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A veiled call to arms

In both mainland China and Hong Kong, September 3 has been designated as a public holiday to mark 70 years since Japan put down its arms and China claimed victory over its forces.

In gazetting the holiday, Beijing announced that it would allow people to participate in activities marking China’s conquest over Japan in what is officially known as the 70th Anniversary of Victories in the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Against Fascism.

It was also announced that for the first time, the end of the war would be marked with a military parade, which, judging by the elaborate preparations, is to be of giant proportions.

Celebrating the end of a war can be a touchy issue, because the basic value being highlighted is the cessation of senseless violence and an ushering in of an anticipated era of peace.

It signifies a shift in people’s consciousness from military dominance to a society in which civilian authority is paramount.

In marking a wartime anniversary, it is appropriate to acknowledge the many acts of extraordinary daring and valour, both in protecting others as well as in rebuffing the enemy, but it is difficult to do this without glorifying the violence that in an insidious way nurtured the heroism.

However, it is equally important to remember the other side of the coin and pay attention to atrocities that were committed, not just by the vanquished, who usually do not get the privilege of hiding the history, but by the victors as well.

A bit of healthy introspection is of great value.

But marking the day with a military parade would seem to carry a contrary message. Rather than a display of commitment to peace, it manifests the might of the war machine—irrespective of official promises, often hollow—never to be used in anger.

At a time of growing international political tensions around Asia, when a significant number of countries are increasing their military budgets in big chunks and preparing to face diplomatically unnamed enemies, the celebration in Beijing looks more like a threatening, wagging finger than an invitation to friendship-building relationships.

China today has its own internal worries, as terrorist activity has disrupted several areas, mostly inhabited by minority peoples, who claim discriminatory policies have been enacted against them.

Peace studies tell us that in such circumstances war is a 10 times more likely scenario than the creation of a harmonious and cooperative atmosphere.

There are other ways of addressing these tensions, but the alternatives of dialogue, mediation and conflict resolution find it difficult to find traction in a land where trust has been traditionally placed in the glittery dominance of chariots.

A demonstration of the strength of civilian dominated institutions that work within the country to promote harmony among people and build a trusting, cooperative society that can embrace the aspirations of peace, may well be a far more appropriate way to celebrate 70 years since a war ended than a veiled call to arms.


It should also be remembered that extraordinary human valour is displayed in peacetime as well, and these heroics can be a more compelling call to harmony than the valour of wartime. JiM