The other day when I said that the style of WW2 era propagandistic superhero comics just couldn’t work today, but there is one anti-Nazi comic book of that era that deserves to be better remembered as an iconic image of the war period in America. This dramatic cover, published in March, 1941, marked the very first appearance of Captain America, who was given the very unusual honor of premiering in his own full length comic, instead of being tried out as a backup character in an anthology.
Why is this cover so different from the others? Where the DC covers were full-fledged propaganda posters, this is a proper comic book cover. Of the seven DC covers I posted before, five of them have propagandistic slogans as corny as any you would find on an official government poster, and the sixth is a highly stylized, static image of Superman standing astride the world holding Hitler and Tojo in each hand, clearly symbolizing the globally dominant power of the USA. The seventh cover, which depicts Superman ready to punch out the oddly jaundiced looking Japanese pilot of a warplane, is the only one that actually looks like it could be a comic book action scene as opposed to a propaganda poster, but the simplicity of the scene and the isolation of the two characters on a largely monochromatic background still feels kind of static.
On the other hand, we have Captain America-not about to punch Hitler, but clearly having just done so. There are Nazi officers all around, firing bullets at the Captain, who has clearly interrupted a planning session of “sabotage plans for U.S.A.,” which are conveniently laying on the ground, labelled in English. By opening with such a dynamic and dramatic scene, Captain America is portrayed from the beginning as a man of action and the champion of American virtue-but not necessarily the vehicle of the official government line and propaganda.
Why is that? Well, notice the date-March 1941. The US did not enter WW2 until December of that year, but the creators and publishers of Captain America at Marvel Comics (then called Timely Comics) were clearly urging us to. It is of course no coincidence that both the writer (Joseph Simon) and artist (Jack Kirby) were both New York Jews, the sons of immigrants from Europe. In fact, at this time basically the entire comic books industry was New York Jews. Naturally, they were no fans of Hitler, and this cover reflects what must have been a universal fantasy at the time. Certainly I myself, as a member of a New York Jewish family born decades after WW2, can hardly imagine anything more satisfing than smashing Hitler in the face. Even the staunchest critics of modern US foreign policy should admit that the cover of Captain America #1 is best summed up in one word: awesome.
To readers of this blog, when you think of controversy over history education you may very well think of Japan first. The teaching of history in Japan has been a huge issue in recent years, with a certain infamous textbook even sparking protests in China and South Korea, but even as dismal as Japan’s teaching of certain dark aspects of their Imperial past can be, some other countries have it far worse.
But despite the importance of this Civil War, one survey shows that 50% of Spaniards have not talked about it at home. And 35% say they were never taught what happened in 1936, at school.
This amnesia has been actively encouraged at a political level.
Thirty years ago, Spain’s emerging new democracy felt so threatened by the ghosts of the Civil War and the recently defunct Franco regime that there was a ‘Pact of Silence’ between the left and the right of politics not to raise the issue or seek reparations for crimes committed by the dictatorship.
I find it somewhat mind-boggling that history classes in Spain have actually managed to keep the Spanish Civil War off the curriculum for so many years. What did they even talk about instead?
But Spain realizes that history can only be ignored for so long, and on the 70th anniversary of the rise of Spanish fascism they are preparing to address the past publicly for the first time.
The legislation will provide compensation for those who suffered under the dictatorship and is also expected to makes changes to General Franco’s most imposing legacy: The Valley of the Fallen, the former leader’s colossal burial chamber on the outskirts of the capital.
One suggestion is to convert part of the monument into an education centre about fascism. And, for the first time, the local authorities are expected to have guidelines to help people locate the bodies of family members, still missing, who were murdered during the Franco regime.
The government says its Law for the Recovery of the Historical Memory is not about rewriting history, or making people responsible for crimes of the past. But for many Spaniards it represents a new willingness to examine the truth about their history.
The part about “not rewriting history” makes me wonder, is actually altering Franco’s monument a good idea? Despite all of the atrocities that he was responsible for, are the interested of a more accurate actually history served by altering a well known monument, or would it be better to leave it alone and simply build a new one?
I think of Taipei’s Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall. Built in the style of China’s Ming Imperial Tombs (which I think gives a fairly accurate hint as to Chiang’s aspirations) shortly after his death in 1975, this admittedly very attractive complex is dedicated to the memory of a man who’s name peppers the names of streets and schools in Taiwan as much as “The People’s” whatever does in the Mainland-a man who ruled Taiwan for decades with a brutality comparable to that of Franco’s, and whose policies were according to some responsible for the ROC loss of the Chinese Civil War, and later ROC/Taiwan’s UNSC seat.
After military rule ended and Taiwan democratized, what did they do with the memorial? Well, they kept it basically the same. Chiang is still deeply respected by much of the population, particularly supports of his former ruling party, and much like Spain (up until now) there has never been a truth commission, and the former dictator’s official public image may be tarnished, but hardly criticized on the level of Spain’s former-dictator. The memorial is given a military honor guard, still filled with memorabilia of his life, and and I believe still has text claiming that he was responsible for fostering Taiwanese democracy in the 40’s and 50’s (although I could be mixing it up with text I saw at his former house up on Yangmingshan- but more likely both have similar text.)
On the other hand, the lower level of the CKS Memorial Hall is used for a host of general cultural events, such as the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebration and a children’s science fair (two examples I saw myself) and the grounds are used at least weekly for various performances and festivals. While these activities do not exactly undermine it as a memorial, they do subtly alter the perception of the memorial itself by creating an image of the area as a public space devoted to positive activities, and somewhat weakening its role simply as a place of veneration for a political figure. This could be seen as reflecting to a degree the way in which nationalism in Taiwan has itself shifted away from being so linked with political figures and the Nationalist Party to a popular nationalism today more based on an independent culture and political system. By filling the Memorial CKS Hall with unrelated cultural events, it comes to be thought of more as a convenient performance space than a political symbol.
Since Franco’s death, almost all the placenames named after him (most Spanish towns had a calle del Generalísimo) have been changed. This holds particularly true in the regions ruled by parties heir to the Republican side, while in other regions of central Spain rulers have preferred not to change such placenames, arguing they would rather not stir the past. Most statues or monuments of him have also been removed, and, in the capital, Madrid, the last one standing was removed in March 2005.
Will Spain follow up by also altering the Valley of the Fallen? Will the government pay restitution to victims? How will they teach the Civil War-just flip it around and focus on all the bad things Franco and the Nationalists did, or explore the divisions in society that led to the conflict? Choosing a balanced approach to the teaching of history is always difficult, and in conflicts like this one which are particularly bitter there is a tendency towards propaganda in favor of whichever side is in power. According to the Guardian News Blog, a survey conducted by a Spanish newspaper says that one in three Spaniards still believes that Franco was right to overthrow the Republican government. Finding a historical narrative that can satisfy the two-thirds and the one-third is going to be difficult.
I have a running bet with a former colleague that “man purses” will catch on among American men in the near future, similar to their popularity in Japan. For some reason, he thinks that American men, with their embrace of such tasteful fashions as pink polo shirts with the collar popped, have more dignity than to carry a purse. That I find to be a somewhat insulting view of the Japanese – Americans are just as capable of making horrible fashion decisions as any other people of the world. So it was with great joy that I saw this story from a British tech news site:
Rise of the manbag: Are gadgets to blame?
We’re carrying too many techie toys…
By Will Sturgeon
Published: Wednesday 5 July 2006
The number of gadgets we’re carrying around on a daily basis – from BlackBerrys and mobile phones to iPods and PDAs – means men in the UK may be forced to embrace the metrosexual phenomenon of the ‘manbag’.
Smaller than a sports bag and often more stylish to boot, the manbag is becoming a must-have item for all UK gadget fans keen to stow their multiple devices.
And while four per cent of men surveyed for a piece of research from business communications company Damovo still go for the ‘batman’ utility belt approach of clipping their gadgets around their waist, it seems that stereotypical image of the gadget fan at large is being killed off by the manbag.
A third of respondents (32 per cent) still manage to get their techie toys into a pocket but by far the most popular option is putting all the gadgets into a bag.
I stopped at Book Off, that wonderful oasis of a Japanese used bookshop in midtown Manhattan, on my way home from Connecticut last weekend. I wasn’t intending on actually buying anything, but the first all 4 issues of Osamu Tezuka’s manga Adolf (Adorofu ni Tsugu) at a dollar apiece were too tempting to pass up. It’s an interesting work of historical fiction that answers the question: “What if Jews living in Kobe during World War 2 found definitive proof that Hitler was 1/4 Jewish?” As someone relatively unfamiliar with Tezuka’s work, I’ve been surprised to see depictions of torture and mass murder peppered throughout – I had thought he traded mostly in cute robot boys and little lions, but if you look at his bibliography he’s pretty freakin’ prolific!
What caught my eye, though, was this disclaimer at the end of the first volume (loosely translated):
In this “Complete Works of Osamu Tezuka (published in 1996), the images of many foreigners, mainly blacks and Southeast Asians, make an appearance. Some of those images depict those people as they were when their countries were undeveloped or exaggerate past eras and differ greatly from the present situation. Recently, there have been claims that such depictions are racially discriminatory toward blacks and some other foreigners. As long as there are people who feel uneasy about these images or feel insulted by them, we believe we must seriously listen to those opinions.
However, the exaggeration and parody of people’s features is the most important method of humor for comic books (manga). This is especially prevalent in Tezuka’s works, so people of many countries are the subject to parody. Further, beings from the animal kingdom to the world of the imaginary are very humourously caricatured, not only humans. Not even the author’s self-portrait is an exception to this, with his nose drawn several times longer than it actually is. Also, the author is a person who always and continually held the belief that all hatred and conflict is evil, including that between the civilized and uncivilized, advanced nations and developing nations, the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor, and the healthy and the sick – beneath his stories runs a strong “love of humanity.”
The reasons we have ventured to print the “Complete Works of Osamu Tezuka” are that the author has already passed on and therefore cannot edit his works. Not only would a third person changing the work of the dead would pose a problem in terms of the person’s dignity, but also cannot be considered an appropriate measure to deal with the problem at hand, and not only that, we have a responsibility to protect works that are regarded as the heritage of Japan’s culture. From the beginning, we oppose all discrimination and will work to eliminate discrimination. We believe this is the responsibility of a publisher. We hope that readers, too, will use this Tezuka work as an opportunity to recognize the fact that various discrimination exists and deepen understanding of this issue.
So, Tezuka’s manga aren’t discriminatory but should be used as an opportunity to reflect on the issue of racial discrimination? Sure, Kodansha. Maybe you’ve gotten smarter in the last 10 years, but I kind of doubt it.
This comment is a direct reaction to moves by a group in Japan called “The Group to Eliminate Discrimination Against Blacks,” a fairly sanctimonious group that originally started without a single “black” member to its name. The group claimed that Tezuka’s “Kimba the White Lion” included racist depictions of black Africans and demanded it be changed to reflect a more culturally sensitive era. The move resulted in the removal of Kimba panels from several museum exhibits dedicated to Tezuka. Indicative of Japan’s general isolation from global debate in general, majority public opinion in Japan seems to be against a movement to eliminate discrimination against blacks led by a hypersensitive NGO.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any images online that demonstrate the sharp “satire” of Osamu Tezuka, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a few bones through noses in Kimba the White Lion. Next time I’m in Japan or Book Off I’ll be sure to look out for them.
For the record, I have yet to encounter any stereotypical-type images in Adolf, though one of the Nazis is deliberately depicted as lizard-like to emphasize how evil he is.
Crazy stuff, hot off the Yomiuri presses: 83-year-old Ishinosuke Ueno, who was in Sakhalin at the time of Japan’s surrender in 1945, just turned up living (with a family) in the Ukraine, despite being presumed dead by the Japanese government. He plans to visit his relatives in Iwate Prefecture in a couple of days.
Will the violence ever stop? Just once I’d like to see some wholesome, non-violent Adam Richards-related news.
31 March 2006 KNIFE THUG STABS PET DOG 16 TIMES
What knife thug screamed as he chased dog and stabbed it 16 times
By Richard Smith
DRUNKEN Richard Kilcommons stabbed his pet labrador to death after chasing it, crying out: “Let’s see how quick Bessy is!”
In a sickening attack Kilcommons, 41, plunged a 7in kitchen knife 16 times into the devoted animal’s back and sides as she yelped in agony.
The case follows a spate of shocking acts of animal cruelty. Earlier this week drug-fuelled thug Peter Dibden, of Billingham, Teesside, was fined £900 for stabbing his giant bull mastiff to death with a two-metre samurai sword.
Damien French, who dropped a live rabbit into an alligator’s mouth at a zoo in Colwyn Bay, faces jail. In January Adam Richards, 18, of Heamoor, Cornwall, was jailed for six months for stabbing and kicking to death a pregnant hedgehog.
The Financial Times’ Emiko Terazono recently interviewed Bill Emmott, the soon-to-be-departing editor of The Economist (OOPS! The FT took it down but you can still read the interview here). The interview was conducted at a Japanese restaurant in London over lunch (scroll down to the bottom to see what they ate and how much it cost). In the article, Terazono describes Emmott‘s truly enviable career as a journalist and noted Japan expert, and toward the end makes the following observation:
He holds his chopsticks perfectly, and lifts his rice bowl when eating from it – as the Japanese do. He also does not make the common gaijin faux pas of pouring soy sauce on his rice.
I did a little (very little) digging to make sure Terazono is not simply an adopted Briton who kept her Japanese name (a la Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of The Remains of the Day). Turns out, according to this interview, Ms. Terazono was born in Japan 40 years ago, spent her junior high and high school years in Canada, went to a Japanese college, worked at a bank, hated it, and then got work at the FT Tokyo Bureau, where she fought hard for six years to get out before getting assigned to the London headquarters. So that confirms that she is writing from the perspective of a member of Japanese society, not that of a gaijin herself.
IMO, the observation works well to drive home the point that not only is Mr. Emmott a well-received author on Japan (whom I have not read, unfortunately), he actually took the time to get the little things “right” about Japanese culture and thereby truly understands it. Don’t you get that impression?
Yesterday Italian politicians called for French takeover bids for Italian groups to be blocked, in retaliation for France’s efforts to protect its energy sector.
“There is a risk that over time this dynamic triggers a series of tit-for-tat reactions,” said Mr Casey [of the Centre for European Policy Studies]. “That is precisely how the great depression started: one country after the other erected barriers and finally free trade just ground to a halt.”
I don’t expect a new great depression anytime soon, but let’s hope everyone will soon calm down and come to their senses.
Aso criticized some European publications Monday for printing contentious cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, calling such action “shallow.”
“Even people like us who are not Muslims know the fact that idolatry is absolutely impossible (in Islam),” Aso told a Diet committee. “If someone familiar with that kind of thing did so, I say, from my personal feelings, it could have been shallow.”
Now I’m imagining the Saturday Night Live version of Chris Matthews interviewing Aso on “Hardball.”
MATTHEWS: This is great! Say something even more contradictory!
ASO: The U.S. government should stop glorifying war by building monuments to dead soldiers.
MATTHEWS: Keep it coming!
ASO: Asia should open up its markets to Japanese rice exports.
MATTHEWS: Wow! You’re unstoppable!
ASO: And the UK should give up its royal family…
MATTHEWS: (head explodes)
Ah, if only he weren’t #6 in the post-Koizumi opinion polling, he would make one hilarious Prime Minister.