortured to death, and few survived more than a year. The settlement resulted from a lawsuit that had been bitterly contested in the courts for nearly five years. And although other companies had engaged in practices similar to Kajima's, the settlement marked [End Page vii] [Begin Page ix] the first time that a Japanese firm had compensated any of the approximately 50,000 Chinese taken from their homes by Japanese occupation troops in the 1930s and 1940s and shipped to Japan to work. An additional 10 million Chinese in Manchuria were forced into labor, and an estimated ten percent of them died as a result. Despite the evidence, multibillion-dollar corporations like Kajima maintain they are not responsible for such "unfortunate side effects" of the war.
Of course, it's not surprising that any nation--including the United States--might wish to forget the atrocities perpetrated by its armies during wartime. However, Japan's singular reluctance to accept culpability in the deaths of 20 to 30 million people from 1931 to 1945, to issue clear statements of apology, and to compensate victims and their families continues to cause friction in East Asia.
American novelist James Baldwin, writing about his own country in the 1960s, said that not only are we part of history, but it is also part of us; consequently, he wrote, the denial and repression of past events are ultimately futile. "Until we excavate our history, we will never know who we are," he concluded. Looking back at the twentieth century, many people might agree with Baldwin that individual and national nightmares can only end by exposing them to the light. Through the efforts of citizens of goodwill, this process--which includes listening to the recollections of elders while educating young people about their nation's history--is gaining ground in Japan. Leza Lowitz, the guest editor for Silence to Light, writes:
While many Japanese politicians still refuse to admit any wrongdoing during the conflict, people who were caught in the winds of war are growing old...