The numbers 7-11 are universally recognizable, but do you know 7-7?
Many of the world’s 1.4 billion Chinese do.
In 1989 I went to Taiwan, planning to teach one year (but ended up spending a decade). When my first summer vacation there approached, I planned a trip to nearby Hong Kong and then to Sichuan, China, before I’d return home to see family and friends around Virginia for the balance of the summer. My good Taiwanese friend Richard and his wife kindly drove me to the Taipei airport to catch my flight to Hong Kong. It so happened, that date was July 7, 1990.
While chatting in the terminal, Richard commented offhand that 7-7 was a big date in Chinese history. Being a history major and teacher, I was curious: “Tell me more.” He explained that on 7-7-1937, the Japanese army attacked the Marco Polo bridge outside Beijing, thus triggering a full-scale war between Japan and China. And once Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the conflict went global and the Sino-Japanese War became known as the Asian theater of World War II.
Maybe it’s because most of us Americans have a “Euro-centric” view of the world–especially us in Virginia, since our state touches the Atlantic Ocean–but when most of us study or think about World War II, we think more of the European theater of that conflict. We have mental images of Hitler, Churchill, Stalin, the Holocaust, the London Blitz, D-Day, etc. With the exceptions of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, much of the Asian part of WWII gets short shrift when Americans study or think about that war.
Many of us know about Hitler’s demented plan to create a “master race” and his Holocaust that killed some 6 million Jews, as well as many Eastern Europeans, the handicapped, and others. Less known in the West is that the Japanese army committed many atrocities as horrific as those of the Nazis, if not worse. The Japanese army also had death camps, twisted medical experiments, slave labor, starved POWs, etc.
In late 1937, the Japanese army invaded the Chinese capital of Nanking (now Nanjing) and quickly devolved into a months-long nightmare of killing, raping, looting, and unspeakable evils against the innocent, unarmed Chinese civilians. This evil chapter of history is called the Nanking Massacre or “The Rape of Nanking.” Most Americans, including some history teachers, have never heard of it.
The Chinese government has built a memorial museum on the site of a mass grave of about 10,000 corpses to teach the Chinese people and visitors from around the globe about the Nanking Massacre. Although 75 years have passed since the end of WWII, most Chinese still understand what Japan did to their country then.
In June 2018 my wife and I visited Nanjing and visiting that memorial–though I knew it would be gut-wrenching–was my highest priority to see in that city. Passing through room after room filled with photographs of innocent people who died and the grinning soldiers who gleefully tormented the civilians was an emotional kick in the teeth – similar to visiting a Holocaust museum or Nazi death camp; painful, but important. (You can hear my podcast about that visit to Nanjing in the third link below.)
The bottom line: We need to know our history.
Which brings us to today. As a culture, our understanding of our own American history–let alone other peoples’–is woefully inadequate. What began in late May as legitimate, peaceful protests and forums for equal rights devolved into looting and violence in some cities (thankfully, not Roanoke).
Part of the violence was unleashed against Confederate statues and artwork. However, the mob mentality took a sinister turn on June 20, when an angry crowd in San Francisco attacked and toppled a statue of Ulysses S. Grant. Notably, the San Francisco government took NO steps to protect the Grant statue.
To refresh our memory, General Grant led the Union (Northern) army that defeated Confederate General Lee at Appomattox, Virginia in 1865: that event crushed the Confederacy, ended the Civil War, and made possible the final ending of Black slavery in these United States.
For people who are true “Confederacy-haters,” Grant should be their biggest hero. Crowds in San Francisco should have put garlands of flowers around his neck, not topple his statue.
Recent protests have shown that many of these mobs don’t hate the Confederacy only – in fact, many in these crowds clearly hate Western Civilization. Of course Western Civilization is not perfect–no human system is – but led by both the US and Great Britain in WWII, it defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and ended atrocities like the Holocaust.
To believe that Western Civilization somehow has a monopoly on inhumane behavior and all other civilizations are as pure as the driven snow shows a breathtaking ignorance of both basic history and human nature.
If you think the US has a racism problem now, imagine if the Nazi flag had been flying over our land since the 1940’s.