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Mimi and The War Shrine

A Gentle Soul and Japanese Memory Holes

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 15, 2001.

Japan is going through a serious cultural upheaval these days, because of recent visits to its two hundred year old shrine to its war dead by its new and popular Prime Minister. The ashes and perhaps the spirits of the sailors and soldiers at the Yasukuni shrine boast not only those of common officers but those of convicted war criminals like Tojo and other military thugs who were responsible for the Rape of Nanking and criminal slavery of much of Asia under the guise of the East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. These days, South Korea, India, Vietnam, Australia and China agree on little except that they all hate and fear Japan. They don't like even the whiff of a resurgence of right wing Emperor worship or military buildup in that island nation.

Their view is not totally paranoid. The shrine and the controversy are only of note because Japan, unlike Germany, unlike the Soviet Union, has never really apologized for its actions in World War Two and the years previous. Instead it offers statements like the following: "Our country has caused many countries, especially our Asian neighbors, significant damage and pain." This from Prime Minister Koizumi, who added that Japan can make amends by fostering peace and prosperity in the region. Nice as far as it goes, but it would be decent to add that Japan is actually sorry. There is a world between such statements and Bill Clinton's apologies for the actions of the United States in the past. Further, Japan has formally stapled its wrist to the forehead about being nuked twice, and feels that offsets any possible harm it did previously. But the conventional bombing of Tokyo, Dresden, and Yokohama killed far more than the nukes did, and Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Tokyo all are thriving today. It would not be an exaggeration to say that even now Japan is probably the most hated nation on earth, primarily because its recent victims include the earth's two most populous nations, China and India, and the numerous smaller countries of Indo China down to Australia. America tends to forget Japan's history, as its own, and regards Japan as little more than a market for movies, producers of pop music that makes Britney Spears seem like Leonard Cohen in comparison, makers of great cars, and composed entirely of camera buffs. It is more than that, of course, but because it was an island nation it developed a racial consciousness of a sort that Great Britain, its doppelganger on the other side of the Eurasian land mass, somehow did not.

This of course, brings me to the year 1972 and the Green Room at Tulagi, then a famous night spot here in Boulder. I was in a band and we were opening for the duo of Mimi Farina and Tom Jans. Farina was the sister of Joan Baez and a recent widow of Richard Farina, an author and songwriter suggested to be the next Bob Dylan. Jans was a highly regarded songwriter and singer at the time, and it was somewhat intimidating for us to warm up with them in the room. I fell in love with Mimi Farina. She was a good and supportive person and a great hostess. At the time, and until her recent death, she was an anti-war activist and a supporter of the warm and fuzzy. Never strident, she was nonetheless a definite presence in the sixties and seventies in the anti-war movement and constructive with her Bread and Roses organization. She was good and decent and true to her beliefs and her friends and family must hurt in her absence. But I need her memory for a moment.

When I look at Yasukuni shrine and the small but growing demonstrations there against all it symbolizes, the unschooled might wonder where the Japanese anti-war demonstrators, where the Japanese Mimi Farinas were, when that nation desperately needed them. The answer is that they were killed as soon as they made a sound. But something else. Why, in the long reign of anti-war protest in this nation going back to the Revolution, has there never been a similar demonstration at our Yasukuni shrine: Arlington National Cemetery? Why not? Surely residents like Generals Butler and Pershing and others who killed mountains of Filipinos and Mexicans and Nicaraguans in their own countries are deserving of the same censor that, say, the Japanese Tiger of Manila gets when viewed by their victims. Is the United States hated less in Latin America than Japan is in Beijing?

Apparently. Why, I think, is one reason we are where we are. It isn't just the lack of a divine Emperor. It might be baseball and jazz, and at least the theory of democracy. I suspect the reasons Japan is vilified for its war shrine, and we are not, is that in our history we are periodically graced with the likes of Mimi Farina who keep us from seeing ourselves as somewhat less than flawless and fully capable of great evil. That so many others have no equivalents is a clue to a nation's worth and civilization. Mimi Farina would vomit at being such a symbol, but I'm afraid it fits.