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Este blog trata basicamente de ideias, se possível inteligentes, para pessoas inteligentes. Ele também se ocupa de ideias aplicadas à política, em especial à política econômica. Ele constitui uma tentativa de manter um pensamento crítico e independente sobre livros, sobre questões culturais em geral, focando numa discussão bem informada sobre temas de relações internacionais e de política externa do Brasil. Para meus livros e ensaios ver o website: www.pralmeida.org.

Mostrando postagens com marcador Ian Buruma. Mostrar todas as postagens
Mostrando postagens com marcador Ian Buruma. Mostrar todas as postagens

quarta-feira, 9 de agosto de 2017

Tribunais de direitos humanos - Ian Buruma (NYRBooks)

Fools, Cowards, or Criminals?
The New York Review of Books,

The Memory of Justice

a documentary film directed by Marcel Ophuls, restored by the Academy Film Archive in association with Paramount Pictures and the Film Foundation
available on HBO
AFP/Getty ImagesNazi leaders accused of war crimes during World War II standing to hear the verdict in their trial, Nuremburg, October 2, 1946. Albert Speer is third from right in the back row of defendants; Karl Dönitz is at the far left of the same row.


The main Nuremberg war crimes trials began in November 1945 and continued until October 1946. Rebecca West, who reported on the painfully slow proceedings for The New Yorker, described the courtroom as a “citadel of boredom.” But there were moments of drama: Hermann Göring under cross-examination running rings around the chief US prosecutor Robert H. Jackson, for example. Jackson’s opening statement, however, provided the trial’s most famous words:
We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this Trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity’s aspirations to do justice.
How well humanity lived up to these words, after a good number of bloody conflicts involving some of the same powers that sat in judgment on the Nazi leaders, is the subject of The Memory of Justice, the four-and-a-half-hour documentary that has rarely been seen since 1976 but is considered by its director, Marcel Ophuls, to be his best—even better, perhaps, than his more famous The Sorrow and the Pity (1969), about the Nazi occupation of France, the Vichy government, and the French Resistance.
Near the beginning of The Memory of Justice, the violinist Yehudi Menuhin declares that the barbarism of Nazi Germany can only be seen as a universal moral catastrophe: “I proceed from the assumption that every human being is guilty.” The fact that it happened in Germany, he says, doesn’t mean that it cannot happen elsewhere. This statement comes just after we have seen the Nazi leaders, one after the other, declare their innocence in the Nuremberg courtroom.

We also hear a former French paratrooper recall how the French in Algeria systematically tortured and murdered men, women, and children. There are gruesome images of the Vietnam War. And Telford Taylor, US counsel for the prosecution at Nuremberg, wonders how any of us would cope with the “degeneration of standards under pressures.” Later in the film, Taylor says that his views on Americans and American history have changed more than his views on the Germans whom he once judged.
Such juxtapositions are enough to send some people into a fury. The art critic Harold Rosenberg accused Ophuls in these pages of being “lured…into a near-nihilistic bog in which no one is guilty, because all are guilty and there is no one who is morally qualified to judge.”1 Ophuls, according to Rosenberg, “trivialized” the Nazi crimes and “diluted” the moral awfulness of the death camps.
This is to misunderstand what Ophuls was up to. The film never suggests that Auschwitz and the My Lai massacre, or French torture prisons in Algiers, are equivalent, let alone that the Vietnam War was a criminal enterprise on the same level as the Holocaust. Nor does Ophuls doubt that the judgment on Göring and his gang at Nuremberg was justified. Ophuls himself was a refugee from the Nazis, forced to leave Germany in 1933, and to flee again when France was invaded in 1940. Instead he tries, dispassionately and sometimes with touches of sardonic humor, to complicate the problem of moral judgment. What makes human beings who are normally unexceptional commit atrocities under abnormal circumstances? What if such crimes are committed by our fellow citizens in the name of our own country? How does our commitment to justice appear today in the light of the judgments at Nuremberg? Will the memory of justice, as Plato assumed, make us strive to do better?
Ophuls does not dilute the monstrosity of Nazi crimes at all. But he refuses to simply regard the perpetrators as monsters. “Belief in the Nazis as monsters,” he once said, “is a form of complacency.” This reminds me of something the controversial German novelist Martin Walser once said about the Auschwitz trials held in Frankfurt in the 1960s. He wasn’t against them. But he argued that the daily horror stories in the popular German press about the grotesque tortures inflicted by Nazi butchers made it easier for ordinary Germans to distance themselves from these crimes and the regime that made them happen. Who could possibly identify with such brutes? If only monsters were responsible for the Holocaust and other mass murders, there would never be any need for the rest of us to look in the mirror.
It is true that Ophuls does not interview former Nazis, such as Albert Speer and Admiral Karl Dönitz, as a prosecutor. His role is not to indict, but to understand better what motivates such men, especially men (and women) who seem otherwise quite civilized. For this, too, Rosenberg condemned him, arguing that he should have balanced the views voiced by these criminals with those of their victims, for otherwise viewers might give the old rogues the benefit of the doubt.
There seems to be little danger of that. Consider Dönitz, for example, who makes the bizarre statement that he could not have been anti-Semitic, since he never discriminated against Jews in the German navy, forgetting for a moment that there were no known Jews in Hitler’s Kriegsmarine. When Ophuls asks him whether he really believes that there was no connection between his ferociously anti-Semitic speeches and the fate of the Jews under the government he served, the admiral’s tight little mouth twitches alarmingly before denying everything in the harsh yelp of a cornered dog. This speaks for itself, and needs no “balancing” by another voice.
Ophuls is a superb interviewer, polite, cool, and relentless. His tone is often skeptical, but never moralistic or aggressive. This allows him to get people to say things they may not have divulged to a more confrontational interlocutor. Albert Speer was responsible for, among other things, the ghastly fate of countless slave laborers pulled from concentration camps to work in German armaments factories. Responding to Ophuls’s quiet probing, this most slippery of customers speaks at length about the moral blindness and criminal opportunism that came from his ruthless ambition. Unlike most Germans of his generation, Speer believed that the Nuremberg trials were justified. But then, he could be said to have got off rather lightly with a prison sentence rather than being hanged.
Where Dönitz is shrill and defensive, Speer is smooth, even charming. This almost certainly saved his life. Telford Taylor believed that Speer should have been hanged, according to the evidence and criteria of Nuremberg. Julius Streicher was executed for being a vile anti-Semitic propagandist, even though he never had anything like the power of Speer. But he was an uncouth, bullet-headed ruffian, described by Rebecca West as “a dirty old man of the sort that gives trouble in parks,” a man one could easily regard as a monster. The judges warmed to Speer as a kind of relief. Compared to Streicher, the vulgar, strutting Göring, the pompous martinet General Alfred Jodl, or the hulking SS chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Speer was a gentleman. What saved him, Taylor recalls in the film, was his superior class. When Ophuls puts this to him, a ghostly smile flits across Speer’s face: “If that’s the explanation…, then I am only too pleased I made such a good impression.” In the event, Speer got twenty years; Dönitz only got ten.
Ophuls said in an interview that it was easy to like Speer. But there is no suggestion that this mitigated his guilt. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who also interviewed Speer at length, called him “the true criminal of Nazi Germany,” precisely because he was clearly not a sadistic brute but a highly educated, well-mannered, “normal” human being who should have known better than to be part of a murderous regime. This is perhaps the main point of Ophuls’s film as well: there was nothing special about the Germans that predisposed them to become killers or, more often, to look away when the killings were done. There is no such thing as a criminal people. A quiet-spoken young architect can end up with more blood on his hands than a Jew-baiting thug. This, I think, is what Yehudi Menuhin meant by his warning that it could happen anywhere.


Far from being a moral nihilist who trivialized the Nazi crimes, Ophuls was so committed to his examination of guilt and justice that The Memory of Justice had a narrow escape from oblivion. The companies that commissioned it, including the BBC, did not like the rough cut. They thought it was far too long. Since the film was to be based on Telford Taylor’s book Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy (1970), they wanted more on the Vietnam War and less on Nuremberg. Rejection only made Ophuls, who never took kindly to being told what to do by the men in suits, stick more stubbornly to his own vision. He was less interested in a specifically American tragedy, or indeed a German tragedy, than in man’s descent into barbarousness, wherever or whenever it happens.
Ophuls was locked out of the cutting room in London. The producers put together a shorter version of the film, with a different spin, which was sold to ZDF television in Germany. Ophuls then traveled all over Europe to save his own version. A German court stopped ZDF from showing the shorter one. The original edit was smuggled to the US, where a private screening reduced Mike Nichols to tears. Hamilton Fish, later a well-known publisher, managed to persuade a group of investors to buy the original movie back and Paramount to distribute it. It was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976, and then in New York and on college campuses, as well as on television in many countries. But for the cussed perseverance of Ophuls and the help of his American backers, The Memory of Justice would never have been seen. In Fish’s words, “You needed his type of personality to make such a film. He took history on personally.”
After its initial run, however, the movie disappeared. Contracts on archival rights ran out. The film stock was in danger of deteriorating. And so a documentary masterpiece could easily have been lost if Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation had not stepped in with Paramount to put it all back together again, a labor that took ten years and was completed in 2015.
Much has changed, of course, since 1976. Germany is a different country now, geographically, politically, and culturally. When Ophuls talked to Dönitz, the West German establishment was still riddled with former Nazis. Most of the wartime generation masked their dirty secrets with evasions or shabby justifications. The history of the Third Reich, in the words of Eugen Kogon, a Holocaust survivor and the first German historian to write about the camps, was still “the corpse in the cellar.”
Quite ordinary people, like the smiling man encountered by Ophuls in a small town in Schleswig-Holstein, still remembered the Third Reich with great fondness as an orderly time when people knew how to behave and there was “no problem of crime.” Ophuls happened to meet this friendly burgher while he was trying to track down a female doctor who had been convicted at Nuremberg for murdering children in concentration camps by injecting oil into their veins, to name just one of her grisly experiments. After she was released from prison in 1952, she continued for a time to practice as a family doctor. She was, it appears, well respected, even friendly.
When Ophuls finally managed to find her, she very politely declined to be interviewed, since she was in poor health. Another former concentration camp doctor, Gerhard Rose, did agree to talk, however, but only to deny any guilt, claiming that his medical experiments (infecting victims with malaria, for example) served a humanitarian purpose, and that the US Army performed experiments too. Ophuls observes, quite rightly, that American experiments were hardly conducted under the kind of circumstances prevailing in Dachau and Buchenwald. But the hypocrisy of the Western Allies in this matter might have been better illustrated by pointing out that German and Japanese doctors who committed even worse crimes than Dr. Rose were protected by the US government because their knowledge might come in handy during the cold war.2
Perhaps the most disturbing interview in the movie is not with an unrepentant Nazi or a war criminal, but with the gentlemanly and highly esteemed lawyer Otto Kranzbühler. A navy judge during the war, Kranzbühler was defense counsel for Admiral Dönitz at Nuremberg, where he cut a dashing figure in his navy uniform. He later had a successful career as a corporate lawyer, after defending the likes of Alfried Krupp against accusations of having exploited slave labor. Kranzbühler never justified Nazism. But when asked by Ophuls whether he had discussed his own part in the Third Reich with his children, he replied that he had come up with a formula to make them understand: if you were ignorant of what went on, you were a fool; if you knew, but looked the other way, you were a coward; if you knew, and took part, you were a criminal. Were his children reassured? Kranzbühler: “My children didn’t recognize their father in any of the above.”
Dominique Nabokov: Marcel Ophuls, Neuilly, circa 1988
It was a brilliant evasion. But Kranzbühler was no more evasive than the French prosecutor at Nuremberg, the equally urbane Edgar Faure, who had been a member of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France. Ophuls asked him about French war crimes during the Algerian War of Independence, when torture was systematically applied, civilians were massacred, and prisoners were thrown out of helicopters, a practice that later became widespread under South American military regimes. “Well,” said Faure, “events do get out of hand. But you can’t really criticize politicians who have the difficult task of running the government.” Edgar Faure was prime minister of France during part of that war.
The 1970s were a critical time in Germany. There were still people, like the son of the former Waffen SS officer interviewed by Ophuls, who believed that the Nazi death camps were a lie, and it was the Americans who built the gas chambers in concentration camps. But the postwar generation had begun to question their parents amid the student revolts of the 1960s. Just a year after The Memory of Justice was completed, radicalism in Germany turned toxic, when members of the Red Army Faction murdered bankers, kidnapped industrialists, and hijacked planes, all in the name of antifascism, as though to make up for their parents’ complicity with the Nazis.
German families were torn apart by memories of the war. Ophuls includes his own not uncomplicated family in the film. His German wife, Regine, the daughter of a Wehrmacht veteran, speaks openly to American students about her own childhood under the Nazis. One of their teenaged daughters talks about the need to come to terms with the past, even though their mother finds seventeen a little too young to be confronted with images of concentration camps. Then Regine says something personal that cuts to the core of her husband’s life and work. She wishes sometimes that Ophuls would make films that were not about such dark matters. What kind of films? he asks. Lubitsch films, she replies, or My Fair Lady all over again. We then hear Cyd Charisse singing “New Sun in the Sky” from The Band Wagon (1953), while watching Ophuls in a car on his way to find the doctor who murdered children in concentration camps.
This is typical of the Ophuls touch, show tunes evoking happier times overlapping with memories of horror. The motive is not to pile on cheap irony, but to bring in a note of autobiography. His father was Max Ophuls, the great director of Liebelei (1933), La Ronde (1950), and Lola Montès (1955). Max was one of the geniuses of the exile cinema. Memories of a sweeter life in imperial Vienna or nineteenth-century France are darkened in his films by a sense of betrayal and perverse sexuality.
Nostalgia for better days haunted his son, who spent his youth on the run from terror with a father whose genius he always felt he couldn’t live up to. He would have loved to direct movies like La Ronde. Instead he made great documentary films about the past that won’t let him go, about Vichy France, or Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo butcher of Lyon, or Nuremberg. The true horror stories are mixed in all his work, as in a collage, with songs from pre-war Berlin music halls and Hollywood movies.
One of the most unforgettable examples of the Ophuls touch is a scene in a film that has almost never been viewed (another bitter fight with producers). November Days (1991) is about the fall of the Berlin wall. One of the people he interviews is Markus Wolf, the former East German spy chief, whose father, the Communist writer Friedrich Wolf, had known Max Ophuls in pre-war Berlin. While Markus dodges every question about his past with blatant lies, we hear music from one of Max’s movies slowly swell on the soundtrack as Marcel thinks out loud to himself how lucky he was that his father decided to move west instead of east.


In the second half of The Memory of Justice, the focus shifts from east to west, as it were, from Germany to France and the US. Daniel Ellsberg, speaking of Vietnam, says that “this war will cause us to be monstrous.” We hear stories from men who were there of American soldiers murdering civilians in cold blood. We hear a Vietnam veteran talk about being told to shut up by his superiors when he reports a massacre of civilians ordered by his commanding officer. We hear Ellsberg say that no one higher than a lieutenant was ever convicted for the mass killing of Vietnamese civilians by US soldiers in My Lai.
On the French side, stories about summary executions and the use of torture during the Algerian War (1954–1962) are followed by a crucial question put by Ophuls to Edgar Faure, the former Nuremberg prosecutor and later prime minister of France: Did he, Edgar Faure, think the French would have accepted an international commission that would judge, on the basis of Nuremberg, what the French did in Algeria? No, said Faure, after a pensive suck on his pipe, since one cannot compare the invasion of another country to the actions taken by a sovereign state in its own colony.
Sir Hartley Shawcross, the British prosecutor at Nuremberg, speaking to Ophuls in his elegant country house in Sussex, remembers how much his American colleagues had believed in justice and the rule of law. Like other British officials at the time, he took a more cynical view: “All law is created by the victors for the vanquished.” What mattered in his opinion, however, was not who made the laws, but whether the principles were right. About this he had little doubt.
Looking back, Otto Kranzbühler shared Shawcross’s memory of American idealism. But he believed that as a model for the future, Nuremberg had been a failure. The trial, as he saw it, presupposed a united world community in which wars would be a thing of the past. This illusion did not last long.
In fact, the trial was tainted from the beginning, not only because among the men who judged the Nazi leaders were Soviet veterans of Stalin’s bloody show trials, but also because Allied war crimes could not even be mentioned. A former British officer involved in the wartime bomber command had no doubt that the destruction of Dresden was a war crime.
If The Memory of Justice has a weakness, it is that this second half of the film, concentrating on French and American war crimes, is not quite as gripping as the first half about the German legacy of Nuremberg. Perhaps Ophuls’s heart was not in it to the same extent. Or perhaps no matter what one thinks of My Lai or Algiers, they are overshadowed by the sheer scale and savagery of the Nazi crimes.
Then again, pace Rosenberg, Ophuls doesn’t suggest that they are equivalent. What is comparable is the way people look away from, or justify, or deny what is done in their name, or under their watch. The wife of a US marine who died in Vietnam, living in a house stuffed with flags and military memorabilia, simply refuses to entertain the idea that her country could ever do anything wrong. More interesting, and perhaps more damning, is the statement by John Kenneth Galbraith, an impeccably liberal former diplomat and economist. His view of the Vietnam War, he tells Ophuls, had been entirely practical, without any consideration of moral implications.
Vietnam was not the Eastern Front in 1943. My Lai was not Auschwitz. And Galbraith was certainly no Albert Speer. Nevertheless, this technocratic view of violent conflict is precisely what leads many people so far astray under a criminal regime. In the film, Ellsberg describes the tunnel vision of Speer as “controlled stupidity,” the refusal to see the consequences of what one does and stands for.
This brings to mind another brilliant documentary about controlled stupidity, Errol Morris’s The Fog of War (2003), featuring Robert McNamara, the technocrat behind the annihilation of Japanese cities in World War II and the escalation of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. To him, the deliberate killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians was a mathematical problem. Only many years later did he admit that if the US had lost World War II, he could certainly have been indicted as a war criminal.
Even more chilling is another documentary by Morris, which received less attention than The Fog of War. In The Unknown Known (2013), we see Donald Rumsfeld, another gentlemanly technocrat, shrug his shoulders about Vietnam, commenting that “sometimes things just don’t work out.” When, as the result of another war in which he was even more intimately involved, Baghdad was convulsed in anarchic violence, he notoriously remarked that “stuff happens.” This is what Hannah Arendt called a “criminal lack of imagination.”
Perhaps the US in 1945 set its ideals too high. But it is a tragedy that the same country that believed in international law, and did so much to establish the norms of justice, has done so little to live up to them. The US is not even a signatory to the International Criminal Court, a flawed institution like the Nuremberg tribunal, but a necessary step in the right direction. No one can hold the greatest military power on earth accountable for what it does, not for torture rooms in Abu Ghraib, not for locking people up indefinitely without trial, not for murdering civilians with drones.
For Germans living under the Third Reich it was risky to imagine too well what their rulers were doing. To protest was positively dangerous. This is not yet true for those of us living in the age of Trump, when the president of the US openly condones torture and applauds thugs for beating up people at his rallies. We need films like this masterpiece by Ophuls more than ever to remind us of what happens when even the memories of justice fade away.
  1. “The Shadow of the Furies,” The New York Review, January 20, 1977; see also the exchange between Rosenberg and Ophuls, The New York Review, March 17, 1977.  
  2. The most notorious case was that of Surgeon General Ishii Shiro of Unit 731, the biological warfare unit of the Imperial Japanese Army, who tortured countless people to death in Manchuria in the course of his experiments. He was shielded by US authorities from prosecution as a war criminal in exchange for data from the experiments. 

sábado, 11 de maio de 2013

A dangerous rift between China and Japan - Ian Buruma ( WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2013,

A Dangerous Rift Between China and Japan

As the U.S. urges restraint, Asia's two great powers play politics 

with the past and court a crisis.

Secure in his nationalist credentials, as the leader who unified China, Mao could afford this little joke, which also happened to be the truth. Such a remark would be unimaginable for any of the technocrats who rule China today. Maoism can no longer justify the Communist Party's monopoly on power, since few Chinese believe in any kind of Communism. Nationalism is now the dominant ideology, and the rulers have to prove their mettle, especially toward Japan. This need is particularly acute when a new leader takes power. The latest party boss, Xi Jinping, needs to show people, not least the military brass, that he is in charge.

Tangled Histories

Mondadori/Everett Collection
In December 1937, Japanese troops celebrated after capturing the eastern Chinese city of Nanking.

Which is why a petty dispute over a few uninhabited rocks in the East China Sea is causing a serious and possibly dangerous rift between the two major powers of East Asia. The Chinese have recently sent naval ships close to the islands, as well as military aircraft. Japan responded by scrambling F-15s. And the U.S., still the major military power in the region (though, if China has its way, not for very much longer), is urging the two parties to remain calm, while voicing its continuing support of Japanese administration over the territory. A conflict in East Asia could be much more dangerous than anything happening in the Middle East. Taiwan might be involved, as well as the Korean peninsula. Apart from the potential loss of life, it would be a huge threat to the world economy, and it would pit the U.S. directly against China.

The Japanese call the tiny island group the Senkaku, and the Chinese call it the Diaoyu. Fishermen have trawled the waters around there for centuries, and in 1968, a United Nations commission discovered potential oil and gas reserves there, too. But neither the fish, nor the possible access to oil, quite explain why emotions are running so high, why Japanese businesses have been boycotted and Japanese stores and factories torched, why Japanese tourists and businessmen have been molested, and why hotheads in both countries indulge in talk of war.

On the surface, the dispute is about history, about which country has the best historical claim to sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu. In fact, it is more about politics, domestic and international, revealing the tangled relations in a region where history is frequently manipulated for political ends.

The historical record of sovereignty over the islands is murky. First of all, there are different notions of what constitutes sovereignty. Traditionally, the Chinese Empire saw itself as the center of civilization. Its authority over peripheral countries, such as Korea, Vietnam or the Ryukyu Islands (including the main island of Okinawa, now Japanese), was not so much a question of borders and laws as of proper deference. The periphery was expected to pay tribute to the Chinese court, in the way of vassal states. Even Japan, more independent than other vassals, went along with this to some extent.

After the humiliation of China in the mid-19th-century Opium Wars, and the forceful entry of U.S. gunships into Japan at the same time, Japan began to take a very different view of the world. Mimicking the Western imperial powers, Japan decided to carve out an empire of its own, using brute force as well as Western legal concepts. China's humiliation at the hands of the British was deepened by the even greater humiliation of being defeated by Japan in a brutal little colonial war over Korea in 1895. This is how Japan acquired Formosa (now Taiwan), as well as other possessions in East Asia, including those Senkaku islands.

Contrary to popular belief, China and Japan were not always hostile to one another. For much of its history, Japan looked up to China as the center of civilization. And even after Japan's rise to the status of a modern empire at the turn of the 20th century, Japanese attitudes to China were complicated. Japanese nationalists were often sympathetic to Chinese revolutionaries who toppled the imperial system in 1911. Universities and military academies in Japan drew in many Chinese students in the 1910s and '20s. Before the Japanese invaded their country in the 1930s, many Chinese viewed Japan as a model of modernity.

The horror of the Japanese war in China, unleashed in its full fury in 1937, would change everything. Eight years of Japanese occupation, leaving more than 10 million Chinese dead, devastated the country. And memories of Japanese atrocities—biological warfare in Manchuria, the massacres and mass raping in Nanking, among other places—are still kept fresh in what's called "patriotic education."

This wasn't always so. Chairman Mao was more interested in consolidating the revolution, by some very bloody means of his own, than in dwelling on the recent past. The Nanking Massacre was never made into a big issue under Mao. Nanking was, in any case, Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist capital in 1937 and therefore of little interest to Communist propaganda. And the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, administered by the U.S., as part of Okinawa, and only given back to Japan in 1972, were barely ever mentioned.

It was only in the 1980s, after Deng Xiaoping opened China up to business with the capitalist world, very much including Japan, that memories of Japanese barbarism were deliberately stirred up. That is when a monumental museum was built in Nanking to remember the "300,000 dead" (almost certainly an exaggerated figure, which in no way mitigates the ghastliness of what the Japanese did).
Brian Cronin
A dispute over a few tiny, uninhabited rocks could be more dangerous than anything happening in the Middle East.

Patriotism, based on grievances over a century of humiliations inflicted by foreign powers, from the Opium War to the Nanking Massacre, became the official ideology: Only the firm rule of the Communist Party would prevent China from suffering similar humiliations again. And besides, memories of foreign aggression are a convenient distraction from equally distressing recollections of what Chinese have suffered from their own rulers.

This, then, is what the dispute over those little rocks between Taiwan and Okinawa stands for in China today. It is a symbol of patriotism, without which the Party would have no legitimacy. Giving in to Japan would bring back memories of humiliation. Standing up for Chinese sovereignty is a test of China's revived status as the major power in the region.

And yet, even Deng Xiaoping had never made a fuss about this particular issue; he said in 1978 that the Diaoyu question should be shelved for the time being, as "our generation is not wise enough to find common language on this question. Our next generation will certainly be wiser. They will certainly find a solution acceptable to all."

Reasons why Deng's wish failed to come true are to be found not only in China, but in Japan, which has had to contend with its own history of humiliations, the worst of which was losing the war in 1945. The U.S. took over Okinawa and the other Ryukyu Islands, including Senkaku/Diaoyu. Japanese armed forces were disbanded. Americans lectured Japan on the evils of militarism and wrote a brand new Japanese constitution outlawing the use of military force in international affairs. Henceforth the U.S. would take care of Japanese security, in effect turning Japan into a vassal state again, this time of the U.S.

Most Japanese, devastated by war, were quite happy with this arrangement. Being the first constitutionally pacifist nation even gave them a warm glow of moral superiority. The only Japanese who fiercely opposed it were right-wing nationalists, who felt humiliated by Japan's renewed vassal status. Mainstream conservatives were content to concentrate on business and industry.
Japan's role as a kind of cat's paw of American dominance will be the source of ever greater tensions.

When Mao's Communists took over China, however, the U.S. changed its mind. Visiting Japan as Eisenhower's vice president in 1953, Richard Nixon called the pacifist constitution "a mistake." The Japanese were encouraged to rebuild their military, now called the Self-Defense Forces, and Japan would have to serve as a huge U.S. base for containing China, as well as other military ventures in Asia, such as the Korean and Vietnamese wars. And all this without revising the pacifist constitution to which most Japanese had grown attached.

The pacifist left in Japan, often sympathetic to Mao's China, felt betrayed. The U.S. was accused, not without reason, of reneging on its own pacifist lessons to Japan, by dragging the country back into conflicts with other Asian countries. Conservatives were split between the old nationalists who wanted to rewrite the constitution and become fully independent from the U.S., and the more business-minded elite, who opted to go along with anything Washington demanded.

Even when Japanese businessmen pressed for closer relations with China in 1970, the Japanese prime minister, Eisaku Sato, staved them off out of deference to the U.S. policy of containing China. No wonder that he felt deeply humiliated when President Nixon suddenly announced his new rapprochement with China in the following year without bothering to inform the Japanese. This, combined with the sudden devaluation of the dollar, is still known in Japanese history books as the "Nixon Shokku" (Nixon Shock).

One year after that, Okinawa was given back to Japan on condition that the U.S. retain its military bases there. This meant that the Senkaku/Diaoyu would be administered by the Japanese government. Also in 1972, Japan formally made peace with China.

Despite periodic spats with China over symbolic issues, such as the alleged rewriting of Japanese school textbooks, denying the Nanking Massacre, or visits by Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni shrine, where the souls of Japanese war dead, including World War II criminals, are commemorated, business between the two countries, now worth more than $300 billion a year, continued to grow. In fact, the more China relied on business with Japan, the more Chinese politicians felt the need to assert their nationalist credentials by bringing up the war. This kept nationalists in China at bay and the Japanese on their toes.

However, even more than half a century after Japan's wartime defeat, the problem of Japan's status remained unresolved. A great economic power, with huge economic interests in China, Japan was still a vassal state of the U.S. in matters of security. The inadequacy of this arrangement is increasingly felt, and not just among the old nationalist right wing. A continuing source of tension in Japanese foreign policy is the need to act like a major power while still being deferential to American interests. This dilemma has a huge impact on Japan's relations with China.

When the conservative Liberal Democratic Party government, which had governed Japan almost permanently since the war, was defeated in 2009, the new government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, promised that a new, more open, more democratic, less bureaucratic era had began. One of the things that would have to change was Japan's dependency on the U.S. While stressing the importance of the U.S. alliance, Japan would forge closer relations with China, as well as other Asian nations, and shed some of the deeply unpopular U.S. military bases in Okinawa.

The U.S. government, long used to Japanese subservience, reacted as fathers do when children threaten to run out of their control, and quickly blocked these initiatives. So did Japanese bureaucrats, who had no intention of letting mere elected politicians diminish bureaucratic authority by taking initiatives of their own. China continued to see Japan as a pawn of U.S. imperialism. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's idea of building an "East Asian Community," loosely modeled after the European Union, went nowhere, as did his plan to move the U.S. base out of Okinawa. Mr. Hatoyama was seen as a failure; his plans for a vaunted new era had failed to lift off.

In 2012, the right-wing populist governor of Tokyo, a former novelist named Shintaro Ishihara, saw his chance to make a mark. Hoping to become prime minister, he decided to take the Senkaku/Diaoyu issue off the shelf to which Deng Xiaoping had consigned it. If the Japanese government wouldn't defend this vital piece of Japanese territory against Chinese provocation, he, Mr. Ishihara, would buy it for the city of Tokyo from its private owner. In a fit of panic, the Democratic Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda nationalized the islands, declaring that they belonged to the nation and there was no more room for compromise. His hope was that with Mr. Ishihara out of the way, China would be pacified.

He was wrong. China's rulers had to assert their nationalism. Words turned into gestures; army helicopters and fighter planes were dispatched. The government of the Democratic Party of Japan fell. The Liberal Democrats are back, led by Shinzo Abe, an old-school nationalist. His grandfather was Nobusuke Kishi, who was arrested in 1945 as a war criminal and later became a close ally of Richard Nixon in the struggle against Chinese communism. Mr. Abe is unlikely to change Japan's state of dependency on U.S. security, especially in the light of China's increasing military clout.

Things, in short, are back to square one: Pax Americana containing China, with Japan as Washington's loyal vassal. This might seem a stable, even comfortable, position from the U.S. point of view. In fact, it isn't. For a long time, the Chinese put up with the U.S. being the policeman of East Asia, because the prospect of a more independent, fully rearmed, even nuclear Japan would be worse. But Japan's role as a kind of cat's paw of American dominance, with Japanese nationalists compensating for their subservience by indulging in bellicose talk, will be the source of ever greater tensions, which are bad for everyone, including the U.S.

Eventually, a balance of power will have to be found between China and Japan, but that will mean a gradual withdrawal of U.S. might, which is precisely the opposite of what President Barack Obama's "pivot to Asia" is aiming to achieve. If prolonged for too long, arrangements made after World War II to create stability in the region will help to undermine it.
—Mr. Buruma is the Henry Luce professor of human rights and journalism at Bard College. His latest book, "Year Zero: A History of 1945," will be published by Penguin in September.

sábado, 9 de fevereiro de 2013

Premio Nobel de Literatura 2012: Mo Yan - Ian Buruma (NYTRBooks)

Folk Opera

‘Sandalwood Death’ and ‘Pow!’ by Mo Yan

Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature, has a deft way with similes: salty, sometimes gross, usually unexpected. Comparing women’s breasts to “ripe mangoes” is almost a cliché, but to describe the nipples as “rising gracefully, like the captivating mouths of hedgehogs” is arresting. Passengers disembarking from a train do so “like beetles rolling their precious dung.” A rich meal of pork lies on a man’s stomach, “churning and grinding like a litter of soon-to-be-born piglets.”
Yuko Shimizu


By Mo Yan
Translated by Howard Goldblatt
409 pp. University of Oklahoma Press. Paper, $24.95.


By Mo Yan
Translated by Howard Goldblatt
386 pp. Seagull Books. $27.50.
Yan Bo/European Pressphoto Agency
Mo Yan
What gives Mo Yan’s novels their highly idiosyncratic tone is the combination of a great literary imagination and a peasant spirit. Howard Gold­blatt’s translations catch this atmosphere brilliantly. The prose reads well in English, without losing a distinctly Chinese feel, but it is very far from the classical Chinese tradition. There is nothing mandarin, or even urbane, about Mo Yan’s work. He has retained the earthy character of rural Shandong, where he grew up in a farming family.
Like most of his stories, both “Sandalwood Death” and “Pow!” are set in a rustic place resembling Mo Yan’s native village in Gaomi County. Of “Sandalwood Death,” he has written that it might be less suited to sophisticated readers than “to hoarse voices in a public square, surrounded by an audience of eager listeners.” In fact, it is artfully written in the style of a local folk opera called Maoqiang, now almost defunct. One of the main characters is an opera singer. The rhythms, idioms and narrative techniques of ­Maoqiang are ­woven into the text in a seamless way that only a master storyteller can pull off. The art of telling stories is actually the main theme of both novels.
The narrator of “Pow!,” Luo Xiaotong, is a young man who has a horror of growing up, of entering the corrupt adult world where the powerful prey on the weak. As Mo Yan explains in his afterword, Luo is the reverse of little Oskar in Günter Grass’s “Tin Drum,” the boy whose body stops growing even as his mental age progresses. Luo has a child’s mind in a grown-up body. He is the sort of wise simpleton, a kind of Chinese Soldier Schweik, that often turns up in Mo Yan’s novels. When Luo looks at Aunty Wild Mule, his father’s mistress, he feels “like a boy of 7 or 8,” and yet “the pounding of my heart and the stirrings of that thing between my legs declare to me that I am that child no longer.” By observing the adults, Luo realizes that sex can lead people into some very dark places. And so he clings to a kind of innocence. But, as so often happens when the strain of growing up in a corrupted world becomes intolerable, innocence explodes in an act of extraordinary violence. “Pow” can mean two things: It is the bang of an old Japanese Army mortar, used by Luo to blow the adult world to smithereens; it also means to brag, to tell stories, and even, in Beijing slang, to have sex.
Luo’s bizarre story of his childhood is told to a monk in a decaying temple dedicated to the worship of a lecherous idol named the Horse Spirit. Greed, lust and the abuse of power are the main features of the world observed by Luo. The greediest, most lecherous, most powerful figure in the story is also his benefactor, a man named Lao Lan, scion of a landowning family, who sleeps with Luo’s mother and exploits human greed by monopolizing the production of meat in a village dedicated to animal slaughter.
In this fantasy world of meat-eating gluttony, there is even a Meat God Temple and a Carnivore Festival. Lust for meat isn’t really condemned (nor, for that matter, is sex); it’s the natural response of people who have gone hungry for too long, a grotesque binge after a history of famines. Mo Yan himself was born only a few years before Chairman Mao starved China’s rural population in his monstrous Great Leap Forward.
Luo, the meat-eater, is a highly useful asset to Lao Lan’s business. He has a limitless capacity for food. The champion of a meat-eating contest, Luo adores meat and meat loves him back, to the point of speaking to him in voices. He is an artist of meat-eating, the best in China. Eating, sex and power are closely related in Luo’s fantastic tales, as they are in other novels by Mo Yan, including “Red Sorghum,” made into a much-praised film by Zhang Yimou, and indeed in “Sandalwood Death,” to my mind an even better novel than “Pow!”
Indulging our appetites for food and sex is one way of asserting our individual freedom. Perfecting an art, even of meat-eating, is another. The two artists in “Sandalwood Death” are Sun Bing, an opera singer, and Zhao Jia, his executioner, whose son is married to Sun Bing’s daughter. Zhao is a master at his trade, a genius at administering the slow death by a thousand cuts, the greatest artist of the sandalwood death, able to keep his victim alive for five days while spliced on a sandalwood stake.
Sun Bing has been sentenced to this agonizing death because he dared to attack German soldiers involved in crushing the Boxer Rebellion in 1901. A heroic local patriot, Sun Bing hates these arrogant foreigners for strutting about his native region, building a railway line that will change its ways forever. Like many tales of peasant rebellion, Mo Yan’s reworking of the Boxers’ war with the foreign devils is deeply anti-modern. Loyalty to tradition is part of Mo Yan’s peasant spirit, yet he is not sentimental about the past.
Maoqiang opera is the symbol of Chinese tradition in the novel. But so is the art of inflicting cruel punishments “beyond the imagination of any European.” Chinese executions could be seen, in the words of one of the narrators of “Sandalwood Death,” as stage performances “acted out by the executioner and his victim.” At the end of the novel, the two types of theater come together when Sun Bing sings his last aria while spitted on the wooden stake. His fellow actors defy the German soldiers and their treacherous Chinese helpers by performing an opera on the execution ground to honor their dying master. The theater troupe is mowed down by foreign bullets. Sun Bing dies, stabbed in the chest by a compassionate Chinese official who can no longer stand to witness his suffering. In the last words of the novel: “The opera . . . has ended. . . . ”
In sum: Without art, myths, stories, imagination, life isn’t worth living. And that brings us to Mo Yan’s politics. He has been widely criticized for not being more politically outspoken. Salman Rushdie called him “a patsy of the regime.” According to Mo Yan’s fellow Nobel laureate Herta Müller, awarding him the literature prize was “a catastrophe.”
Mo Yan is certainly no dissident. He might even be accused of cowardice. He could have used his prestige to speak up more forcefully for Liu Xiaobo, the brave literary critic who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while imprisoned for advocating democracy in China. Defending censorship, as Mo Yan did in Stockholm, was also an odd, not to say craven, act for a writer who sets such store on the freedom to tell stories.
Indeed, he refuses to speak out almost as a matter of principle. He has said that his pen name, Mo Yan, meaning “Don’t Speak,” was chosen because his parents warned him not to say things that might cause trouble. “I’ve always taken pride in my lack of ideology,” he writes in the afterword to “Pow!,” “especially when I’m writing.”
Mo Yan does in fact have some strong views. The targets of his satirical barbs are clear: the gross materialism of contemporary China, the venality of government officials, the abuses of political power, the abject opportunism of Chinese collaborators with foreign invaders. But these are rather easy marks. Party leaders are forever denouncing corruption and materialism. It is also a tenet of Communist propaganda that only the party can protect China against foreign depredations.
Perhaps Mo Yan really is in tune with the current Communist regime. Perhaps he simply wants to play it safe. But the political perspective of his fiction is also a reflection of his peasant spirit. To a villager, all politics are strictly local, especially in China, with its vast distances. The capital is far away. National politics aren’t the peasant’s concern. What counts is food on the table, fertility, sex and staying out of trouble, if necessary by appeasing the powerful, be they local or foreign.
This narrow perspective has its advantages. By concentrating on human appetites, including the darkest ones, Mo Yan can dig deeper than political commentary. And like the strolling players of old, the jesters and the public-square storytellers he so admires, Mo Yan is able to give a surprisingly accurate impression of his country. Distorted, to be sure, but sharply truthful, too. In this sense, his work fits into a distinguished tradition of fantasists in authoritarian societies: alongside Mikhail Bulgakov or the Czech master, Bohumil Hrabal.
To demand that Mo Yan also be a political dissident is not only what the Dutch describe as “trying to pluck feathers from a frog.” It’s also unfair. A novelist should be judged on literary merit, not on his or her politics, a principle the Nobel committee hasn’t always lived up to. This time, I think it has. It would be nice if Mo Yan were more courageous, but he has given us some great stories. And that should be enough. 

Ian Buruma is Henry R. Luce professor of democracy, human rights and journalism at Bard College. His most recent book is “Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents.”