Monday, December 13, 2010

Emily Carr



It is not all bad, this getting old, ripening. After the fruit has got its growth it should juice up and mellow. God forbid I should live long enough to ferment and rot and fall to the ground in a squash.

- Emily Carr
Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr
Entry for December 12, 1933

Emily Carr, the great Canadian artist and writer, came into this world on December 13, 1871.  She was born in Victoria British Columbia, 139 years ago today.  On the day before her 62nd birthday, she wrote the above reflections on aging in her journal.

As a painter, Emily Carr was remarkable in her interpretation of the native peoples and forests of her home province of British Columbia. A CBC archival entry identifies her as “fiercely independent and complex.” It describes her as “a rebel, a recluse and a feminist before her time.” In a journal entry in 1937, she wrote, “The men resent a woman getting any honour in what they consider is essentially their field. Men painters despise women painters. So I have decided to stop squirming, to throw my honour in with Canada and women.”

On March 2, 1945, Emily Carr died at her home in Victoria. She was 73 years old. To listen to some reminiscences about Emily Carr (including those of A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven), click on the link below.


Today marks a grisly event in the annals of human history. 73 years ago, on December 13, 1937, Japanese forces overran the city of Nanking (now known as Nanjing). Shameful atrocities occurred during a six-week orgy of plunder, rape and bloodshed.  Thousands upon thousands of Chinese civilians were killed and many women were coerced into sexual slavery. The final death toll of this bloody rampage was 300,000.  For the surviving victims of the horror, now aged and frail, Nanking’s nightmare never ends.

Despite the passage of more than seven decades, this piece of history must be told and it must be recognized. We need to remind ourselves that history is not always filled with glory and adventure. Too often it is ugly and gruesome. We delude ourselves if we fail to acknowledge our acts of inhumanity. To varnish history is disingenuous, but to deny history is far worse. It is skulduggery of the highest order. It is also unfair to future generations who deserve historical accuracy

That is why Iris Chang, a woman whose parents escaped from wartime China to the United States, made it her mission to reveal the truth about Nanking. Chang was haunted by stories she had heard as a child. At the age of 27, after reading an account of the Nanking atrocities, the young writer felt compelled to go there. She visited the city and scrupulously researched the events of 1937. She interviewed the survivors, some who were mere children at the time, and recorded their heart wrenching stories for posterity.

Iris Chang’s research resulted in a remarkable book entitled The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. Her book sold more than half a million copies and Chang gained recognition in America. Through her tireless determination and devotion, she brought the brutal truth to light.

The Rape of Nanking did occur. It is not a myth. It is not anti-Japanese propaganda. However reprehensible, however sordid, it is a fact of human history. Western journalists were at the scene and they described the horror that befell the then-Chinese capital. Acts of barbarism were committed openly and brazenly. A British reporter who witnessed the slaughter compared the Japanese soldiers to Attila and the Huns.

This is neither to denigrate nor vilify the Japanese people. Japan gamely and admirably rebuilt itself after World War II. It endured the massive destruction unleashed on it by two atomic bombs and is the only country to have experienced the horror of a nuclear attack.. Indeed, the tragic and unimaginable suffering of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is well documented.

No country is immune to evil and none has a completely unblemished record during war. We only have to look at Canada’s treatment of Italian and Japanese Canadians as an example. It is also fair to point out that China has blemishes in its past and that present day China is not exactly a paragon of human rights. Remember what happened to Tibet? Remember Tiananmen Square in 1989?

This, however, does not relieve Japan of its responsibility. The Japanese government must still be called upon to formerly acknowledge and apologize for the devastation that was wrought upon the city of Nanking. Just as Germany has faced up to Hitler and the Holocaust, it is time for Japan to confront and come to terms with its past. Only then can there be true reconciliation and acceptance. Only then can Japan exorcise its demons and rid itself of the lingering ghosts of Nanking.

In July of 2007, the Congress of the United States passed Resolution 121 condemning Japan’s sexual enslavement of women during World War II. Congress urged Japan to reconcile with its Asian neighbours “through an honest review of history.” It demanded that Japan “formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner.” The lower house of the Dutch parliament unanimously passed a a motion on November 20, 2007 urging Japan to financially compensate the women forced into sex slavery during World War II.

Canada’s House of Commons followed suit with its unanimous passage of Motion 291 on November 28, 2007. Motion 291 urged the Japanese government “to take full responsibility for the involvement of the Japanese Imperial Forces in the system of forced prostitution, including through a formal and sincere apology expressed in the Diet to all those who were victims."  The ball is now in Japan’s court and the world is waiting.

- Joanne

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