Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

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Angela Merkel Did It Better

My most recent post was about the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

However, that was not the only anniversary on November 9th.

November 9th was the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht,  It recalls a systematic pogrom against Jews in Germany and Austria, when members of the SA and German civilians killed Jews and destroyed their property.  It was a tragic night that was a harbinger of far more horrific realities to come.

I knew this when I wrote my post, but I couldn’t figure out how to tie in the event without writing another dissertation (albeit one ladled with swear words), so I chose to omit any reference to it.  (Though I did mention it on my Facebook page.)

Angela Merkel did far better than I did.

In her speech, in which she spoke about her life in East Germany, she said that the Fall of the Wall shows that dreams can come true.  And yet, in her speech, she still called attention to Kristallnacht.  She mentioned that the day marks “the start of the killing of millions,” and wondered how (or if) the day could be a day of joy.

I was so impressed and humbled by that speech.  It must have been very difficult to stop, in the middle of the festivities, to remember such a dark day, and the darker days that followed, and to ask thousands of joyous people celebrating the day to remember them as well.  And yet, she did.  That takes grace and courage.

And it made me realize that my own post was truly incomplete without remembering that day.

1938_Interior_of_Berlin_synagogue_after_Kristallnacht

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25 Years Ago Today

When I was in first or second grade, we were divided into seven groups. Someone noticed that there were also seven continents, and we all ended up doing a report on one of the continents. I was in the Europe group. I remember standing in front of the class saying, “This is Germany. There used to be two Germanys and there was a wall. Then the wall fell down and now there is only one.” I thought that was pretty cool, though I had no idea what any of that meant. I think I just thought the pictures of the celebrations seemed pretty cool.

For my parents’ generation, the Fall of the Berlin Wall was a miracle. They were convinced that they would die and the Wall would still be there. In Europe, the Fall of the Berlin Wall seems to have been joy mixed with fear for the future. Margaret Thatcher and Mitterrand were somewhat panicked, though understandably so. For my parents, it was simply astonishment.

I also have to give another shout out to You Tube for enabling to see what my parents’ generation watched in awe and disbelief.

It was either Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw who told the story many years later that young people came up to him that night and gave him a piece of the Wall. He thanked them and said, “I have two children.” They eagerly responded, “We’ll be right back!” and ran off to break off another piece.

Question: Did anyone in Berlin work during that time? It doesn’t appear that way.

According to the BBC, there was a huge party today in Berlin. I’m sure they had fun, but it probably paled in comparison to the original.

As it happened, Tom Brokaw was actually in Berlin when East Germany decided to allow people to travel freely. It’s hard to imagine not having the freedom to travel. I mean, as an American, I cannot travel directly to Cuba, but that’s a small thing in comparison to being separated from my family.

If you’re under the age of 25, you were born in a different world. Check out these videos to see the moment the world changed.

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Sarah and Charlotte Carteret-Hardy by Thomas Lawrence

Charlotte adn Sarah Carteret Hardy

This is a portrait at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I simply love the affection between the two sisters and the contrasting personalities.

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Der Holle Rache by Diana Damrau

I know, I know, back to the sopranos, but how can I not publish this?

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The Oscar Schindler of China: John Rabe Review and Problems of Perspective, History, and Responsiblity

Trigger Warning! Discussion of rape, torture, and Japanese War Crimes follow.

Most of the information, unless specified otherwise, comes from Wikipedia. I make no apology for that because this is a blog post, not a dissertation. I would love to have time to do formal research onto this subject, but I do not. Also, I will not tolerate any comments on this blog denying the reality of Japan’s war crimes. If you are even thinking about posting anything like that, TAKE THAT SHIT SOMEWHERE ELSE!

I first heard of John Rabe as a teenager.  I had stolen my mom’s copy of Reader’s Digest and read about The Rape of Nanking, the name for the Japanese massacre of the Chinese populace of Nanking in 1937.  An estimated 300,000 peopled died.  A few years ago, I watched a documentary about Nanking, with actors playing Western witnesses, as well as actual interviews with both victims and perpetrators.  I will never forget hearing the aging Japanese man recount how he and his friends went out at night to rape Chinese women, and women included girls as young as ten.  He described how his friends would take turns holding down the victim while one of them would rape her.  He complained that the women didn’t show a lot of enthusiasm for the sex and then he chuckled.  He laughed about it.  I had to turn it off and watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

One of the most noble figures in The Rape of Nanking is a German man named John Rabe.  He was a member of the Nazi Party, working for Siemans, and had lived in Nanking for more than 20 years.  When the Japanese conquered Nanking, John Rabe and others established a safety zone for civilians, where the Japanese military would be forbidden.  John Rabe was chosen as the obvious leader.  He had been an important man in China for more than 20 years, and as a German, the Japanese would respect him as an ally.  It worked.  250,000 lives were spared.

This film John Rabe, by German director Florian Gallenberger, tells the story of John Rabe’s experience during the Rape of Nanking.  Overall, the film is excellent.  It is very well shot, and magnificently acted.  Ulrich Tukor is wonderful as John Rabe. I was also gratified to see that they included film shot during the time period by the doctors.   This is important because many Japanese (including important politicians) deny that the massacre even happened.  (More about that later.)  The film tells a very heavy story, but it does not feel overbearing.  There are moments of levity to help ease the pain  It is a very compelling introduction to the atrocity of Nanking.

That being said, I do have two issues with the film.

One, it was not brutal enough.  It was violent and bloody, but the main acts of killing that the film shows is the killing of Chinese prisoners of war.  Don’t get me wrong, this is horrible.  However, killing prisoners of war was just the beginning.  In the documentary Nanking, a man recounted a story of a Japanese soldier who bayoneted a woman in the back as she ran with her child.  They didn’t just kill soldiers, they killed civilians, including women and children.   The film does talk a lot about the rapes that occurred and shows one attempted rape.  It recounts the story of the Japanese officer who demanded that the teacher of the local girls’ school turn over students to his soldiers.  “We’ll bring them back tomorrow,” he said.  The film could have used a little bit more of that.

Two, the film suffers from its perspective.

Florian Gallenberger, the director, is German.  I don’t mean that as a criticism, I just point this out because he brings a strong level of discomfort with the material.  He said in an interview that he wasn’t even sure that it would be appropriate for a German to direct this film.  John Rabe, after all, was a member of the Nazi party.  During the Japanese air raids, he hid people in his courtyard under a giant Nazi flag.  John Rabe wrote letters to Hitler, describing the crimes and asking Hitler to intervene on behalf of humanity.  (I know, I know.  Believe me, I wanted to jump into the screen shouting, “Oh shit!  He’s giving him ideas!” and take his type writer away from him.”John, you’ll thank me for this later,” I’d say.)  Florian balked at much of this, and understandably so.  It was not until he traveled to Nanking and met survivors that he decided to make the film.

For me, I think that Florian Gallenberger allows his nationality to inhibit him. There is a scene between John Rabe (Ulrich Tukor) and Dr. Rosen (Daniel Bruhl) where they argue about Hitler. (Dr. Rosen is opposed to the Nazi regime.) It is a great scene, very well acted, but it has no place in this film for my money. A similar scene was cut from the film, which shows Dr. Rosen kissing a Chinese girl. I forgot, upon seeing the clip in the trailer, that such an act would have been illegal in Nazi Germany. The scene is not simply an attempt to inject romance into the film; it gives Florian yet another opportunity to reject Hitler and Nazi ideology. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

Florian is painfully aware of his country’s past, as most Germans are, and he interprets the war in the Pacific through the lens of the West. For those of us in the West, WWII is about the Nazis, about fascism and the Holocaust. I feel the same way, for the most part. After all, I’m an American and my grandfather fought at the Battle of the Bulge.  My best friend as a child lost family in the Holocaust.  However, I probably feel that way to a lesser extent than most. That’s because I spent a year living in South Korea.

I’ll never forget that first weekend I walked along the streets of my little Korean city in the South, and I saw a Buddhist shop. On the front window of the shop, I saw this.

Buddhist Swastika

I knew, intellectually, that I would see this. I even had a rough idea of what it meant for Asians. And yet, the first time I saw it, my blood ran completely cold. I cannot explain the momentary terror I saw when I first saw the Buddhist swastika. I was determined to photograph everything during my sojourn and yet it took me more than a month before I could bring myself to photograph this image. It was displayed so openly, without apology, I did not know what to make of it. After a few months, I became accustomed to seeing it; I associated it with monks, not with Nazis. I also began to understand the depth that Korea (as well as China and the Philippines) had suffered under the Japanese. I only scratched the surface, but the wounds in Asia are very deep, and very, very real. My biggest regret about my time in Korea was that I was never able to attend the Comfort Women protest in Seoul. During the war, hundreds of thousands of women from Korea, China, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Philippines, were rounded up to provide “comfort” for the soldiers. Today, these women want an apology and financial compensation from Japan, and every Wednesday they meet in front of the Japanese embassy to demand them.  Similar protests take place in other Asian countries.

Comfort-Women1_Protesters_flickr_creative_commons_jykthemuse

If I could, I would have taken Florian to a Buddhist shrine in Korea before he started production.  I would show Florian the swastika and say, “I need you to understand, you are in Asia. Germany’s history means nothing here, in this place. I understand you are uncomfortable with your country’s history. It is very admirable. But I need you to put that aside for the duration of this film. Focus on what Japan did in Asia, not on what Germany did in Europe. Or put it this way: Do not think of John Rabe as the Oscar Schindler of China. Instead, think of Oscar Schindler as the John Rabe of Poland.”

The irony is that the director could use his German identity to assume the moral high ground. (I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out.) Florin said in an interview, regarding the atrocities in Nanking, “I’m German, so I can’t really point fingers.” True enough.

However, I do think that, as a German, he has a right to point a finger at what Japan has done in the decades since the war.

Highly respected Japanese history professors publish best selling books arguing that the massacre at Nanking never happened. Japanese school children regularly learn about the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but they rarely learn anything about the War Crimes Japan committed during the war. They do not hear about Manila massacre of the Philippines, which killed 100,000 people, roughly 5% of the population. They do not hear about Emperor Hirohito’s “scorched earth policy,” which ordered Japanese forces to “kill all, burn all, and loot all.” They do not learn that the Japanese experimented on Chinese civilians, freezing their limbs and amputating them without the use of anesthesia, vivisection, and exposure to pathogens for use as biological weapons. They don’t learn about the torture of prisoners of war or burying people alive. Japanese textbooks rarely discuss these events. (This is a huge and frequent bone of contention in Asia. There are frequent protests in Asian countries whenever Japan publishes textbooks that omit these facts.)

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21226068

The Japanese government denies all of these atrocities on its better days. On its worse days, politicians such as the mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, states that the comfort women were “necessary.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-22519384

“In the circumstances in which bullets are flying like rain and wind, the soldiers are running around at the risk of losing their lives,”

“If you want them to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that.”

Toru Hashimoto, May of Osaka, May 14h 2013

In response to his quote, the education minister said that “his remarks came at a bad time.” (When is it a good time to say that rape is necessary? When is that?)

comfort-women-protest

Florian got a taste of this when he began to cast and film John Rabe. His cast is truly international and the Japanese soldiers were played by Japanese men. At first, many Japanese actors simply refused to do a movie about Nanking. Those who did, had to do a tremendous amount of research, since they were unfamiliar with the scope of the Japanese brutality. (They were horrified to learn what their countrymen had done.) Florin stated in an interview that he was shocked to discover how little the Japanese people know about their own history.
He expressed the hope that his film would begin a conversation in Japan about history and responsibility. Unfortunately, his film never received that chance. John Rabe never received a commercial release in Japan. Japanese film distributors refused to even screen the film.

It is possible to understand Japanese film distributor’s reluctance to show this film. It is also possible to understand the Japanese reluctance to watch this film. It would be, of course, like watching Schindler’s List in Germany.

But here’s the thing. Schindler’s List was released in Germany. It became one of the highest grossing films in German history. Germans wanted to use the film as a model to revitalize the film industry. 100,000 people saw the film in the first 4 days, despite the fact that there were only 45 copies in all of Germany. Politicians encouraged Germans to see it as an act of national duty and urged teachers to take their students to see it. Teachers sought, and soon received, instructional aids to help them talk about the film with their students. Newspapers published numerous interviews with the “Schindler Jews” as well as with other Holocaust survivors. Ignitz Bubis, a businessman and a Frankfort Jew, wrote an article that became a kind of manners guide to seeing the film.  The article answered questions such as “Am I allowed to avert my eyes at particularly gruesome parts?” and “If I see my neighbor eating popcorn doing the film, should I do something to stop him?” German newspapers also published articles lamenting that few Americans knew about, or believed in, the Holocaust, and criticized black students in Oakland who were said to have laughed during the film.

(This information is taken from “The Tale of the Good German: Reflections on the German Reception of Schindler’s List” by Liliane Weissberg found in Spielberg’s Holocaust: Critical Perspectives on Schindler’s List edited by Yosefa Loshitzky)

Quick comedic aside: I really hope Germans never see Seinfeld.

Of course, by the time Schindler’s List was released in Germany, a cultural movement had paved the way for its acceptance. The movement is called Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which apparently means, “the struggle to come to terms with the past.” In true German fashion, the Germans started this struggle by taking two long words (Vergangenheit=past) (Bewältigung=coming to terms with, mastering, wrestling into submission) and combining them to create an impossibly long, uber word. (And when the Germans do that, you know they’re serious! :) ) This movement is incredibly broad in scope, encompassing art, literature, philosophy, religion, politics, and education. Please do not misunderstand. I am not saying that Germany is perfect. I am saying that Germany has tried, and is still trying.

There is nothing comparable to this in Japan. There is no movement, to my knowledge, of attempting to come to terms with the past, because there is no past. It is not the same as it is in Germany. Yes, in Berlin, vandals paint swastikas on the Holocaust Memorial. But in Tokyo, there are no such memorials to vandalize. The closest I could find was a monument to a factory on Okunoshima Island where the Japanese made poison gas weapons. (If anyone knows of a Japanese monument to the sufferings of the Chinese, Koreans, and Philippinos at the hands of the Japanese, please send me the name, location and a picture if possible and I will gladly post it.)

(I also want to point out that The Berlin Holocaust Memorial was also not created by the Allied forces in the aftermath of the war. It was the brainchild of six ordinary Germans who built a grassroots movement and eventually won the support of the local government. I am skeptical that a similar movement would ever happen in Tokyo, though I would love to be proven wrong. Once again, I am not saying that everything in Germany is perfect now. I am saying that there are many honest, good Germans who are earnestly trying to come to terms with the past, to remember it and learn its lessons, and for that, they have my sincere admiration and respect.)

Are the Germans inherently better than the Japanese? I doubt it. They have, for my money, chosen the better path. They are also reaping some of the benefits of that. A few months ago, world leaders gathered at Normandy to honor the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, was invited and received very warmly. Even Germany and Israel have strong economic ties. (Seriously, the fact that there is any kind of relationship between Germany and Israel is somewhat miraculous, let alone a positive one. Indeed, Moshe Katsav, President of Israel, even called used the phrase “special relationship” to describe the relationship between Germany and Israel. He used the same term that the British and Americans use to describe our relationship!)

There is still a tremendous amount of tension between Japan and its former adversaries. A similar meeting of WWII participants in Asia would be marked by protests in China and South Korea, and possibly other countries. On the other hand, I am unsure that the Emperor of Japan would give a speech similar to the one former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder gave in 2004 at the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

http://www.dw.de/text-of-gerhard-schr%C3%B6ders-historic-speech/a-1227946

Taiwan comfort women protest

(I should point out that it is not entirely grim. I talked to one young woman in South Korea who told me about her Japanese boyfriend. On the other hand, some of my students would tell me that they hated Japan and wanted to kill them. So it’s complicated.)

Phillipines Comfort Women

I could go on, but this a blog post, not a dissertation.

I realize that I ask too much of a film, though film can have a tremendous impact on a culture. (See the disastrous and tragic effect that Birth of a Nation had in the United States.) I suppose it is too much to ask that Florian could go to Japan and shout, “What the fuck are you doing?!?!?” That would also be unproductive. And even so, I harbor a secret wish. I wish that, at some point during the filming, the Japanese actors turned to Florian and said, “I had no idea Japan committed such horrible crimes during the war.” And I dearly wish that Florian responded, compassionately and yet seriously, in the following manner. “You know, in Germany, we talk about what we did during the war. We learn about it in school. Why do you think Japan does not do that?”

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Films About Women 16

1 Les Diaboliques
Les Diaboliques is a French thriller made in 1955. It tells the story of a married woman whose husband is cheating on her. She teams up with her husband’s mistress to kill him. They kill him, dispose of the body, and then bizarre, scary things start to happen.

Hitchcock actually wanted to direct this film, but the French director Henri-Georges Clouzot managed to secure the rights to the film. Much like Psycho five years later, the audience is urged to keep the ending a secret, with a title card saying “Don’t be devils!”

Les_Diaboliques-1_rgb

Another fascinating aspect of the film happened at the beginning. When the film began, it quotes the French censorship code, which stated that a film could morally show people committing crimes and heinous acts, BUT it also has to show people getting punished for these acts. This code is the reason why Hitchcock had to create another ending for Vertigo when it was shown in France. It is a simple scene showing two people listening to the radio, which describes the arrest of a murderer. It’s a terrible scene that undercuts the power of Vertigo’s iconic ending, but that was what the French censors demanded at the time.

I don’t want to say too much more about the film, because I don’t want to be a a devil. :)

2 Erin Brockovich

Erin Brockovich is a Stephen Soderberg film about a single mother who takes on a power plant in California. It stars Julia Roberts, in the movie for which she won Best Actress. It also stars Albert Finny, who is simply wonderful opposite of Julia. The film is a bit of a hybrid between comedy and drama; it’s very much a dramatic film but it does have some wonderful comedic moments, usually in the interaction between Albert Finny and Julia Roberts.

julia roberts erin brockovich

It also explores a common theme in Hollywood, the woman who devotes herself to a cause and the resulting stress in her relationship. (Are there any films where men devote themselves to their jobs to such a degree that they destroy their relationships? I’m serious. Why is it that men are allowed to sacrifice their family for the sake of a job or a noble cause, and wives are never allowed to complain?) There is a wonderful scene where Julia Roberts listens to her boyfriend describe her daughter’s first word, and Julia Roberts wonderfully captures the joy and pain of the moment.

3 The Painted Veil

I think this might be my favorite romantic movie.

The Painted Veil is a movie based on the book by W Somerset Maugham about a woman who marries a man she does not love. They move to Shanghai, where she begins an affair with another British ex patriot. When her husband discovers the affair, he coerces her to joining him in a remote region of China, where there is a raging cholera epidemic.

The film is absolutely beautiful in its images of China. This is the third version of The Painted Veil made since the book’s publication in 1925, and the makers wanted to bring a sense of China to this film; they felt the original films were insufficiently Chinese. The landscape is lush and gorgeous; it makes me want to travel to the more remote areas of China. It also has exceptional performances from both Naomi Watts and Edward Norton as the couple whose marriage is, for all intents and purposes, practically dead.

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