One of the things I noticed on my last post on Japan’s imperial past and Europe’s failure to satisfy the standards of historical reflection to which the Japanese are routinely held is that there are some who apparently believe that Europe’s imperial record is somehow, someway more “civilized” than its Japanese counterpart. A kindler, gentler colonialism. The Daniel Henney of imperial aggrandizement. And at any rate, the truly ugly period of European imperialism was but ancient history by the time the Japanese embarked on their imperial quest in East Asia. Or so this school of thought goes. Anyway, over at Foreign Dispatches, Abiola Lapite pens yet another outstanding post, this time on Britain’s vicious campaign against the Mau Mau in Kenya, just one example of European colonial brutality that took place long after the Japanese empire was dead and buried. He also offers a fairly compelling explanation for the imperial double-standard:
By all objective considerations, then, if we are to judge today’s Japanese as latent ultranationalists and militarists because of their reluctance to play up the negatives of their imperial past to our satisfaction, and in the face of Japan’s long historical record of isolationism outside of Hideyoshi’s mad schemes and the 1895-1945 period, then the British people, who have been involved in too many military engagements to count in the last 30 years alone, let alone over the last millenium, must be Satan’s personal representatives on Earth, with every UK citizen a Terminator-like specimen of utter ruthlessness and aggression. Only a lunatic would believe that this is in any way a fit description of the average person who sits down to watch “Coronation Street” or “Big Brother” every night, but we are willing to believe the worst of the Japanese on a far flimsier basis, and the only reason I can see for this egregious double standard is that the “Yellow Peril” lives on in many hearts and minds: as reluctant as many are to admit it, the conviction that the Japanese are intrinsically “sneaky” and diabolical is one which still has widespread purchase, and it is for this reason that any number of Japanese apologies are dismissed as “insincere” or “duplicitous” by parties which have never acknowledged let alone apologized for even a minute portion of the evils they’ve inflicted on others. That is why British opinionists can breezily rationalize away demands for greater recognition of past misdeeds as so much money-grubbing “PC” nonsense, even though the misdeeds occurred after those for which the Japanese are never to be forgiven, and that is why Europeans of every stripe feel free to play up the positive aspects of their past aggressions even while lambasting Japanese public figures for attempting the same (and often with much more justification).
So brilliantly put it brought tears to my eyes.
Click over and educate yourself.
Still think European imperialism was headed in the right direction while Japan was expanding its empire in the East? Well, if the Kenyan Emergency, Indonesia War of Independence, Indochina and Algeria (to name just a few post-war instances) is what you mean by “heading in the right direction,” I shudder to imagine what European imperialism must have been like before that.