When I was eighteen years old I visited the Vietnamese war museum with my mother. We saw actual traps the Viet Cong had used to kill members of the ‘enemy’, including Australians. We heard stories, absolutely barbaric tales of what ‘American’ (which, in this context, was defined to be everyone fighting against the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War) soldiers had done to Vietnamese forces. Inside the museum, graphic images of mutilated and dead children were displayed like art. We left the building after only fifteen minutes; it was too confronting to stay.
Brutal images such as this one were displayed at the Vietnamese War Museum. In my school education of the Vietnam War, I wasn’t given the opportunity to consider that the other side suffered too, and maybe soldiers fighting for us were brutal also (image: AWS).
The way in which we partake in any attempt at research on a group we are a part of holds a necessary bias known as reflexivity. This week in DIGC330: Digital Asia, we became familiar with this idea through making sense of the film Gojira (1954). This film is the original Godzilla. It’s Japanese, black and white, and extremely different in content and structure to the Hollywood blockbusters we see today.@Although I did not realise this at the commencement of the film, Gojira was heavily influenced by the events surrounding World War II. Prior to this realisation, I was pretty confused at the story of the film. This is probably more due to my trying to live-tweet the film as I viewed it; the attention economy is apparently one where I struggle to function. I wasn’t alone, much of the class seemed fairly light-hearted and the resulting Twitter conversation was rather humorous. It contained a variety of memes, puns and literary reference, some of which were clever and others downright cringy.
Once it became apparent that the film carried a darker message, conversations about the second World War and the artistic relevance of the film were established. What resonated with me was the power of human emotion, the brutality of war and how my school experience provided me with a very one-sided education on World War II. It’s also interesting to note that the Japanese school curriculum contains very little 20th century history, with a particular absence of Japan’s role in not only World War II, but other notable conflicts in Asia and beyond.
I always learned that Japan fought amongst the enemy and with brutal force. The Australian soldiers, I was told, fought bravely protect our country. Maybe this is true, but there’s so much more to the story. Viewing this film showed the passion, patriotism and agony of the War as part of the Japanese story. We forget that our side fought with brutality too; US forces dropped nuclear weapons on two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. 129 000 people were killed. It is argued by some that without this action, the war may have ended with worse destruction, but we will never know. Nuclear weapons have not been used in warfare again (thus far).
Scenes including the one where a woman clung to her small children, promising they would be reunited with their (presumably dead) father, were absolutely heartbreaking to watch. This was never an image I would have conjured in my mind when thinking about the Japanese WWII experience.
Human suffering is universal. Why is this not represented in history books? (Image: Shenanitims)
I have ancestors who fought in wars such as these; this affects my attitude towards the conflict portrayed and my experience of watching the ‘enemy’ suffer. Viewing this film reinforced to me that, aside from political differences, the human experiences of love, pain, suffering and loyalty are very much coherent across different cultures. Even viewing this piece through poorly-translated subtitles, black and white film and almost comically inept special effects gave me this valuable insight, despite being some fifty years and 7902 kilometres away from the intended Japanese audience.