Fifty Years Later: Forget, Hell!


Honolulu. -- Isn't it amazing that we celebrate the end of great wars by dredging up the worst hatreds and resentments, thus guaranteeing that the emotional warfare will never end?

I'm here for the Freedom Forum to discuss the ways in which the press has marked the 50th anniversary of V-J Day, the victory over Japan. I note that the media have seen no great event in the surrender ceremonies on the battleship Missouri -- those were but a tepid anticlimax to two horrendous atomic explosions that delivered fiery terror to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Our American media have gone through weeks of soul-searching and self-flagellation over the use of those atomic bombs. Journalists have practiced more unlicensed psychiatry on President Truman, who made the awesome decision to drop the bombs, than on Sen. Bob Packwood, Rep. Mel Reynolds and Mark Fuhrman combined. President Clinton was forced to declare that the U.S. does not owe Japan an apology.

The Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum altered its exhibit of the Enola Gay, the plane from which the Hiroshima bomb was dropped, after complaints that it made the U.S. appear to be the villain.

In myriad articles, the American media have resurrected facts, rumors and emotions related to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor here; of the Bataan death march of 76,000 allied prisoners; and of the grotesque Japanese medical abuses of the Chinese, especially tying together the legs of pregnant Chinese women so both mother and child would die in labor.

We have celebrated the end of the war by recounting stories of the Japanese forcing Southeast Asian girls into prostitution, and recounting other horrors to the point where Japan's Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued an apology for "the great damage and suffering" his country caused in Asia for its "aggression and colonial rule."

Confession may be good for the soul, but Mr. Murayama's brought only worldwide arguments as to whether it was "unambiguous" or "equivocating."

Fifty years after that September 2 surrender some in the media still want to use that war as proof that some races of people are by nature more brutal than others. Andrew Roberts recently wrote in the London Daily Mail: "The way a nation fights its wars and treats its prisoners says much about its inherent nature. The way Japanese fought between 1931 and 1945 proves that beneath the veneer of their ancient and inscrutable Oriental culture and civilization, they have a savage streak in their psyche."

But are not such generalizations said of Germans and the Holocaust? Or of Americans who committed the Vietnamese atrocity at My Lai? Or of the Serbs who murder innocent people in the streets of Sarajevo?

A primary goal of good journalists should be to prove that the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel was wrong when he said, "We learn from history that men learn nothing from history." We are proving that Hegel was right, because even journalists don't learn from history that war is worse than hell.

To avoid defeat, the most moral of men conjure up brutalities and commit atrocities worse than anything the devil might have programmed. To pretend to expect more is deceitful journalism.

So, tragically, half a century later we pretend to celebrate a war's end, but we are mere prisoners of our memories and recountings of yesteryear's horrors.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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