Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Memorial for folks with short memories?



This image was originally posted at www.fourthmarinesband.com

Monday's Taipei Times had an article that was titled, Former American POWs remembered at memorial It tells the story of a group of brave American airmen who were captured, charged with indiscriminate bombing, and sentenced to death. At the end of the article is a quote from Michael Hurst, who heads the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society.

"This year we decided to do something out of the ordinary to remember these brave men."

Let's go back a bit...

In 1895, the island of Taiwan was given to Japan in exchange for the Japanese giving back Manchuria on the mainland. This was an agreement between Beijing and Tokyo that is set forth in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonseki. The Taiwanese were not consulted, but when they found out they formed the first ever republic in Asia, the Republic of Formosa. It lasted about two weeks and was destroyed by the Japanese who then turned Taiwan into a colony.

Nearly fifty years later the Japanese Empire included most of the Asian Pacific and their 'surprise' attack on Pearl Harbor had greatly angered the US. As a result of being given to the Japanese by their own government and then their new masters attacking another empire, the Taiwanese became the victims of quite a heavy bombing campaign by the US from their bases in the Philippines.

Those bases had been established after 1898 when the Filipinos switched masters from the Spanish to the Americans. That 'land transfer' led to the Philippine War which came with a death toll in the hundreds of thousands. That attack had been launched from another group of islands taken in islander blood fifty years before, in Hawaii. That attack had been based from land taken from another group of aboriginals, now scattered and dying. Can you see a pattern beginning to emerge? This is certainly nothing new.

Yuki Tanaka gives us an excellent, though brief history of indiscriminate bombing. By this point in WW2 the Allies and the Axis powers were both involved in indiscriminate bombing of cities and civilian targets, lots of civilians were being killed everywhere.

However the firebombing campaign of Tokyo, and so many other Japanese cities, which began on the ninth of March is widely considered to be a warcrime. Japan's cities, at this point, were full of the elderly, women, children and wounded. They were also made of wood and paper. The people that died in those tinderbox houses had about as much say in this war as the people who were dying in the US bombing runs on Taiwan.

These airmen that Hurst is honoring were a part of that fiery maelstrom. When they were being executed on Taiwan, on June 19, the criminal firebombing of Japan's cities was well under way and the horrific atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two months away.

What followed were the bombing campaigns in Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Millions of people killed by those brave airmen who risked their lives to drop bombs on civilians. Most recently the civilians of Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and then Iraq again have been treated in this fashion by brave airmen who risk their lives to drop bombs on civilians.

If Mr. Hurst wants to do something "out of the ordinary" perhaps he could stop honoring the brave airmen killing from the skies, and start honoring the true victims of these conflicts. That would be the ones below; the farmers and shopkeepers and children who get maimed and burned to death, and the ones that survive, who must bury their loved ones and wait for the next 'land transfer', that they will, once again, have absolutely no control over.

Last year the Lancet released a study that estimated over 100 000 deaths in Iraq since the start of the latest 'land transfer'. Most of those were civilians, most of the deaths were carried out by people who never even saw the faces of their victims.

The bombing of civilians is sick and too often forgiven, rationalized, or swept under the carpet. We need to see the faces of those victims more and we need to celebrate their murderers, as brave airmen, a whole lot less.

1 comment:

Michael Turton said...

Fucking great post, except for this:

However the firebombing campaign of Tokyo, and so many other Japanese cities, which began on the ninth of March is widely considered to be a warcrime. Japan's cities, at this point, were full of the elderly, women, children and wounded. They were also made of wood and paper.

The Tokyo firebombing was an exception to a rather low casualty bombing campaign. The high casualty list was caused by the fact that it was the first city firebombed and the Japanese had no idea how to deal with the new tactics. They had advised civilians to stay and fight the fires, exhorting them that flames could be overcome with moral courage. Not a chance. Additionally, they had ploughed fire lanes through the wooden areas of the city -- but then hadn't cleared many of them of wood rubble, in effect creating lanes of kindling through the most densely populated areas in the world. They had also designed the fire lanes so that they concentrated the fire in the densely populated low rent districts, away from swanker areas. Since it was an article of faith that Japan was never going to be bombed, very little in the form of drills and procedures had been done. Later firebombings that resulted in much greater area damage than Tokyo in other cities fortunately created only a fraction of its casualties. Tokyo was a freak one-off, never to be repeated.

But a fucking great post, especially this:

Those bases had been established after 1898 when the Filipinos switched masters from the Spanish to the Americans. That 'land transfer' led to the Philippine War which came with a death toll in the hundreds of thousands. .... Can you see a pattern beginning to emerge? This is certainly nothing new.

Michael