“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,”(2)
My first awareness of Japan and the people of Japan was when I was seven years old. Even at seven years, I remember exactly the hour and where I was on December 7, 1941 when paperboys ran down our street shouting: EXTRA-EXTRA, An extra-edition newspaper’s bold headline read JAPANESE SNEAK ATTACK PEARL HARBOR. In a few short hours, my little world was expanded to include “Pearl Harbor”, “Pacific Ocean”, “Asia”, “Japan”, “Japanese dive bombers”, “Japanese aircraft carriers”, “sunken battleships”, and “little Japanese monsters”. Some moments in life become the stage for the complex odysseys that play out for years.
In the next few days, all Japanese were vilified. I lived in a world of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. We “learned” that the Japanese were little, yellow, non-human monsters with buck teeth, very thick glasses and swords. They believed their Emperor was God. They were not only the enemy but “The Other”, alien, and nothing like us. Our soldiers were told to “Zap a Jap.” There were 127,000 Japanese-American residents (Japanese ancestry), living in the USA, who were very quickly incarcerated in interment camps.(3) (Read an excellent novel: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.) (4)
After four years and numerous horrendous “Iwo Jima’s”, “peace” was purchased with the deaths of 48, 231, 700 human beings, (5) (3% of the World’s population), “we taught the ‘Japs’ a lesson” by dropping atom bombs on them. We won The War! My uncle came back from The War, when I was about twelve, with the pistol and sword from a Japanese officer, a gift for me, as war trophies. I never thought about the man who had carried that sword for his country.
About twenty years later, I was stationed in Hawaii and lived on the banks of Pearl Harbor with numerous neighbors of Japanese ancestry. These genuine people, I found, got married, taught school, or were shopkeepers or nurses. They had babies whom they wanted to send to college to become doctors, social workers or artists. I traveled to Japan three times including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara. I found beautiful people, in a beautiful country, who appreciated the tea ceremony and were masters at arraigning flowers. They loved Levi jeans and Les Paul guitars! They were neat as pins and they moved efficiently, with purpose, through exceptionally clean streets. There were no little yellow monsters. I found that the Japanese were not “The Other.”
In his poem: “Mending Wall”, Robert Frost addressed, what I believe, is perhaps the oldest, and most destructive forces of human relationships: defining and “Dividing the Pie!”
“The Pie” represents finite (limited) resources. It is a conflict as old as tigers and vultures, predators versus scavengers. Humans history is replete with a cataloging of the conflicts over who gets what when there are limited resources, (which is most of the time). Recorded history is mostly stories of conquering or defending land, water, food, cattle or even other humans. Even in “peace”, our democratically elected representatives apparently believe that their primary responsibility is to protect or expand the finite resources of their constituents.
This procedure even has a name: Zero-Sum Game: “of, relating to, or being a situation (as a game or relationship) in which a gain for one side entails a corresponding loss for the other side.” (6)
“The creation of “The Other” is done by highlighting their weakness, thus extenuating the moral responsibility of the stronger self to educate, convert, or civilize depending on the identity of the other. Indeed, as defined by Martin Jones et al., (7) ‘…othering is a term, advocated by Edward Said, which refers to the act of emphasizing the perceived weakness of marginalized groups as a way of stressing the alleged strength of those in positions of power.” “Othering” can be done with any racial, ethnic, religious, or geographically-defined category of people.”
The great religious and moral leaders, for Millenia, have taught that there are higher values that are not finite. Allowing for the basic necessities, our challenge is to overcome the “othering” to promote non-material values such as mutual respect. Ironically, the most enriching and rewarding human values are infinite. The positive emotions and forces of love, caring, nurturing, charity, respect, and knowledge are of unlimited supply so that everyone’s “cup can runneth over”! The Zero-Sum Game in this value arena is harmful or irrelevant.
Rosamund Zander proposes defeating “othering” by finding the:”WE story” that already exists, waiting to be uncovered, in human relationships. (8) My phrase is: “There is no them; there’s only us”.
It is incumbent upon us when we are differing, to examine our motives and methods. Let us at least identify whether or not we are “othering” our adversary in a quarrel over finite resources.
Charles Clanton Rogers, Revised October 30, 2015
Please leave a footprint in the comments section; what is your geography? Thank you, Charles
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(2) Robert Frost, “Mending Wall.”
Independence Hall Association
Over 127,000 United States, citizens were imprisoned during World War II
(4) David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars,– Barnes & Noble
(5) Sources: Gregory Frumkin, Population Changes in Europe Since 1939 (European estimates) B. Urlanis, Wars and Population (The Soviet Union and the Far East)
Singer and Small, Wages of War (the Americas and Ethiopia)
I.C.B. Dear, editor, The Oxford Companion to World War II (British Commonwealth)
(6) Merriam-Webster Dictionary
(7) Martin-Jones, David (2002) Becoming-other in time: the Deleuzian subject in cinema. Ph.D. thesis, University of Glasgow.
(8) Rosamund Stone Zander; Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility, (Penguin Books, Paperback, 9780142001103, 224pp.)