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An original Civis Journal documentary on Occupy Wall Street

May 22, 2012 Comments off

Journalists associated with Civis Journal have completed the first part of a documentary that looks at the eviction of Occupy Wall Street on November 15, 2011. Through interviews and first hand accounts, this documentary tells their story of occupiers during the day on which mayor Bloomberg ordered their evacuation, and documents their reaction to his allegations and his actions with the NYPD and Sanitation. It is the story of the eviction told through their words.

Civis Journal

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Japanese Try to Stop Free Speech in New York

May 11, 2012 Comments off

Survivor Gil Won Ok was one of the up to 200,000 women who suffered at the hands of the Japanese army, and continue to suffer by the Japanese refusal to deal with its war crimes. The Japanese cited in this article take the position that she and others are lying, a position for which there is no evidence. Source: Amnesty International.

The New York Times owned company, the International Herald Tribune, posted a recent story called Comfort Women Controversy Comes to New York (see here). There are two issues at play here. The first is the Japanese denial of the use of forced sexual slavery by the Japanese army in WWII. The second is the right of Koreans – or any other – to protest those actions by using a memorial as a symbol of free speech. Its reporting calls into question its commitment to objectivity.

It is historical fact that the Japanese armies not only forced Korean, Filipino and Chinese women to have sex with Japanese soldiers, but that the Japanese in some cases executed the female victims after being raped repeatedly by upwards of dozens of soldiers – sometimes in just one day. The number of female sex slaves may be disputed, but the actions of the Japanese are not – except by apologists. The number of victims is as high as 200,000, and “the majority of women were under the age of 20 and some were girls as young as 12,” said Amnesty International, a human rights organisation that has written about this problem in the past. These were horrendous crimes by any standard (see here).

The IHT gave voice to a war crimes denier when it published the following words without comment: ““the term ‘comfort women’ refers simply to prostitutes in wartime.” This sort of slander by the Japanese supporter not only denies the Japanese atrocities, but actually calls them “prostitutes,” saying it was they and not the Japanese who sought sex. There may have been a small number of real prostitutes, but to claim the majority or even all the Koreans willing had sex with hundreds of Japanese men for money is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

Those who posit that all of the comfort women were happily complicit and acting of their own accord simply do not understand the meaning of the word rape,” said Tom Lantos to the BBC in an article published in 2007, then chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Rape is rape. Not according to certain deniers in Japan who are trying to force their warped view of history on Americans with their nonsense propaganda. Why did the IHT not address the historical denials properly? The BBC did in a 2007 article, and it was not alone (see here).

The IHT went further when its article appeared to misrepresent the facts surrounding the Japanese apology: “while Japan has apologized for any mistreatment the women suffered…” What apology? One can understand (but not excuse) why the Japanese have historical amnesia, but the IHT? Even as late as 2007 the US House of Representatives passed a resolution asking for the Japanese to issue a formal apology for its war crimes it committed against up to 200,000 civilian women and girls. There has been a lot of pressure to get Japan to admit to and really apologise for its crimes.

One is at a loss to know what apology the IHT referred to. Perhaps it alluded to the 1993 apology that only acknowledged “its involvement managing the brothels” butwas never approved by parliament.” Some apology that was. Or perhaps it referred to the words of former prime ministers. If so it is nothing more than a word game of “regrettable” or “sympathy” or other comments that never acknowledged Japan’s full role in the sex slavery business or its legal responsibility to the victims (see here). Such word games only insult the victims and create resentment against the Japanese, but they explain why there are still protests to this day, almost 70 years after the end of the war.

“A 1998 report by the U.N. Human Rights Committee on this issue noted that although Japan has made individual apologies the Japanese Government denies legal liability for the creation and maintenance of the system of ‘comfort stations’ and comfort women used during World War II,” said Amnesty (see here). That was in 2009. Women are still waiting for a real apology that accepts legal responsibility. Japan has no intention of doing it. Instead Japan has rejected most compensation claims, saying they were settled by treaties.” The victims do not agree the matter was settled at all. These women want justice.

The IHT article barely touched on the dwindling number of women, now in the eighties, hoping to receive a real apology before they die. The IHT said: “In December, two Korean women who said they were forced into prostitution by Japan visited the monument” (my emphasis). Look at the wording. Could not the IHT verify if the women were telling the truth? Yes, they “said” they had been raped by Japanese soldiers, but is there any reason to doubt their claims? There are ways to verify the women’s claims, as there are lists of survivors.

What the IHT also did, interestingly enough, was to say: “One Japanese opponent of the proposed New York monument wrote in a letter… (my emphasis).” Yes, the Korean women “said” (possibly implying they were not telling the truth) and the Japanese man “wrote” the women were “prostitutes” (which could be construed to say the IHT questioned his claims, but could also be read to say they did not). Why are the two being given equal weight sort of balanced against each other? This is a cut and dry case. The Japanese systemically used hundreds of thousands of women as sex slaves. The surviving Koreans are not all unknown. The IHT has the resources to assign a reporter to know if the women it interviewed were victims , does it not?

At least 63 Korea survivors were alive in January 2012, and of that number 2 – named  Gil Won-ok and Kim Bok-dong – demonstrate outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul as often as they can to demand recognition for the crimes the Japanese committed against them (see article here). The Korean Times was able to verify those women had been raped, for it stated: “The two were among 63 surviving Korean women who were forced into sexual servitude at frontline Japanese brothels during World War II” (my emphasis). “Who were forced” does not imply the women’s story lacks accuracy. The Korean Times did its job. Why could the IHT not state definitively if the women it interviewed were really victims or not?

Is this just lazy reporting on the IHT’s part of something more sinister? Well, the IHT chose to publish the comments of a Japanese who considers the victims “prostitutes” – a direct quote. The Japanese man in entitled to his opinion, but  it was not qualified. Can the IHT editors really claim this article is objective reporting?

To the question of free speech. Just as the Japanese have decided to hide their war guilt by denying and covering over the facts (which is protected by free speech), Koreans in New York are choosing to highlight the past by taking advantage of free speech to tell the truth by renaming a street sign that acknowledges the suffering of female victims of Japanese aggression. Why would anyone in Japan protest this? The Japanese routinely deny their crimes against all the Asian nations they conquered; it is nothing new.

The Japanese writer claimed Peter Koo, New York City Councilman, was misrepresenting the facts about Japan just to be reelected. Regardless of his or the other council members reasons for wanting a new memorial in New York, it ignores the fact there are Koreans and Chinese (Koo is from Hong Kong, not Korea) who want the truth to be told, and that there are Japanese who are actively trying to stop Americans right to free speech. The IHT article essentially said four officials in the Japanese LDP party tried to  bribe the Koreans into shutting their mouths. They offered “to fund youth programs, donate books on Japanese culture and plant cherry blossom trees in the town, if the [current] monument were removed [from Palisades Park, N.J.]”

These Japanese – and not all Japanese deny the historical facts; there are some brave filmmakers, historians and politicians who do speak the truth – want to remove the current monument and prevent a new one from being installed. If German Holocaust deniers protested Holocaust memorials and demanded German propaganda in its place, how would the IHT report on that? The IHT would no doubt denounce them for what they are. No one is saying the Korean sex slavery was the same as the German crimes, but the point is that it shows how extreme these Japanese are. Why did the IHT not directly call a spade a spade on these Japanese?

And extreme is not sufficiently strong to express the Japanese position. These four officials denied historical fact by saying “there is no proof sex slaves existed” and claimed the monument “portrayed historical inaccuracies.” How is the monument inaccurate? One could be sure those “youth programs” would do absolutely nothing to expose the truth about Japanese war crimes, and might serve as a propaganda tool similar to what is used in Japanese schools to erase the past. A monument to victims of Japanese aggression would become a direct insult to them. Can anyone wonder why the Chinese and Koreans protest the Japanese every time they play games with their “apologies?” This is some mystery the American newspapers might get around to solving one day.

One might remember how often the Japanese demand an apology from the US over the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were unique and terrible atrocities for which US should consider apologising. But it is not a little bit hypocritical to ask for an apology and be, at the same time, unable to give one for the millions of victims of Japan’s wars of aggression in which historians, including Herbert Bix, a Harvard, Pulitzer prize winning historian, put a conservative estimate of the numbers of Chinese murdered (civilians) by the Japanese Imperial Army at between 10 to 13 million.The message is clear: Japan is special and should be treated differently.

The women cited in this article are not liars and have nothing to gain by standing outside and protesting for decades. The Japanese have something to gain, and it has to do with saving face and money. Why do newspapers like IHT not call the Japanese Holocaust deniers out for what they are? Might it be thery are cowards? There is evidence to suggest this is the case, a question which will be considered in part II.

Civis Journal

Daily News article on topic here

Racism in Society

April 28, 2012 2 comments

For those unfamiliar with the racist caricatures of the 19th and 20th centuries, they might be surprised to know that a good many objects on sale in society have links to slavery, minstrel shows and racism – including objects designed for children.

In a series of trips to shopping centres in Japan, we collected samples of memorabilia that had characteristics easily identifiable with earlier racist characters. In this first photograph, we documented a series of key chains. Whilst some look just fine, there are at least two that are questionable. The characters in question are called “sock moneys.” It is worth noting that though there is a possibility it is just a funny looking monkey key chain, they have black eyes, a strange noses and exaggerated red lips. If it were just a “monkey.” perhaps one would leave it at that. But it is the inclusion of physical characteristics that resemble those found in minstrel shows that our attention was drawn. No human being, or monkey for that matter, looks quite like these “sock moneys.”

These faces exhibit the exaggerated lips often found on blackface characters.

Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer," 1927.

Many people might remember “The Jazz Singer,” the 1927 film with synchronised audio. In it Al Jolson appears in blackface with large, exaggerated red lips. There are differences, of course. Jolson is supposed to represent “black people,” and not monkeys. The “Sock monkeys” are supposed to represent “monkeys,” but they look more the intent was mimic minstrel characters. If true, one would have to ask why.

Whatever one’s opinion of these objects, there is no question that they can easily be purchased and used by children as ornaments attached to their school bags. It is currently the fashion for children of all ages to buy character pencil cases, note books, key chains, ornaments to attach to bags, pencils, erasers and more. We did not observe many instances of this, but there were a few. When we interviewed the students who had blackface dolls, they said they did not know what blackface was, and it was apparent that they thought they were just “kawai,” or cute characters.

Though this image does not contain a racist image, it illustrates how common characters are in educational settings. In the classrooms we visited, 9 out of 10 children had some sort of character on his/her person.

That is to be expected. Racism is not dealt with in Japan as it is in many societies, and children – according to our investigations – are often exposed to racial treatment that would be appalling to many in Europe of the United States. But Japan is not Europe, and does not ever confronted the major problems of racism. In one of the schools we visited, for example, the first things the teachers and staff did was to say, “Oh, we have mixed-race children in this school.” Such may seem like an innocent comment, and perhaps it was in this case. But why is race the first thing that came to their minds? Why was it necessary to point out and distinguish “mixed-race” children at all? The information, after all, was not solicited, and it was not clear how it would have been helpful to us in the least.

This is not to say that the school officials were racist. The point is show that race is a problem that needs to be dealt with. It is clear that school officials, students and society in general are exposed to things others would recognise as questionable, but are routine in the situations we observed, which go beyond the excerpts we discussed here. What role does ignorance play?

In racism the answer is quite a lot, actually. Just take the students mentioned earlier. They did not even know they were walking around with images designed to mimic slaves in the 1840s. When we pointed this out to them, their demeanor changed. They made it clear that they had no intention whatsoever of insulting African Americans or blacks in general. Some that we spoke, when informed of the similarities, did not look at those characters they had in the same way again. In short, they wanted to distance themselves from objects related to racism.Would education lead to a greater number of individuals rejecting racist imagery? The evidence suggests this is a possibility. Maybe those students might not purchase a “monkey” to walk around with when there is the possibility it is a reference to black people, something many people would find offensive.

Civis Journal

Blackface openly “eaten” in Sweeden – its face shares racial parallels with Jim Crow

April 25, 2012 Comments off

Blackface, a holdover from 19th century American minstrel shows which was long used to support slavery and discrimination, is currently being used in Sweden to apparently speak against female genital mutilation.

The artist Makode Lind, designer of the blackface cake, said its purpose was to bring attention to female genital mutilation in some parts of Africa. One might understand why one would want to bring attention to this topic, but what seems to pass over the head of the artist and Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, is that the cake used – as it was designed – shares unmistakable characteristics from the American south.

The lips are overblown, large and red, going round the mouth in an exaggerated degree. Then there are the large white buck teeth, large black and white eyes. There is a plethora of literature written about this most popular of entertainment in the Unites States (at least for part of the 19th century). For purposes of illustration, these images will show similarities between the Jim Crow and other minstrel images with the blackface cake.

This minstrel character has the exaggerated lips and white eyes. Anyone familiar with the U.S. history of slavery would instantly recognise blackface for what it is.

This next character is “Jim Crow,” but most people in the United States have been conditioned to think of the racist laws that separated whites and blacks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In reality, Jim Crow is a caricature of an enslaved African American whose purpose was to justify slavery and later on discrimination. Originally developed by Thomas Dartmouth (otherwise known as “Daddy Rice), and shown to audiences in 1828, this character soon became a national hit, with a myriad of variations that sometimes manifested themselves in interesting ways.

It did not stop with Jim, though. It continued with the character “Zip Coon,” a highly racist blackface character that had an interesting tune, not all that unlike the Jim Crow song. The Jim Crow song is in part

Weel about and turn about and do jis so, Eb’ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow.”

This image of Jim Crow shows the exaggerated features and “dance.”

It is apparent that the writer intended to mimic “slave talk,” whatever that may have been. In other words, Africans, dragged from their homes across the ocean, forced to live new lives and bear children who would likewise end their days in chains, were never taught proper English. And with good reason. The slave-owners understood very quickly what could result if slaves communicated: they would rise up and kill those who were oppressing them. This and other reasons served to keep slaves in a state of ignorance. When slaves were in the United States, for example, after a generation or so, they would no longer know the African languages, religions or cultures to the extent of the original Africans. The only way slave-owners could keep them under control, since they were already able to speak English, was to prevent any sort of literacy, proper speech or betterment of the mind etc. – or so the logic went.

Needless to say, it is highly insulting to those Africans and their American born children to dress up and mimic their ancestors. On top of this, the caricatures are not even accurate. No one has lips, eyes or teeth in the manner depicted. Did some slaves say “weel”? It is possible. But if it is true, it was due to crimes of slave-owners during slavery, not innate inferiority. Such mimicking in the 19th century was arguably an attempt to dehumanise the Africans, which was an itself an argument to keep them as slaves.

The Zip Coon caricature is one of the most hideous characters of all the slave times. He was a free African American who was out-of-place, always causing trouble, and never quite able to copy the speech or looks of the whites. He is often shown in his former master’s clothes, which do not fit him properly. Unable to dress or act properly, he is blamed for society’s problems, including the tendency for some to claim blacks destroy society. This obviously is false, but the images persist and are very much a part of people’s lives today, even if they do not realise it.

Anyone who is familiar with racist depiction of blacks in the film  Birth of a Nation would immediately understand that blacks were accused of raping white women, and often suffered the consequences, even though in most cases they were entirely innocent. When it is propaganda, especially racist propaganda, facts are often left out. After all, the goal is not inform, but to indoctrinate. Below is a copy of an image of Zip Coon. Notice his clothes, chain and manner of walking. This character is more or less a buffoon. The message is clear: whites who created and distributed these images were saying blacks were inferior. He was the embodiment of the free slave, and an  argument for keeping blacks in chains.

This racist image presents an image of the free black. It is a form of libel which claimed free blacks were the cause of society’s problems.

At this time it might be educational to contrast these images of Jim Crow and Zip Coon with the images of the Swedish Minister of Culture.

Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth apparently feeds an “African” girl part of her own private parts.

The similarities are clear. What is striking is that a serious problem, female genital mutilation, is turned into a joke and a person dressed up to look like an “African” female is apparently having her own vagina fed to her. It is hard to imagine how one could possibly be more insulting to Africans. Listening to the video with the audible screams (here), one does not know if this is a sick joke or just designed to call Africans “backwards.” While the Swedish minister has apologised and the artist has denied racism was involved, it is not easy to ignore the parallels in the blackface images.

What seems clear is that some people have not learned much from the past. Are there no better way sto bring attention to female genital mutilation than using openly racist images of “African” faces or feeding an African to herself? The use of these images calls into question the sincerity of the people involved in dealing with the mutilation problem in Africa.

Lest anyone think this is not serious, the question arises: How does this art fit in with the European narrative that Africans are cannibals? For all the accusations against Africans, there has surfaced very little evidence to suggest Africans were cooking each other in pots. What does this image sugges?

Civis Journal

Titanic leaves Southampton on April 10, 1912

April 10, 2012 Comments off

The Titanic prepares to leave the port at Southampton in its way to Ireland, April 10, 1912.

100 years ago today, the world’s most famous in modern times left port in Southampton, England, loaded with cargo and passengers.

Titanic would make one final stop at Queenstown, Ireland, before heading out on her maiden voyage with over 2,000 people on board.

Widely spoken about at the time as an “unsinkable” ship, many were eager to get on board and sail on her first voyage. That included some of the world’s most wealthy people. They also happen to be the most well-known of all passengers aboard.

Mr. and Mrs. Isidor-Strauss, part owners of Macy’s, are famous because Mrs. Strauss decided to stay behind with her husband. Neither survived the sinking. Then there was the “unsinkable Molly Brown,” John Jacob Astor IV, among others. Their tickets cost more than the stewards and assistants on board would be able to save in years.

Not all passengers, however, travelled in first class. There were a good number of people in the more modest second class cabins. One such passenger was Eva Hart, a young girl travelling with her family at the time. She and many others were not looking for a luxury cruise; they were searching for a better life. She was well-known in later years for her interviews and the fact that she was one of the oldest survivors, dying in 1996.

Though there were similar stories for third class passengers, they are not spoken about as much.

Titanic leaving Southampton, England before stopping in Ireland. April 10, 1912. AP

Many were Irish immigrants, most of whom are unknown to the public. The role of the Irish in the construction of the ship was pivotal. The ship was built in Belfast alongside the other great sister ships.

In our coverage on this 100th anniversary, we shall look at the demographics of the passengers, and discuss the role class played in the rates of surviving the sinking.

Civis Journal