Dr. Martin Luther King: “There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice.”
We returned from our first YAV retreat December 3rd, and it was an eye opening trip. One consistent theme of what we’ve been learning has been about massacres and various human rights violations. I’ve mentioned them a few times already in my blog posts, and I’ve been told it is something that will continue throughout the year. The U.S. killing Koreans, the Japanese killing Koreans, Koreans killing Koreans, and the list goes on. If it’s not killing it’s the systematic rape of women from conquered countries as comfort women that continues even today in different forms, or free agency taken from those who should be free. These are not fun or easy topics to deal with.
Take the case of the comfort women – women who were taken from their homes or offered jobs as nurses or entertainers were used as sex slaves for the Japanese army. These were women from Korea, China, Vietnam, and many more countries who were displaced, systematically raped, and when the war ended were left behind in whatever country they had been taken to. Japan does not acknowledge that this occurred despite numerous live victims, records, and accounts. When confronted with this (as the Japanese embassy in Korea has every single Wednesday since 1992 by protests held by the surviving comfort women) they claim that those protesting are anti-Japanese.
It’s easy to be angry. In fact, it is probably a healthy response to such an atrocity. But I think it’s important to distinguish between a few things in that anger. One being that the Japanese are not evil. Whenever a blanket statement is used to vilify an entire people the response will not be compassionate or just. That then becomes a reason to retaliate in ways that would be regrettable in a similar fashion to sex slavery, or massacres. This is not a way to peace.
That being said, the actions were atrocious and the Japanese government should still be held accountable for their actions. For them not to be held accountable would be a crime against the women who experienced this injustice.
(It is also important to distinguish between a government and a people, and direct that anger justly. How frightening it would be to be held personally accountable to all that the US government has done!)
The roles in the paragraphs above can be swapped out for just about any government or incident. The US did atrocious things to Korea too, and really many other countries too. In fact as a response to WWII the US put Japanese Americans into internment camps regardless of their involvement with the war irreparably damaging lives. Anti-Japanese sentiments in the US led to the death of Vincent Chin (who, by the way, was not Japanese) a notorious hate crime in the Asian American community. What I’m realizing as I learn more about peace through this experience is that we can’t stop more from happening without recognizing the humanity of everyone involved.
It is easy to see in hindsight how these things were wrong, but I would argue that we are dealing with similar sentiments in the US currently. Anti-Muslim hate crimes are on the rise which is contributing to refusing refugees who are fleeing from the same terrorists that the US so deeply hates. Making decisions based on fear of the other keeps the other as caricatures of who they are, and very importantly keeps them inhuman. It would be very Christ-like, but also very human to do the difficult work to undo this hatred so we can make steps towards peace.
To care for those who are hurt and recognize the humanity of all is important, but that still leaves situations like the comfort women with extreme injustice. The job of a peace maker is not to just sweep the pain of victims under the rug, and it is not to be passive. Without reparations for the crimes committed there will be no justice for the comfort women. To leave it at that does not create peace either even if there is an illusion of peace. Without admission of guilt similar crimes continue unchallenged, and the turmoil for the comfort women for many have been taken to their graves. So I encourage you to walk the line of keeping your heart open to see each other as human, but also recognize the need for accountability in the face of injustice because there is no peace without justice.
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