Previously posted on Facebook
Two years ago, I couldn't have cared less what the Japanese-Russian war of 1904-1905 was and what it meant.
While reading and researching Four Immigrants Manga, however, I learned that the Japanese victory in the war meant a great deal of pride for an Asian nation that was trying to prove its might in the face of Western super-powers. And I thought, "I get that. How cool for the Japanese at that time to feel proud of that victory." A sort of "We've finally arrived; we'll finally be taken seriously" kind of moment.
But while reading Quiet Odyssey, a first-hand account of Mary Paik Lee - a first-generation Korean immigrant who came to the US in 1904, that thought has been colored differently. In her memoirs, Lee explains that her family fled Korea in order to escape the Japanese in the aftermath of the Japanese-Russian war. The Japanese victory had opened the door for Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula, thus leading to nearly half-a-century of devastating violence against and oppression of the Korean people. This leads to the Pacific events of World War II, which leads to the splitting of Korea along the 38th parallel, which leads to the Korean War, which leads directly to the hardships of my parents - both born just a year before the Korean War began.
Which leads eventually to their desire for a better life in the States, which somehow, oddly enough, leads to my existence.
(Incidentally, all this also leads to the recent Sony Pictures fiasco - not my parents' hardships or me being born, but the stuff before that.)
This simultaneously blows my mind and hurts it. Because we want these things to be easy narratives. We want things to be obviously good or obviously bad. Or at least mostly one or the other. But it almost feels like cause-and-effect just goes on automatic, and it doesn't come with a predetermined meaning. I read into it the meaning I can gather, and the danger is that I will fail to realize that every story doesn't just have another side, but has perhaps an infinite number of sides.
There's also a danger in forgetting that I am not an objective observer of history's chains of events. That I come to it with my well-thought reasoning, my less-well-thought speculations, and my unconsciously active prejudices.
For the record, this is not me being angry at the Japanese or trying to place blame ("After all, I have Japanese friends!" wink-wink). I think it's just another instance of awe in the face of history's complexity.
Now... if I could just make a musical out of all this...