Yesterday I was thinking about an idea that, in all honesty, I just didn’t have the energy to develop.

Yesterday’s anniversary of Pearl Harbor apparently just wasn’t compelling enough to overcome my natural resistance to hard work… and anyway, I could easily develop another lead-in later.

This idea was, in fact, the source of one of the bitterest arguments I can recall having with one of my business partners in the ’80s. It was one of those dinner-table disagreements that one party (me) had taken for granted as self-evidently true, and the other party (my partner) saw as contrary to everything he had believed about the Second World War in the Pacific.

The idea was that the war was a bitter race war based on prevailing prejudices and popular beliefs of the era.

I had just read War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War by John W. Dower, and Dower’s premise made sense to me: that pure racism fueled the continuation and intensification of hostilities in the Pacific theater during the final year of World War II, a period that saw as many casualties as in the first five years of the conflict combined. Dower, a professor of Japanese history at UC San Diego, traces the development of racism on both sides of the Pacific, including an analysis of wartime propaganda comparing American propaganda with that of the Japanese. The book leaves no room for doubt about the intensity of racial loathing among all adversaries in the war, and shows that its effects were virtually identical. louse

I had witnessed the afterglow of this racial antipathy myself as a young boy: the buck-toothed, simian stereotypes in the old propaganda films that still ran on ’50s and ’60s TV—and I was pretty sure that the Japanese media probably exploited negative stereotypes of Westerners in their films, news articles, military documents, and cartoons, as well.

I still remember the confusion felt by Westerners at the willingness of yellow and brown people to die first before surrendering (as with the self-immolation of the Kamikaze) or to mount suicidal mass attacks (as with the “yellow hoards” in the Korean and Vietnam wars). These were clearly people who valued human life less than we did. There was no thought that we were invading their countries and that they were responding the same way as “heroic” American kids are depicted as doing in the film Red Dawn.

During the war, the Japanese routinely referred to themselves as31537_f260 the leading race (shido minzoku) of the world. Japanese propaganda used the old concept of hakko ichiu to support the idea that the Yamato was a superior race, destined to rule Asia and the Pacific. Like their American and Commonwealth adversaries, they called on a variety of metaphors, images, code phrases, and concepts to affirm their superiority. Yet the Japanese were not the only people of the period who asserted their supremacy in a racial hierarchy. The Germans claimed to be Aryan and therefore representative of a racially superior group. And they were white.

In the years since the argument with my business partner I have observed the system of apartheid used by some Israeli racists to keep down the Palestinians. The religion of Talmudic Judaism claims that the Jews are a race “chosen” by God ahead of the rest of humanity, and therefore should rightfully have control over ………………………………………………………….non-Jews in all matters.

I have noted the efforts of the Mahatma Gandhi and others to dismantle the caste system which hobbles development in India. Discrimination against lower castes is illegal in India under Article 15 of its constitution, and since 1950, the country has enacted many laws and social initiatives to protect and improve the socioeconomic conditions of its lower caste population.

I’ve kept abreast (in an amateur sort of way) with the latest findings that at a DNA level, the differences between races are virtually nil. The diversity between humans ranges between only about 0.1% and 0.5%. Mitochondrial DNA indicates that all living humans descend from one maternal source—christened Mitochondrial Eve—who lived in Africa between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago. Similarly, the Y chromosome shows that all men have a common ancestor, Y-chromosome Adam, who lived at the same time.

So my practical conclusion is that race doesn’t matter. Race is literally only skin-deep. The claim that it matters is an artifact of pre-20th century ignorance. What does matter is the canard that any one group of people, however defined, is superior to another.

Supremacism is the view that a particular age, race, species, ethnic group, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class, belief system, or culture is superior to others and entitles those who identify with it to dominate, control, or rule all others.

social-hierarchy1I once had a young person tell me that I wasn’t smart enough for him to talk to, that I had no ideas worth his consideration. He was, incidentally, going about his life with his head up his ass… so the hubris of his assertion was to me at once astonishing and very amusing. He was living his life completely shut off from any possibility of learning and change. He was the personification of the old adage that the only source of certainty in this world is a closed mind.

I think that one of the greatest sources of error in this world is a blinding belief and faith in hierarchy, whether based on intelligence, race, or whatever. It is better, I think, that we maintain a healthy respect for uncertainty in all things, and avoid the trap of throwing out the baby with some particular bath water.

I have believed for a long time it is preferable to discover in every individual something that one can like and even admire. This can often be a real challenge, given the high number of idiots in the world. But every person—even an idiot—generally responds positively to the respect implied by genuine admiration.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Incubus performing “Admiration”


2 Responses to “supremacists”

  1. 1 matt
    December 8, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    The Japanese word for any non-Japanese is Gaijin or literally outside person (e.g. foreigner), and thus assumed to be inferior. On the flip side of the coin, as you noted, the American press was distinctly anti-Japanese, leading to various disparaging remarks and cartoons about the Japanese adversary which were not generally applied in similar fashion to the German adversary (but rather Hitler himself or the Nazis).

  2. 2 Frank Manning
    December 8, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    I fully agree with almost everything you have written here, Dan. I am a trained historian by profession and a retired encyclopedia editor. I have made World War II a special topic of study, particular the Great Patriotic War (“the eastern front”)—one of the most racially homicidal conflicts in human history. Japanese racism toward Chinese and Koreans is notorious. And no rational person can deny the blatantly racist aspects of American war propaganda against the Japanese.

    I must take exception, and loudly, to one sentence, though: “The religion of Talmudic Judaism claims that the Jews are a race ‘chosen’ by God ahead of the rest of humanity, and therefore should rightfully have control over non-Jews in all matters.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The claim that Jews are “the chosen people” is one of the most misunderstood statements ever.

    As a native New Yorker, raised in the Catholic Church, I have had the good fortune and opportunity to ask questions about Judaism of rabbis and other Jewish scholars of all suasions—reformed, conservative, orthodox, ultra-orthodox, hasidic. This “chosen people” assertion is a source of great pain for all of them. It has been seized upon by antisemites of all stripes as an excuse to attack Jews both physically and intellectually. And it has tripped up a great many well-meaning people who have never been informed as to what exactly it means.

    Judaism was arguably the first monotheistic religion. It arose in the 14th century BC in a world where all other peoples the ancestors of today’s Jews had contact with worshipped many gods. Some say that Pharaoh Akhenaten of Egypt pioneered monotheism, and that the Israelites got it from him, but that is not relevant to this discussion. As monotheists among polytheists, these earliest Jews felt lucky, or “chosen”, to have had bestowed upon them the gift of belief in the One True God. There are way too many Bible verses to try to quote here, so suffice it to say that these people believed they were “chosen” by God to spread the word of monotheism to the rest of humanity and to enjoy the blessings of having the knowledge to worship the one true deity. That is as far as it went. Nothing about controlling or dominating or subjugating others.

    I find it disconcerting that you would quote this canard against the most persecuted victims of the Holocaust in a discussion of racism in World War II. I am absolutely certain you mean nothing nefarious in doing so. But please be careful. The Jews of Europe were the victims of racism, not its perpetrators. The racism you perceive in some Jews in Israel today is the almost logical result of the near-extinction of the Jewish people by the worst racists who ever polluted this planet with their presence.

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