Gimme Chocolate

The year is 1945.  Japan has been ravaged as a nation, and many of its larger cities have been bombed into an unrecognizable mess.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s core business districts are flattened wastelands of radioactive rubble, and hundreds of thousand of Japanese citizens have been killed.  Most of those citizens had nothing whatsoever to do with the war.  They were just living their live, and some politician somewhere decided they were going to go to war with the United States, as well as committing atrocities all over the pacific rim.

It was a difficult time.  The most hardship many in the US had to endure was some fear, economic hardship, and rationing.  The hardships those in Japan had to endure were… much worse.  Families were shattered, and children became orphans.  Or worse.

When the American servicemen came onto the shores of Japan, I’m sure they encountered many children who were in very bad shape.  They had lost their parents, may have been living in squallid conditions, and in a very real way, the same people who had been the day prior bombing the ever loving whatever out of their country were now their rescuers.   The servicemen had a difficult task ahead of them – to gain the trust of those who they had previously been enemies with.

I don’t know all the details of this time.  I’m not a WWII historian.  Frankly, I don’t think I could be.  It was a horrific time.  But after Japan was conquered, it became a time for peace, for reconciliation, and for reparation.

And the American servicemen brought chocolate.

The Japanese children didn’t know how to say much English.  In fact, I think it being “taught” in schools is very much a postwar thing.  But they learned how to say two words:  “gimme choco”.

See, the mind of a child, no matter what the nationality, is simple and uncluttered.  They did not understand war.  They did not understand what happened to their cities, or their parents.  But if you came to them offering to make their lives better – and with a little bit of luxury added on in the form of chocolate – the healing could begin.  We offered chocolate, and they learned that we had chocolate.  It didn’t make everything better, but it made things just a little better.

Adults deserve the consequences for what they do, but the children never do, and to their credit, the American servicemen understood this as well.  NO ONE likes to see children affected by a war, and those who do are sick indeed.

Babymetal is a “Kawaii Metal” band whose songs, well, pretty much everything about them, tends to be layered with many different levels of meaning, and their song “Gimme Chocolate” is one of them.  On the surface, it is simply a song about a girl wanting a little chocolate but is worried about her weight.

And then superimposed on that is onomatopaeia for machine guns.

Eighty years since, Japanese children say “gimme chocolate” not because they lost their home and parents, but because it tastes good, but they’re worried about their weight so they’re not sure whether or not they should have any.

The children of Japan in 1945 did not have this worry.  They had many more pressing things to worry about.

Eighty years later, few people live who remember those times.  Adults who are in their mid eighties might have been one of those children who shyly asked for chocolate in the only English they knew.

Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

I do hope that in the future, children continue to be able to ask for chocolate because they want it, not because it’s the only comfort they have.

War is hell.  It was hell on everyone involved, and it still is.  And the children, of any nationality or race, do not deserve to be exposed to it.  It is good that Babymetal, in their own inimitable style, has reminded the Japanese of that fact.  The American media is asleep at the switch.  They are openly advocating for war, both internal and external.  Perhaps there should be, as uncomfortable as it is, a reminder of the horrors of what they are attempting to unleash.

And maybe we should start with a small Japanese child, clutching a ragged stuffed animal, which is maybe the only thing she owns, asking a serviceman for chocolate.

For that is what war wreaks.

This was a very hard post to write.  I hope you get something from it.

Uncomfortable

Note to Japanese readers:  if you are not prepared to accept a rather harsh criticism of your culture, please stop reading now.

A couple of days ago, I learned about the behavior of the Japanese in the second world war, and it rather shocked me.  I didn’t really understand why the Japanese were (and to some degree, are) so reviled in South and East Asia, but after hearing about some of the atrocities that were done in Manchuria, China, and the Philippines, among others, I think I understand it now.  I’m very uncomfortable with it.  Primarily because it seems, from what I’ve been reading, that most of those countries, including South Korea, only want an acknowledgement and apology for what the Japanese did eighty years ago.  I imagine some are looking for reparations too, but I’m not going to get into that discussion.  That’s also something we’re dealing with in America, on a smaller scale, and I don’t want to open that can of worms.

However, such an apology and acknowledgement has, from what I understand, never been forthcoming.

I can think of many reasons for this.  I am not familiar with Japanese culture as much as someone who may be living there, but my general impression is that they tend to avoid things that cause them shame or embarrassment.  So I can kind of understand why they, even today, avoid thought or mention of what was done in world war two.  But in other senses, I can’t.  Culture is a very strong driving force, and I get that, but there are some things with which the only appropriate thing is swallowing your pride, and owning up to the history of one’s country performing unimaginable atrocities in wartime should be one of those things.

I am very uncomfortable with Japanese culture right now, and while I continue to learn the language as I don’t wish for two years of study to be in vain, I’m not sure if I want to ever visit there at the moment.  I mean, before I was pretty sure I would never be able to, but now I’m not even sure if I want to.  Because behind every kawaii thing they come up with, there are relatively recent wounds of war that are still festering, and I remain very disturbed by what I learned.

Japan’s Checkered Past

Many years ago, I was taking piano lessons as a late teen.  My teacher was an older Filipino woman who was a child (or a teenager, perhaps) during the Japanese occupation of the Phillipines.

She hated the Japanese.  Or at least she struggled to not hate the Japanese.  She told me horrible stories, and honestly I couldn’t blame her for how she felt.  Obviously, that was not my experience, but there are many people and countries out there who remember a Japan that was not an exporter of cool media and well-built cars, but a warlike country that left many scars that have lasted a very long time, and with good reason.

On my feedly feed, I have a keyword search set up for “Japanese”, and to be frank, much of the things that come through are not complimentary to them.  There appears to be an ongoing dispute about the wartime Japanese practice of “comfort women”, which many countries still haven’t forgiven or forgotten.  Of course it would be easy for me to say “It’s been eighty years, maybe time to let it go”, but old scars run deep, and the Japanese history of war and conquering still holds repercussions today.  The Chinese, for example, have not forgotten the Nanjing massacre, and while that, too, was around eighty years ago, I don’t know if my country would forget the murder of three hundred thousand people either, no matter how long in the past.

The Japanese of today are an amazing people, contributing much to the world in the way of culture, of media, of philosophy and religion.  Obviously I admire and respect them enough to make a significant effort to learn about their language and culture.  But a part of me still has to wonder:  it’s only been eighty years.  We took Japan out of war, but did we ever truly take war out of Japan?  After all, their culture is thousands of years old – eighty years is just a drop in the bucket.  I wonder if the other countries who are currently having somewhat tense relations with Japan over the past – such as Korea and the Phillippines – are making a big deal out of something that should be left in the past.  But I also wonder if they’re right, too.

But, all told, the Japanese and my people settled our differences eighty years ago – we won.  Whether the Japanese and other countries have settled their differences is, in all honesty, not much of my concern.  Still, I hope that Japan and its quarreling east Asian neighbors can continue to work at settling their differences.

A part of me wonders, though, whether Japan has ever truly come to terms with their past.