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Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010
HAVE YOUR SAY
Is racism coloring debate on Japanese whaling?
Following is a selection of readers' responses to the Aug. 17 Zeit Gist columns headlined "Racist undercurrents taint whaling rhetoric" by Dougal McNeill and "Appeals to culture, tradition ignore the historical facts" by Chris Burgess:
At war with whaling, not Japan
After six campaigns to the Southern Ocean and the release of the Academy Award-winning "The Cove," the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has become very much involved in Japanese culture.
When hundreds of Japanese citizens angrily protest "The Cove" and scream for censorship of the film and accuse Sea Shepherd activists of being ecoterrorists, there is no doubt that we have touched a nerve. When Japanese government bureaucrats say they will kill whales to spite Sea Shepherd, they unwittingly empower us as influencing foreign and domestic policy.
Surely Japanese foreign and domestic policy is not influenced by a nongovernmental body like Sea Shepherd. Or is it?
Some Japanese citizens, mainly on the far right, believe that Japan should continue whaling in the Southern Ocean for the simple reason that Westerners oppose it. They accuse Westerners of being hypocrites for eating beef, pork and chicken while condemning whaling.
This is not a logical comparison because domesticated animals cannot be considered endangered or protected. And there is no abattoir in the civilized world that would condone the cruelty to farmed animals that the whalers inflict on the whales or the fishermen inflict upon the dolphins.
Westerners do not eat beef, pork and chicken alone. In fact more beef, pork and chicken is consumed in Japan every year than in Australia and New Zealand combined. Whale meat is certainly not a necessity in Japan.
One of the most disturbing strategies of the prowhaling factions is to accuse those of us who oppose whaling of being racist. We are being called anti-Asian and specifically anti-Japanese.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is an international organization with members around the world, including Japan. What we have in common is our passion for protecting our oceans and the overexploitation of marine species. We see that the strength of ecosystems is dependent upon diversity, as is the strength of human societies. We respect diversity, and racism — by its nature — is antidiversity.
Our campaign against the Japanese whaling fleet on the Southern Ocean is aggressive, and the conflict is becoming more hostile and more volatile every year. No one has been injured but ships have been damaged and one of our ships destroyed.
But we do not hate the whalers we oppose. We oppose them because of what they do, not who they are. We fight to defend the whales, not to oppose Japan.
The Japanese whaling fleet survives only because of huge subsidies from the Japanese government. It loses money every year but this seems to be a fair price to pay for those who wish to kill whales because they believe it should be done to spite the West.
Sea Shepherd opposes whaling by Norway, Denmark and Iceland, and we have in the past intervened against whaling by the former Soviet Union, Spain, Australia and an American Indian tribe in the United States. We oppose whaling without discrimination.
I am hardly anti-Asian. I have a daughter who is half-Chinese. I have studied Japanese history and my nephew has studied and taught in Japan. I named one of our campaigns in honor of Musashi Miyamoto, specifically because of his two-fold strategy of the pen and sword, where he points out that confrontation without education is not good strategy.
Back in 1978, we fought Australian whalers in the waters of Western Australia. It was a vicious confrontation, using the same tactics then as we use today against Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.
Three decades later the former whaling nation of Australia is now certainly the most passionate nation on the planet when it comes to championing the whales.
I think that Japan will also become a passionate nation of whale and dolphin defenders just as Australia has become. After all, Japan is a nation surrounded by the sea, just as Australia is.
To hunt down and kill these beautiful, socially complex, self-aware marine mammals is quite simply disrespectful and very impolite. They have done us no harm at all, and as Australia and other nations have discovered, they are actually worth more economically alive than dead.
We will not hurt any of the whalers, and despite claims to the contrary we have not, nor do we intend to. Our motivation is compassion and respect for life. I have spent four decades defending whales from slaughter. It is the harpoon I focus on — not the origin of the harpooner.
Tired leftist agitprop
Dougal McNeill dusts off some tired leftist agitprop techniques to pull superficially similar but unrelated events into a shallow, poorly examined article on alleged racism in antiwhaling rhetoric. He tries to use parallels between World War II-era feelings and Sea Shepherd tactics but fails to understand that in both cases the Japanese were and are the invaders, plundering areas far from home and justifying it with their own far more insidious racist rhetoric.
Sea Shepherd does not use anti-immigrant sentiment in their antiwhaling argument. This is a false argument, like most of the points McNeill tries to make.
Paul Watson usually wears black, but not because he's a fascist. Most likely he's going for the slimming effect, lest someone compares him to one of the whales he cares so much about. Any "long tradition of anti-Asian racism" in Australia and New Zealand is dwarfed by the inclusiveness and multiculturalism of those nations, which are far more welcoming than xenophobic Japan and its insular neighbors.
McNeill mentions the "death and suffering Australia and New Zealand helped bring to the Asian world" in the war, but that is nothing compared to the atrocities wrought upon Asia by Japan.
Does McNeill know anything about history? His references to Hiroshima and Nagasaki are absurd cheap shots completely irrelevant to the issue at hand.
If anything about the whaling issue "exists in a strangely ahistorical and decontextualized space," it is McNeill's article.
No need to rewrite history
Dougal McNeill writes in his recent Op-Ed piece: "The death and suffering Australia and New Zealand helped bring to the Asian world — culminating, of course, in horrific and criminal atrocities in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki — are a warning to ordinary people the world over, and surely, most of all for a putatively progressive organization, not part of a tradition to be embraced."
Ask any Korean, Chinese, or Vietnamese (few people are aware that 2 million Vietnamese starved to death when the Japanese occupation forces diverted their crops to the Japanese mainland) about who brought "death and suffering" to Asia. I completely agree with McNeill's thesis that the campaign against whaling should not be polluted with racist stereotypes, but he doesn't aid his argument by pandering to Japanese revisionist interpretations of what happened in the war.
The "horrific and criminal atrocities in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki" pale in significance when compared to 35 years of slaughter and enslavement that characterized Japanese colonial rule of Korea, 20-plus million Chinese dead, 2 million Vietnamese starvation victims, tens of thousands of young women kidnapped to become sexual slaves to the Japanese military, vivisected Chinese civilians, and so on.
It is no coincidence that there is no sympathy among other Asian peoples for the bombings of Japan's cities.
I've lived in Asia for 30 years, and I'm quite familiar with the Japanese people's self-serving unwillingness to accept any responsibility for Japanese wartime barbarity. The shrine to Japanese suffering that is the Hiroshima memorial makes no reference whatsoever to the 30 million Asians killed by the Japanese military during the war. You'd think the people of Hiroshima were going about their picturesque lives — all tea ceremony and kite-flying — when for no reason the murderous Americans decided to drop the bomb on innocent Japanese.
McNeill might want to visit some of Japan's neighbors and ask what they think. He might also want to ask the Okinawans why it was that Hirohito never dared visit Okinawa.
And by the way, many of those victims of the Hiroshima atomic bombing were Korean slave laborers forcibly brought to Japan — something else they don't tell you about in the official memorial.
You don't need to rewrite history to convince me racism is ugly and stupid.
The dangers of 'groupism'
I have been an avid Japan Times reader for the past 24 years simply because your paper covers a mountain of issues that Japanese papers won't. When I finally acquired the skills to read Japanese papers about 20 years ago, I found they simply did not have much to offer, thanks to the press clubs.
After studying Japanese, teaching English, getting married, becoming self-employed together with my husband and carrying on long after my husband's company failed, and raising two kids in a town that you have never heard of in entirely local surroundings, I finally found the courage to write a letter to you today after reading Dougal McNeill's article. It struck me deeply.
This letter is not all about whaling. It is about a dangerous tendency I see currently spreading all over the world: "groupism" and racism — judging people by what group they belong to instead of as individuals. This is something I, as a German, would like to see gone forever.
I was raised by my parents and grandparents with the strong belief that we should see each person as an individual and not by the color of the flag they might be wearing. The German educational system of my time also assumed that by teaching us the skill of individual judgment (including mass media analysis, which we studied ad nauseam) they might prevent a recurrence of any kind of "ism" that might lead to a deadly mass movement.
Believing there are good and bad individuals all over the world, but not wanting to judge them by group, nationality, religious belief or anything else made it possible for me to come to Japan, marry an Iranian and go about the impossible task of raising two children from this marriage in a deeply conservative country town. And lo and behold, neither I, my husband nor my children, who have been in the local education system since kindergarten, have ever felt discriminated against — unlike, for example, your writer Debito Arudou — because we have always been able to solve our problems as individuals with other individuals involved.
I deeply agree with Dougal McNeill: This whaling issue smacks of a kind of racism that I would have hoped to never see again, and there are many other issues in many other countries that leave the same bad taste in my mouth.
People nowadays rely on mass media, especially the Internet, but TV and the papers still play a role for information, and most of that information is biased. Lacking education on how to analyze biased news, people (especially in Japan) accept everything they hear at face value.
I hope you will continue to provide us with more unbiased news and information in the future.
Sea Shepherd hate rhetoric
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Dougal McNeill for writing this article — it shows a different perspective that sadly hasn't been represented nearly enough.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been using hate rhetoric for years, and their followers are the ones that use the most vehement examples of racism — see the following link: www.oceanguardians.org/forum/showthread.php?10888-Japan-Times-articles-framing-SSCS-for-racism-and-blaming-WW2-suffering-on-NZ-AU
The Ocean Guardian Alliance used to be the SSCS forum, but there were issues with some of the members who lost control and even Paul Watson wanted to distance himself from some of them, and as a result the forum was no longer allowed to use the SSCS name.
Some of them also created a Facebook site called F--- Off Japan — Leave the Whales Alone. Paul Watson also visited this page to to ask them to tone down their racist attitudes, but they refused. Once the fuse was lit, there was no way to put it out. This site is still up today and generates hate on a daily basis towards the Japanese.
Comments like the one below in the Ocean Guardian Alliance forum were typical of what could be seen there, and were not only allowed but encouraged:
"Remember the rape of Nanking, remember Changi, remember the machinegunning of the Australian nurses, remember the Bataan Death March, remember the Burma railway, remember Hellfire Pass, remember the 'comfort women,' remember Sandarkin, I know my history, it's a pity the Japs don't remember, I have no love, respect for this despicable race."
Anyone who disagreed with these people was labeled a "prowhaler" or as "insensitive" for not understanding that the veterans still had axes to grind. Most of the individuals who use this kind of rhetoric are too young to have experienced anything about World War II outside of the movies they have seen, but all consider themselves to be experts on Japanese culture now.
They also ignore the fact that other countries hunt whales. For them, whaling is a vehicle on which they can carry their hatred and racism towards the Japanese without fear of people calling them out on it. If they do, they cry that "it's for the whales," but what it really is is the same garden-variety racism that is all too prevalent in our societies today.
Australian double standards
Chris Burgess' commentary was disappointing. The author seems to think that Australia owns whales in the Antarctic Ocean. He calls the ocean Australia's "backyard" but it is, in fact, thousands of miles away from Australia.
Australia has an erroneous view that it can act like a policeman in the region. It is not right for Australia to push its own standards or act like a colonial master. For example, its government repeatedly criticizes the Fijian government over how Fijians decide their future in a conflict between native Fijian and Indian descendants.
It is nonsense to claim that the concept of Japan was not present in the 19th century. "The Last Samurai" is a foolish choice of example. This movie has no historical credibility.
While Australia kills tens of thousands of kangaroos every year and makes profits by exporting tuna to Japan, it has no right to criticize Japan's traditions. Burgess' article shows double standards.
At odds with Buddhist roots
It is highly irresponsible to cast the whaling controversy in terms of racism. Whale hunting is inexcusable no matter which race engages in it, and it is certainly an anachronism in a modern Japan (just like certain misogyny is).
This goes to show that Westerners in Japan for some reason can become quite relaxed about moral and ethical issues which may characterize a good person in the Western hemisphere. That is sad for Japan and for the West.
For a culture rooted in Buddhism and the notion of "do no harm," some in Japan certainly behave a lot like the barbarians Japan looks down upon. Images of (the occupation of) Nanking and the Koreas bear testimony to how even a benign Buddhist ideology can be set aside.
The Buddhist idea is to limit the palate and not to gnaw and devour everything that grows, crawls, moves or swims. It has to do with putting love over indulging one's senses. It has to do with making love over making babies, and if you must make babies teach them to not devour everything that moves.
If the Japanese wish to indulge their senses, they may make love to countless human beings who are willing to offer themselves to save the life of a whale. If they are looking for nutrition there are plenty of more nutritious sources than whale meat, or even meat.
ATHER SHIRAZ SIDDIQUI
Paul Watson's unedited response can be seen at www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/editorial-100819-1.html . Send comments on this issue to firstname.lastname@example.org