Today is an acrid one in this North American nation. As if we were China and the Tibetans had stepped out of line, race, or, in Chinese Communist terms, “ethnic contradictions” ( 民族矛盾) is the issue of the day. Thus Americans, starting with one congressman from South Carolina, are obligated to yell at each other on television screens which drum upon the wounds of the Civil War, a percussion which elongates into the broad roar of indiscriminate rage and the sound of parchment tearing.
Recuperating a mish-mash of historical parallels, every day brings new comparisons. Is the United States the new Weimar Republic, returning to its rebellious roots, or doomed to repeat the heavy-bureaucratic malaise of Japan in the 1990s? And, no sooner than the Nazi parallels are raised by a certain conservative-anarchist network run by a mixed-race couple, they are effaced by rational scholars who, although they cannot cry on command, at least command the evidence . No matter! President Barack Obama is rapidly thereafter likened to Kim Jong Il and Chairman Mao.
It is such a rich historical pastiche at work in our country’s rallies, in its inchoate opposition to whatever it is that is being opposed. To go back only to the health care debates of the early-mid 1990s (back when Clarence Thomas was getting comfortable on the bench) would be all too simple – and far too logical for such ambitious faux-patriot-historians who will do whatever it takes to bypass direct discussion of what the Bush administration actually did.
To assume that the opinion of an actual historian matters in these parallels is of secondary importance. As anarchy is encouraged and white paranoia enflamed, facts must not stand in the way.
Fortunately football has returned to our cities and the long arc of the baseball season is approaching its apotheosis. If Mr. Obama really wants to avoid those nasty comparisons to Chairman Mao, he’ll order everyone to slap on a flag pin, bare his incisors while emphasizing how much he loves to personally order the strikes of the flying drones, and then make sure a Stealth Bomber flies over the National Anthem at the World Series in New York.
Consolidating one’s own patriotic credentials, fortunately, so often goes along with the necessary work of healing a nation’s soul.
Meanwhile in Japan, change seems to have broken out into full bloom. Even though the new government is full of ex-LDP members, pronouncements of autonomy that sounded paranoid or grandiose only 16 months ago are now being echoed by majorities in the Diet. The Bush-Koizumi leviathan of privatization appears to have halted in its tracks like some kind of King Kong facing the wrath of the Godzilla Left. Columnist Minoru Morita’s exhortation for to “Break Japan’s America Addiction” seems closer than ever.
Or, in the case of Korea, change gushes along silently, promising either a the slow moisture of a great harvest or the inexorability of a fatal tide.
But some things do stay the same. Such as the idea that organizations of overseas Chinese in Canada, pushing ardently for Canadian support for a formal Japanese apology for World War II, were in fact working at the behest of the United Front Department in Beijing. In other words, no matter your ethnicity or religion (or, for that matter, what country you are in), we’re all Chinese at the end of the day. And agreeing we all hate Japanese is a safer topic than, say, to discuss which language we are going to privilege in our schools.
One of the more bizarre and jumbled, and therefore revealing, moments I had this summer occurred on the extreme periphery of the Chinese landmass near the Korean border in Changbai county. Staying in a little inn, a huge downpour detained me for an hour from venturing out — the sensual pleasure of warm rain coursing over my ankles and my flip-flops did not appeal for some reason. And so, idly flipping through CCTV, looking for a signal from North Korean stations across the river in mighty and crumbling Hyesan, I ran across instead a program in Tibetan all about the heroism of the Chinese people in the War to Resist Japan. “Resistance!” I thought furiously, “the flight into exile!” — this is something the Tibetans understand particularly well! Because their tendency, at least among the jaded, would be to identify the invading Japanese of the histories with the encroaching Han of their own times.
With a tin ear, unable to understand that a fundamentally different point of origin had to be applied to their propaganda, the CCP television specialists were educating Tibetans in the orthodox Chinese interpretations of Manchukuo! “The Japanese came in from outside! They imposed their language and culture on us! They tried to make us assimilate! But we resisted!” How familar this must all be to the Tibetans…how well they must understand.
To state in the face of all contrary evidence that a certain form of patriotism is monolithic, that myths cannot have multiple edges, that the history of the dominant ethnicity must ipso facto be the history of the entire nation, and that this history is unquestionably glorious and cannot be marred by self-examination or admissions of a past inequality– and the implication of its continuation — is to ramrod resentment further into those who least need it.
What would happen if a Tibetan became the head of state in China? Or a Uighur? Then we might have a new frame of reference with which to discuss our current Commander-in-Chief and why there is something gloriously different about things until the next white Protestant male comes back to reclaim his patrimony (e.g., the plush chair in the cruise missile/interrogation monitoring control room in the White House basement).
Forget those appealing photos of Obama in Kenyan garb, guys! I want to see the 9-12 protesters get busy with photoshop to put Barack Obama in some Tibetan garb, or a Mongolian get-up. And let him talk about what a pluralistic society means, and the concessions that everyone makes when it comes to coexisting. And get LeBron James involved too, as the great unheralded strength of his memoir of Ohio is its frank admission that he grew up in what amounted to a deeply segregated society, lacking real contact with what he calls “white Americans.” Do that, and then we might actually get somewhere with our soft power, which is still potentially formidable, and restore a fraction of moral traction when it comes to schooling China about how to resolve such “ethnic contradictions.”