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Arlington National Cemetery and Yasukuni
January 14, 2014
by William P. Meyers

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Chinese nationalists get upset when Japanese government figures visit the shrine to Japan's war dead at Yasukuni. China got into a war with Japan over control of Korea in 1894. To everyone else's surprise, Japan won that war. This led to increasing predation on China by other imperialist powers, cumulating in the Chinese trying to defend themselves in what we in the West call the Boxer Rebellion. Japan, the U.S., and a number of other Western powers invaded and established that China was no longer a sovereign nation, despite diplomatic niceties to the contrary.

Japan did establish an independent state in Manchuria (aka Manchukuo), the alternative being Russian dominance there. China descended into bickering regions ruled by warlords. Asserting the Japanese equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine, in the 1930's Japan intervened in China proper. The Japanese called it a policing action to restore order to China; the Chinese called it a war of aggression.

By any reasonable measure, the Japanese were invaders and committed war crimes. They should have let the Chinese muddle through their own mess. The Chinese tend to forget their own long history of military aggression (which is why China is the size it is today) and grow outraged when they think of the Japanese invasion. Yasukuni has become a symbol of Japanese militarism for the Chinese.

But the Japanese (with the exception of a few ultra-right wing nut jobs) say they are just honoring their ancestors. They are not celebrating the age of Japanese imperialism.

Meanwhile, no one seems to get upset about the honoring of America's war dead at the Arlington National Cemetery. Even though more than a few war criminals are buried there, including Americans who fought against various Asian nations including China, the Philippines, Japan, and Vietnam.

Not every soldier is a war criminal. Some are lucky enough to live in times of peace. Others are unlucky enough to be ordered to commit war crimes. But in addition to committing war crimes under orders of Class A war criminals (typically political leaders), some soldiers commit war crimes despite explicit orders against doing so. Such individual war crimes typically are killing civilians and killing prisoners of war. The traditional don't ask, don't tell policy about these extra-legal killings means almost anyone buried at Arlington could be a war criminal.

In the probably-not-a-war-criminal category at Arlington, but worth discussion in the Japan v. China context, we have Claire Lee Chennault. Retired U.S. Air Force Captain Chennault arrived in China in 1937 and began working for the war lord Chiang Kai-shek as chief air force advisor. In 1941 President Roosevelt provided Chennault and Chiang with fighter planes and former U.S. Air Force personnel to fight the Japanese in China. They were flying in China at least as early as November 1941, well before Pearl Harbor, thus showing the U.S. was engaged in an undeclared war. One might ask the Communist Chinese: is Chennault a scoundrel for aiding Chiang Kai-shek, or a hero for fighting the Japanese? In either case, his body lies in grave 873-3-4, Section 2.

From the U.S. war on China aka the Boxer Rebellion, or Yihetuan Movement, we have Vice Admiral Clark H. Woodward, who also served in the Philippine-American War. He is in grave 699-A-B, Section 1. Given the number of soldiers the U.S. sent to attack the Chinese, quite a number of them are likely to be buried at Arlington.

As to the atrocities of the Philippines, several soldiers directly connected to them are buried at Arlington (and given the genocidal nature of the conflict, probably most U.S. soldiers who served there were complicit or participants in war crimes). We have the leader, General Arthur MacArthur himself, in grave 856-A, Section 2. Colonel William Henry Bisbee, who was told not to report his destruction of civilians to his superiors, lies in grave 1872, Section 3. Edwin Glenn, convicted by a courts martial of torturing civilians, suspended from duty for one month, and fined $50, lies in 3103-ES. For more on war crimes by the U.S. in the Philippines see Honor in the Dust.

Harry Truman, who by ordering the atomic bombing of Japan committed the most famous war crime in history, is not burried at Arlington, but likely research would put some of the men who fire bombed Japanese cities in graves there.

Skipping the U.S. war against Korea, which was not without its issues, we have the honoring of the Vietnam War criminals. Among those buried at Arlington is General Creighton Abrams, who supervised the slaughter (and who was a proponent for the war, not someone just carrying out orders), in grave S-33, Section 21.

A thorough search could probably find thousands of soldiers buried at Arlington who gave offense to some nation.

I would argue that the problem is not Americans honoring our war dead, but our failure to hold ourselves to a high standard of accountability. The dead can do no further wrong to anyone, but the living can. Both Japanese and American war criminals shared the belief that what they were doing was right and necessary. We should be clear they were wrong.

But you should not ask people not to visit the graves of their ancestors. The Chinese do it, and the Chinese are not exactly a nation of innocents.

Every responsible person should work to tone down nationalist sentiments that could lead to military conflict. Don't forget the past. Don't dismantle Yasukuni or close Arlington. But work for peace. Because what the Chinese are really complaining about is a past breach of their peace and sovereignty. All nations should pledge to respect each other's sovereignty. All nations should maintain a knowledge of their past crimes to help them stay on a peaceful path.

Agree? Disagree? You can comment on this post at Natural Liberation Blog at blogger.com

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