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japan-comfort-women
Japan’s hawkish Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has reignited controversy over the conduct of Japanese soldiers during World War II by engaging in historical revisionism. In particular, one area of contention arises when considering the topic of “comfort women” brought from around Japanese-occupied Asia and forced to become prostitutes to please Japanese soldiers.

Although the 1993 statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kano on comfort women admitted coercion by Japanese soldiers into forcing women into prostitution, the topic has been brought to the forefront of international debate recently as Japanese nationalists have started to deny past wartime actions.

Understandably, Abe and other nationalists who appear to be washing over Japanese actions during World War II bother Japan’s neighbors in the region, namely South Korea and China. Japan refuses to offer South Korea official compensation to individuals affected by the “comfort women” controversy.

Certain cities around the United States have also permitted the erection of statues of comfort women to promote awareness of Japanese crimes during the war. In Glendale, California and in Palisades Park, New Jersey, comfort women have already been commemorated. A small victory was won by Korea when a Virginia school board approved textbooks with the name “East Sea” in conjunction with “Sea of Japan” in an atlas depicting the sea between the two countries.

Japan has historically been confident that with the U.S. as an ally, the country would stand by the position of the Japanese government regarding comfort women. But in 2007, Congress adopted a resolution condemning the practice of taking comfort women and pressed that the government of Japan should “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery.”

Controversy has also arisen in China over the comfort women. In response, China has approved the building of a memorial museum to Ahn Jung-Geun, the person who assassinated Itoh Hirobumi, one of the first prime ministers of Japan. In China and Korea, he is seen as a hero but in Japan he is labeled as a terrorist.

If Japan’s historical revisionism continues, tensions will continue to rise with its Asian neighbors and Japan will find itself increasingly isolated from the protection of its major ally, the U.S.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: The Diplomat, MOFA, GovTrack
Photo: Los Angeles Times

herz-sommer
At 110 years of age, Alice Herz-Sommer lived longer than most and had experienced something that a diminishing number of people living the world today may claim: surviving the Holocaust.

As the oldest known survivor of the Holocaust, for the past 70 years Herz-Sommer has served as a living reminder of the perils of hubris and inaction — specifically, for the nations who failed to act when reports of Adolf Hilter’s ethnic cleansing plans first came to light.

Alongside her husband and son, Herz-Sommer was imprisoned in 1943 at Theresiendstadt, a concentration camp in Terezin, Czech Republic. Two years later, she and her son were among those released from the camp after the Soviet army liberated the camp.

Of the estimated 140,000 sent there, fewer than 20,000 remained alive by the war’s end.

These numbers don’t inform the reader of Herz-Sommer’s accomplished piano skills nor do they tell us about Herz-Sommer staged concerts at the concentration camp, an activity that enlivened both herself and her fellow inmates.

We have all learned about World War II. We have studied how Adolf Hitler warred against the allied forces and nearly conquered Europe. We have listened to lectures about his efforts to cleanse his empire of Jews, homosexuals, the Roma and Sinti, the disabled, blacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other targeted groups.

Herz-Sommer’s reminded us of the human experience behind a man-made tragedy. History may be compressed into facts and statistics, but she, herself, could not.

Since WWII, more genocides have occurred, some more publicly than others. The Bosnian and Rwandan genocides occurred within the past 3o years while the more recent burning of Kiev, the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic, and the millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war, all illustrate conflicts plaguing the world today.

The death of one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors should serve as a stark warning that even the most horrific crimes against humanity will eventually fade away into the annals of history.

While the irreparable erosion of memory and experience is inevitable, preserving an international consciousness of these crimes is an inalienable human obligation. By doing so, such an effort will both memorialize the victims and survivors of the past and help to safeguard potential victims in the future.

 – Emily Bajet 

Sources: New York Times, oas.org, Al Jazeera
Photo: Daily Mail

Elie_Wiesel
In 1986 when a committee in Oslo, Norway, awarded Elie Wiesel with the Nobel Peace Prize, they named him one of the “most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterize the world.” More than twenty years later, this sentiment still rings true. While the world continues to change, Wiesel’s testimony of peace, atonement, and human dignity holds; the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

Born on September 30, 1928, in Sighte, Romania, Wiesel was raised in a devout Jewish family. When Elie was fourteen years old, the deportation of Hungarian Jews began. Subsequently, Elie and his three sisters and parents were packed into wagons and transported to Auschwitz.

The screams of a madwoman and the smell of burning human flesh greeted the Wiesels. This would be the last time Wiesel saw his mother and youngest sister, who were sent into gas chambers after “selection.” This moment would haunt Wiesel for the rest of his life.

“Never shall I forget that night . . . which has turned my life into one long night. . . . Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.” He described in his semi-autobiographical novel Night, “Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.”

His father later died while being transported to Buchenwald. Despite the horrors endured by Wiesel during his time in Auschwitz, Wiesel remains startlingly altruistic. His main concern was never to seek revenge, but to prevent the recurrence of the events. His books give an eyewitness account of the horrors undertaken by the Nazi Regime while analyzing the reasons behind the events.

Wiesel aims to awaken the consciousness. It is not the number of the victims, nor the human slaughter factories that Elie Wisel wants us to address. It is the ease in which people so quickly adopted a philosophy in which being a Jew was a crime.

He does not want to gain sympathy from the world, because what has happened, happened. Rather he wants an answer to the question: what are we doing now to prevent it from happening again?

Elie Wiesel was released from Buchenwald in the spring of 1945. With other Jewish children, he was sent to France and studied at the Sorbonne until he left for the U.S. to become a journalist.

Tormented by his time in Auschwitz, it took Wiesel ten years to finally put his experience on paper. His first novel, Night, was written in Yiddish with the simple intention of being a coping mechanism; it has now sold over 6 million copies and has been translated in over 30 languages.

Wiesel’s story, which initially would not be published because many deemed it too depressing, is now one that inspires people from all backgrounds. His message has attained a universal degree. It is the communication of human to humankind. The fight for freedom and human dignity is not an isolated case that we have now overcome, but is an ongoing lesson to never forget the past.

Elie Wiesel is an honorary professor at City College in New York and also holds a professorship in humanities at Boston University. He is the leader of the American Holocaust Commission, and has written 26 full-length books.

Wiesel at one point had been reduced to a number on his wrist, prisoner A 7713. Today, rather than embarking on a mission of revenge, he says, “I will conquer our murderers by attempting to reconstruct what they destroyed.”

No description of the death camps could ever accurately portray what unfolded within them, and any attempts would seem to shame the dead. Remaining silent, however, would be an even greater betrayal. With that, Wiesel took pen to paper and spoke to the world. The dead, ultimately, should not have to die in vain.

Elie Wiesel, when finally released, stared at his skeletal figure reflected in the mirror, and could only ask, “why me?” The only answer to that question was to speak of the horrors that occurred. As a seventeen-year-old boy with little education, his voice was not loud, and his words were not complex. Nevertheless, they were said, and more importantly, they were heard.

The power and tenacity of the human spirit was tested during the dark years of 1939 to 1945. Though many may be tempted to believe that the unthinkable shall never repeat, compliance and silence cause us to quickly forget. But we must remember, as Wiesel teaches us, that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

– Chloe Nevitt
Feature Writer

Sources: SparkNotes, Nobel Prize
Photo: Clive Davis

In May of 2012, the Daily Mail posted an article regarding author Matthew White’s book, “The Great Big Book of Horrible Things” which ranks the worst atrocities in history. The rank lists World War II as number one, the regime of Genghis Khan as number two, Mao Zedong’s regime as number three, British India famines as number four, and the fall of the Ming Dynasty as number five. The Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin ranked as number seven, and the Atlantic slave trade as number ten. (The list of all ten is available on Daily Mail.) On another source, the worst atrocities are ranked based on death tolls marking WWII as number one, the regime of China’s Mao Zedong as number two, Soviet Union’s Stalin regime as number three, WWI as number four, and the Russian Civil War as number five.

For the purpose of objectivity, it is important to note that all atrocities are significant and that these calculations seem mostly based on numerical and statistical measures. The presented list below will rank the top five photos of atrocity based on a combination of measures: timeliness (1945-present), death tolls, and global-scale emotional significance.

1) WWII led to approximately 55 million deaths (including the Holocaust)

Hiroshima

(the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki)

2) (1949-1987) During China’s Mao Zedong regime, approximately 40 million lives were lost

ChinaFamine

(Famine during the Great Leap Forward)

3) (1975-1979) Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge/Pol Pot regime caused approximately between 1.7 to 2 million deaths.

PolPotKhmerRouge

4) (1994) Rwanda’s genocide led to approximately 800,000 deaths

RwandanGenocide

5) (1980-1989) The Soviet-Afghani War which led to approximately 1, 500,000 deaths

SovietAfghanWar

Leen Abdallah

Sources: The Hemoclysm, Religious Tolerance
Photos: Daily Mail, Google, Google, Google, Google