Sunday, September 10, 2006

Something that I find disturbing

Somewhere between Qiyan and Qili'an on the Danshui metro line, there is a red swastika flag hanging in a window in a highrise apartment building. I have been trying to get a picture of it (as evidence), but the train is always moving too quickly for me to capture it. I will have to get out of the train at one of the two stops and walk along the track until I see it.

No, it is not the Buddhist image. I know the difference. It is the Nazi symbol. What is it doing in Taipei?

Since the late nineties, I also noticed some people riding motorcycles wearing World War 2 era German military helmets. Some of them are even marked with swastikas.

I debated this with Ingmar when he was here. He thinks that these displays of Nazi-era Germany are meaningless, and that the people displaying them are clueless about what happened. They are just doing it for fun. Or else it is just a small clique within Taipei society--the displays part of their fashion.

It is possible that this is a harmless fad, a group of people who think it is all a fun game, and that the symbols look cool. It is also possible that they are unfamiliar with the holocaust. I remember visiting Dachau when I was in college and seeing the George Santayana quote for the first time: "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

The making light of the holocaust by displaying its symbols for fun is already a dangerous act; it is a forgetting. Is it possible that children in Taiwan--that children anywhere--aren't learning about the holocaust. I don't mean to focus solely on what happened in Europe; genocides have occurred throughout history and humankind still has not learned.

But I also wonder if there is something more nepharious afoot. Is someone purposely exporting the items to Taiwan and elsewhere--either a local or a foreigner--as a way of propagating some kind of ideology? How was it that these symbols came to Taiwan? And how do the people who display them interpret them?

Perhaps as an aside, yesterday I did a search on "Taiwan politics" on Youtube. I found a video (I won't link to it) that was said to be an English version of a short Chinese documentary, called "The Taiwan Question." It claims to "explain to the people of Taiwan the political reasons why they are losing the psy-war battle with Red China." To make a long story short, according to the video, it's the age-old story that it's the fault of the Jews. They created communism. They are the reasons why Chiang Kai-shek lost China. They control the media.

All of the same lies, repeated over and over again for the last 50 years. Repeated so many times that they seap into the consciousnesses of unaware people--people who don't stay informed.

It is just like what is happening with the ABC/Disney docudrama, The Path to 9/11. It's the same message, except this time it's "Clinton did it." Worst of all is that they're not just showing it in America, trying to use it to swing another election. They are marketing it overseas as well. It will be aired by the BBC and in New Zealand and Australia, where it is being marketed as "the true story." As Digby says:

The reason this matters so much, and why Democrats are so apoplectic at the way ABC has handled this material, is that popular culture has a way of inculcating certain concepts into people's minds, especially young minds, far more effectively than talking head programs or earnest debates among political bloggers and columnists. This is the kind of thing that could taint the debate for generations if it takes hold.

The right howled mercilessly at Oliver Stone's depictions of JFK and Nixon, claiming that he was rewriting history. He was, and he used very clever techniques to do it --- particularly the odd, dreamlike optical montages that feel like memories. But the key is that these films were about events that happened long in the past --- they were re-writing history, not writing the first draft while the immediate events were still being debated. Certainly, nobody sent out high school study guides saying they were based on fact or claimed they were based on The Warren Commission Report or Nixon's memoirs. Stone never claimed that he was depicting a factual account but rather always said that he was providing an "alternate history."

"Path to 9/11" is using the sophisticated techniques (if not the talent) of Stone's "alternate history" style to create an alternate reality in real time. The purpose of this can best be compared to the "who lost China" and "sell-out at Yalta" campaigns of the late 40's. The right made political hay for decades out of those --- blaming the Democrats for being soft on communism. These set the stage for the next 50 years of full throated accusations of traitorous cowardice and we are dealing with the residual results of that cynical political calculation even today. (After all, the Republicans of the day were the reluctant warriors in WWII. They desperately needed to erase that image just as they desperately need to erase the image of the Bush administration's failures on 9/11 and Iraq.)

If this nonsense is allowed to stick, we will be battling these inaccurate demagogic, phantoms for another 50 years --- and I don't think the country will survive it. These new rightwingers make the red-baiters of the 50's look like Gandhi. In order for the Republicans to maintain power as often and as much as possible, they must find a way to blame the Democrats for terrorism and ensure that neither party can ever stray from the most hard line they can possibly maintain. It's the same formula that killed over 50,000 Americans in Vietnam and it's going to do far worse this time out if we let it happen again.


Anonymous Battlepanda said...

I've also seen Taiwanese folks sport marijuana paraphanalia while being completely oblivious to its significance, for what its worth. One guy wearing a neck ornament depicting a pot leave thought it was a maple leaf. Of course, a swastika is much more disturbing. And I would have thought that many Taiwanese people would at least know that Hitler was a bad man and that Nazism was evil because of hollywood movies, if nothing else.

I have a strong urge to satisfy my curiosity, track down the apartment where the flag hangs and just ask its owner what the hell they're thinking.

I've not encountered instances of anti-semitism in Taiwan. Probably because Jews are so rare in Taiwan. But if you look in the business/finance section you can sometimes find books such as "learn the financial secrets of the Jews" or even "The childrearing habits of the Jews". These books do perpetuate stereotypical views of Jews that could be considered offensive, but I hesitate to call them anti-semitic since they are self-help books written for an audience who are hoping to learn the secret of the Jews. Can I say "Oi"?

11:53 PM  
Blogger Wulingren said...

I didn't mean to imply that there was anti-semitism in Taiwan; I was just wondering about the phenomenon. And the practice of spreading rumors about peoples (Jews) or groups (bloggers,liberals) or events (9/11). I don't even think it was a Taiwanese person who started to import/export the nazi memorabilia here. And I also said they most likely were unconscious about what lies behind the symbols they were displaying. But, as evidenced in the video, there is an attempt to spread disinformation here as there is elsewhere. My point isn't simply about Jews either. I have equal fascination about kids sporting Che Guevara shirts here, and I too saw a girl with a marujuana leaf on her back. I just want to emphasize the point that I have never encountered any overt anti-semitism here.

1:08 AM  
Blogger Joseph Chen said...

i'll check it out today when i'm on my way back to tamsui. but i don't think people really understand the significance of what swastika implies. yes, we know hitler is a mass killer, and holocaust was horrible. but that's all we understand. it's no more terrible than what the Japanese did to Chinese during WWII.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Wulingren said...

Like I said, it's possible that the person doesn't know what it means. Or perhaps he/she thinks it's the Buddhist image, or is fascinated by the similarity between the two. Maybe it is like foreign tourists going to China and buying Mao stuff. I just find it interesting how symbols travel and whether or not they retain their original meaning. I see a red swastika flag hanging from a window or scratched in a bathroom stall and have a gut reaction. It is just instinctive for me to wonder if someone is propagating some mischief. Another person sees the same symbol and they think it looks cool. The same person might be driven to action at the thought of Yasukuni Shrine. But don't the two symbols represent the same thing, just to different people?

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read in the Lonely Planet that both symbols have roots in Buddhism and the Nazis ripped it off. It must be true if it is in there. Or at least I think it was in the Lonely Plannet. It's been a long time.

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out this crazy video. Maybe you are the person that could direct a more serious conversation about the implications in the video.


video is here

We don't support the message, but look at it as an opportunity to open a conversation about anti semetism and Taiwan

6:09 PM  
Blogger Wulingren said...

The video that anonymous refers to is the same one I saw at Youtube, to which I wouldn't link. I am really startled that this kind of garbage is still circulating after all these years--in reference to any group. At first I thought it's an old video with no connection to today, but someone is obviously distributing it (I found the website). My guess is that there is more than one version, with the Taiwan question being only one example.

9:44 PM  

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