I originally wasn't going to write anything about Eamonn Fingleton's somewhat daring "quiz" on East Asian topics because I have done too many of these Fiskings in recent months, but then I caught a friend of mine approvingly reposting it on Facebook and felt I had to say my piece. Quite simply, the man appears to know very little and is not afraid of advertising the fact. Let's start with this passage:
"Question 1: Can you name an atrocity that happened in East Asia in the 1930s that, on a one-day, one-decision basis, probably ranks as the worst atrocity in history?
Answer: It was an event that happened in China -- but, no, it was not the Nanking massacre. Rather it was the Huang He (Yellow River) flooding of 1938 . . . What is beyond question is that even many China specialists at U.S. universities have never heard of the Huang He massacre."
Let's get this straight, the flooding of the Huang He caused by the demolition of the river dams in 1938 was not a massacre, that is to say, it was not the intentional unjustifiable killing of a large number of innocent people. The Huang He flood was, arguably, justifiable as an act of scorched-earth policy designed to defeat the Japanese invaders, and its object was not the deaths of innocents, but the defeat of the Japanese invasion. Whilst it may have been wrong, and may even have back-fired resulting in the loss of innocent life along with the deaths of invading Japanese troops, it was not a "massacre". If an atrocity was committed, it was the Japanese invasion which necessitated the flooding.
Even more ridiculous is Fingleton's assertion that "China experts" (and I presume he means people with at least some background in Chinese history here) at US universities have never heard of the demolition of the Huang He dams. I personally read about them first in my childhood encyclopaedia and I cannot believe that anyone who studied modern Chinese history even superficially would not have heard of this event.
"Question 2: In what nation did the campaign for justice for the so-called comfort women (the sex slaves used by the Japanese imperial forces in the 1930s and first half of the 1940s) begin?
Answer: No, it was not South Korea; rather it was the Netherlands."
That the Netherlands should be the first country to seek compensation for the so-called "comfort women" is not surprising - the Netherlands was an independent and reasonably peaceful country in 1945. But more to the point, just who is it that is under the misimpression that South Korea was where such a campaign might start? Not anyone I know, and that's for sure.
"As for the comfort women issue, this came to be widely discussed in the English-speaking media only as recently as the early 1990s."
The existence of "comfort women" has also been known for a lot longer than since the 90's. As a simple matter of fact, the famous Australian author Neville Shute wrote about the rape of female prisoners in A Town Like Alice. J.G. Ballard also wrote about this in Empire Of The Sun. Perhaps the translated euphemism "comfort women" has only relatively recently been used for women who suffered this atrocious crime, but the fact that wide-scale abduction and continuous rape was conducted by the Japanese army during its rampage across Asia is something known to any reasonably well-read person.
His point about US politicians having "a lack of understanding of East Asia" may have some truth in it, but he then discredits himself by writing how had his own opinion on the Iraq war been listened to, things might have been different. Is he really claiming to be an expert on Iraq? Or is he saying that his understanding of Japan gives him an insight into how Iraq works? At any rate, it cannot be the latter because he himself says that "the only thing Iraq and Japan have in common is they are not the United States".
But it gets worse: just why is Fingleton emphasising the terrible nature of the Huang He floods and specifically pointing out that they killed more people than the Nanjing Massacre - something that was an intentional act of mass murder? Just why is he giving the treaties signed with the Mao and Park regimes denying further compensation equal weight to the crimes themselves? All of this reads a lot like the kind of apologia for Japanese war crimes familiar to anyone who has lived in Japan.
[Picture: Japanese soldiers stuck in the mud during the Huang He "massacre"]
[Update: You can see Fingleton's website here. As expected, his posts seem to consist mainly of cheer-leading pieces for the Japanese economy and government that are a bit off considering Japan's GDP growth over the past 20 years.]