3/06/2010

Is Haruki Murakami an Anti-War Figure?



In an earlier post,  I criticized Haruki Murakami (村上春樹) for his bad faith or self deception about the choice he made regarding the Jerusalem Prize. shaymaa kindly provided a supportive comment, to which I responded and said:

Pretending to take no side, he clearly takes the side of the State of Israel, which continues its aggression towards Palestinians. It is sad that some "pacifists" in my country see him as some kind of an anti-war figure, which he is not.


With the latter part of which Gottahavawa disagrees. S/he says:

You also state he is not anti-war, yet admit you have not read his works (and, I would guess, his interviews and essays -- in journals like Eureka and bungakukai). While I too must admit to finding his position on the Palestinians troubling, you should not so easily dismiss the author or his works. In terms of Japan, his works are very much anti-war, and his political stance in many ways resembles your views. Read a few pages of "Hitsuji wo meguru boken" or "Nejimakidori no kuroniruru" and this should be readily apparent.


Well, Gottahavawa, thanks for the recommendations. I will try to read those books when I have a chance.

But I was not talking about subjective pacifism. Ask Obama, Bush, Blair, Hatoyama, or even Hirohito; I bet they would all say without hesitation or equivocation that they are against war and stand for peace. As this thought experiment makes clear, being an "anti-war" in and of itself does not amount to much. Remember, the IDF stands for Israel Defense Force. When they drop a bomb in Gaza, they are doing so to end war and make peace. In a sense they are against war.

However, if you start using the term "anti-war" that way, then it loses its critical edge; if it is to be retained, you need to ask against what war, against which side, for which side. And on these questions, Haruki's acceptance of the Jerusalem Prize provided a clear answer: he takes the side of the State of Israel. His speech included some mild criticisms, but bringing up white phosphorus is in no way subversive of the Israeli civil society, which is quite ready to tolerate even stronger internal dissidence. Every once in a while, they make movies like Waltz with Bashir and yet continue to do what they do. The bottom line is, Haruki chose not to boycott the Prize, and whatever he said at the speech, it was an act of endorsement for everything the IDF is doing from an international author with fans and followers around the world (although he did lose at least one, shaymaa, for his choice).

Haruki also referred to Japanese past aggression:


My father passed away last year at the age of ninety. He was a retired teacher and a part-time Buddhist priest. When he was in graduate school in Kyoto, he was drafted into the army and sent to fight in China. As a child born after the war, I used to see him every morning before breakfast offering up long, deeply-felt prayers at the small Buddhist altar in our house. One time I asked him why he did this, and he told me he was praying for the people who had died in the battlefield. He was praying for all the people who died, he said, both ally and enemy alike. Staring at his back as he knelt at the altar, I seemed to feel the shadow of death hovering around him.

My father died, and with him he took his memories, memories that I can never know. But the presence of death that lurked about him remains in my own memory. It is one of the few things I carry on from him, and one of the most important.




Here again, you see his trick. Death is not an appropriate concept in a war situation as it lacks any political positionality. No, it was not just death; it was a murder; it was a massacre; it was a rape. The difference the last three terms have in common with death is they all imply the presence of a perpetrator. The War was no natural disaster; it was the Empire of Japan and its people who started it; we invaded Asia, colonized it, killed people, and raped women. 

Most Japanese people are like Haruki: they would likely say they are anti-war if asked. But to be an anti-war in any meaningful way requires more than just making a simple statement. We need to confront our past and present,  and take a side. Whose side are you on? I side against the nation of Japan, which, without any clear break with the past Empire, continues its aggression now under the American hegemony and racist violence institutional or otherwise within its territories.




Oh by the way, here's something I did on the eve of Haruki's visit to Jerusalem:

2 comments:

Kamagra said...

his action speak better than his own works, so in my case and from my point of view, this men is really a anti-war figure.

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