Monday, November 20, 2006

Remembering Iris Chang.......

One of the problems with my given nome de guerre is that its pretty common among those of us who seek to travel the path less followed. I earned mine about 20 years ago when it became apparent to all who knew me that I had an evil twin brother who seemed to come out in the presence of copious amounts of alcohol. That son of a bitch still gets me in more trouble. Me, I'm just a quiet mild mannered man. My evil twin on the other hand loves beer, dancing, live music and doing anything of any kind with women. He adores women, wants to see them again and again (naked). Bastard.


Come to find out he (and I) are not the only Skippy in the world. There is a Canadian Skippy who writes much better than me, sadly. Lost Nomad pointed me to it, but he has written a very eloquent post remembering Iris Chang. Who was Iris Chang? She wrote the book "Rape of Nanking" which as Skippy points out is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why all of the different nationalities over here loath each other so much:

The late Iris Chang taught the West why that loathing exists, and why it is so deeply ingrained in their cultures. Her contribution to Western understanding of Asian history and attitudes are invaluable and should never be forgotten.

In the sixty years following the end of World War Two, North America and Europe remember the German aspect of the conflict most strongly. The obsession with Nazi Germany and its horrific crimes - while certainly justified - has been at the expense of learning about the reign of terror imposed on Asia by the Japanese. When westerners think of the Japanese war at all, they often consider only what happened after Pearl Harbor.

Iris Chang changed that forever with her 1997 book, The Rape Of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. From the moment of its publication on, that history was available to anyone with the inclination to learn it. No longer could anyone claim ignorance about the scope of the brutality that the Japanese government has denied with impunity for nearly seventy years. For that reason, people of goodwill everywhere - and perhaps even history itself - owes the memory of Iris Chang a huge debt.

To be sure, her publisher, Penguin/Basic Books, did not have much faith in the project. The initial publication run was a mere 2,000 hardcover copies, and a promotional budget was pointedly refused. It was left to a private group, the Association for Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia (ALPHA,) to fund the book tour that made the book the success it ultimately was.

I've read the book and it is a pretty good history. What I did not know was the history of the author. A beautiful woman, the work she did on this history and a subsequent work she was planning on the Bataan Death march cost her her stability as a human being:

On November 9, 2004 Iris Chang parked her car on a road outside of Los Gatos, California, put a revolver in her mouth, and pulled the trigger. She was 36 years old and left behind her loving husband, Bretton Douglas, and two-year-old son, Christopher.

Which is just a tragedy:
IRIS CHANG 1968-2004

What all of this points out however is that memories out here in Asia are long and forgiveness is short. Especially between China, Korea and Japan. I encounter some of that every day when I deal with the S.O. She has a sublimal racist streak inside of her, one she would never admit. However never doubt which nationality she thinks is superior-and it ain't mine.

I strongly recommend this article to you. Its, as Lost Nomad says, a must read. Especially for those who wish to understand Asia. I also recommend the book if you have never read it. Disturbing, but nonetheless interesting. It shows all of us what we are capable of when either nationalism or religion starts driving the national bus.

You know, as melancholy as I might get, I have never been able to fathom the thought of committing suicide. What demon was it that drove such a beautiful woman, who had so much to live for, to the point of ultimate desperation? I've had low points in my life, but even when I was at the end of my rope professionally, that thought never crossed my mind. The other thing that intrigues me here is how many writers seem to take their own lives. Is it an occupational risk with profession?

Perhaps it is best to close as my fellow Skippy did:

Iris Chang's alma mater, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has established The Iris Chang Scholarship Fund to which you may contribute by mailing University of Illinois Foundation .

Jeff Roley
1305 West Green Street
Urbana, IL 61801-2962

Make checks payable to: University of Illinois Foundation In the memo field: Iris
Chang Scholarship Fund.

Perhaps the best way to honor her work is to help someone with her talent, dedication and passion with their education. If this stupid blog can help the University of Illinois produce someone as great as Iris Chang, I will do everything in my power to do so. I'll do this because I love to read far more than I love to write.

Amen and amen!


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