By Kevin A. Stoda, in semi-exile in East Asia
This is the 3rd part of an article, which compares and contrasts Western and Eastern “learned helplessness” under the phrase (pronounced with a shrug of surrender) “Shoganai”, which in Japanese literal means: “It can’t be helped.” This part focuses more on the aftermath of WWII in Germany and Europe. It was an era when the American ideal of pursuing happiness was combined with new global responsibilities aimed towards building greater and better post-WWII societies.
The German and Japanese sort of “it-can’t-be-helped” spirit and attitude, called “Shoganai’ (in Japanese) was historically considered fairly anti-American.
America was seen as the land of possibilities and if one worked hard enough—or so the legend went—one could obtain one’s place under the sun. In other words, you could realize your American Dream! (“Yes, you can!” we were told encouragingly.) These optimistic ideas were embedded in us and our fore bares starting in the late 18th and ethe 19th centuries. Moreover, rail agents and other Americans marketed the USA as the Land of Unlimited Opportunities (the USA). That is, America was marketed in Europe and East Asia as the place where restrictions and traditions of the old continents (and their ethnic or familial) strife were to be left behind.
AMERICAN DREAMS & LAND OF POSSIBILITIES
“The term [American Dream] was first used by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America which was written in 1931.” In it Adams stated: “The American Dream is ‘that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.’”
This image of America was relatively long lasting. When I worked in Germany in the 1980s, the USA was still called, “Das Land der unbegrenzten Moeglichkeiten”—The Country of Unlimited Possibilities. That was the American self-image that people of my generation still had nailed into our brains—even though we had lessened our chances by slowly giving up on many of our forefather’s dreams of building a Great Society by the end of the early to mid-1970s.
I should note as well that the American “We Can Do” attitude was world famous long before Barack Obama campaigned with the phrase “Yes, We Can.”
Officially, in our homes, in our governments, and even in the military, we had higher expectations of ourselves and others than many in other lands around the globe. This is why at the end of WWII, our politicians and our military personnel in Europe sought to build a New World order, whereby government leaders and military personnel were to be held responsible for what they chose to do—“I didn’t know.”
Or “I was just following orders.”
Or “It couldn’t be helped.” were expected to be phrases of the past—to be considered fascist and dishonorable, too.
First, we established the Nuremburg Tribunal with our Allies and carried out trials before the world court of public opinions for over three years. At that time, American leadership worked with our Allies to set down key principles concerning (1) all of our life choices and (2) our related responsibilities before the UN and towards the other citizens of the World:
Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment.
The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.
The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.
The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.
Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.
The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under; international law:
a. Crimes against peace:
i. Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;
ii. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).
b. War crimes:
Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill treatment of prisoners of war, of persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.
c. Crimes against humanity:
Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.
Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principles VI is a crime under international law.
Next, we and our Allies pushed for and created “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Finally, we promoted the application of the Geneva Convention in handling soldiers, prisoners, non-combatants, and U-Name-it!
“The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are at the core of international humanitarian law, the body of international law that regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects. They specifically protect people who are not taking part in the hostilities (civilians, health workers and aid workers) and those who are no longer participating in the hostilities, such as wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers and prisoners of war. The Conventions and their Protocols call for measures to be taken to prevent or put an end to all breaches. They contain stringent rules to deal with what are known as ‘grave breaches’. Those responsible for grave breaches must be sought, tried or extradited, whatever nationality they may hold.”
If these Geneva Convention rules were applied in America’s war on terror in 2011, we could say that America still has a We-Can-Do attitude. However, we don’t apply such principles—we (through our inability to control leaders) are forfeiting our can-do tradtion. Something has been lost since the 1940s and 1950s.
First, we told Germans and their allies at that time: “No, excuses. “ You always have choices you can make! You have responsibilities.
If such rules and practices were followed in the USA and elsewhere certainly Great Societies could be peaceful nations that they are supposed to be in the Atomic age, i.e. when wars have become deadlier and more potentially deadly than ever. Only such peaceful-oriented nations can enable their citizens to reach their dreams—such as to pursue happiness, as called for in our Declaration of Independence.
THE CAN-DO POST-WWII WORLD
The key, America, is that one cannot fall back on the excuses, like “It couldn’t be helped.”
Or “I didn’t break any of my own country’s official laws and practices when I butchered , experimented on or tortured others. Admittedly, in war, atrocities are made but each individual is to be held accountable for doing the right thing, too. American military code has even said so—at the latest since the aftermath of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
Moreover, each citizen and each official is (before the world community and as a peaceful citizen) to show responsibility to the nation to stop our own nation(s) from butchering, experimenting on or tortured others. State officials were called on to be whistleblowers.
Soldiers universally have been told to follow the Geneva convention—not only their commanders orders. Likewise, clandestine government agencies were also finally officially placed under the oversight of two branches of governments (following the Church Committees recommendations ) in the 1970s.
FATEFUL TURN OF ELECTIONS OF 1980
However, with the election of an ex-CIA chief. George Herbert Walker Bush, as the Vice-President of the USA in 1980s, oversight of the military and the security agencies began to go into decline once again.
Moreover, President Ronald Reagan (also elected in 1980) decided to ignore the international courts, especially, in the case of illegally mining the harbors of the coast of Nicaragua in the early 1980s.
Since that time, most USA officials have no longer felt accountable to international law—and too many lawyers, justices, and soldiers advising the president and congress have also scorned the responsibilities and principles outlined in the Nuremburg Tribunal, the Geneva Convention, and the Declaration of Human Rights. (All of these rights and principles were intended to promote the common good and enable individuals to pursue whatever their ideas of happiness are.)
In short, the Malaise that Americans in the 21st Century face is that they now live in a society which no longer actively and spiritually takes seriously the Founding Father’s calls to pursue happiness. Such pursuit of happiness came with responsibilities –even in the 18th century. This is why Jefferson helped kick John Adams out of Office in 1800, i.e. because of John Adam’s support for the evil Alien and Sedition Acts.
Meanwhile, the large standing USA army and the world’s largest clandestine network of agencies has led many average (non-politician/ non-government employed) Americans to either throw away or to give up on the principles outlined in the Nuremburg Tribunal, the Geneva Convention, and the Declaration of Human Rights.
In short, a nation full of irresponsible people are walking around shrugging their shoulders—and mumbling “it can’t be helped”. This is just like the Japanese–or the Germans of decades ago who followed Hitler and the Kaisar to war.
These helpless ones (they see themselves as victims of the system) simply accept and use phrases like “collateral damage”, “acceptable levels of collateral damage” and other nonsense that means basically:
(1) We can’t help it if we have to torture someone
(2) We can’t help it if we have to send people without criminal charges to Guantanamo Prison or other prisons indefinitely.
(3) We can’t help it if the terrorists force us into this corner.
(4) We can’t help cutting assistance to the poor and the aging because big money and big business really run the U.S.A.
(5) We can’t help it. The system is broken and someone else will have to fix it. We can’t.
This is what American officials—whether in government, the CIA/NSA, or in the DOD—all too often tell us.
It is what Vice President Cheney told us. It is what President George W. Bush told us.
It is what Clinton said when he negotiated large welfare cuts. It is what Obama is saying when he continues following George W. Bush and his same military officials into quagmire after quagmire.
It is what the Homeland Security is saying, “We can’t help it.” Or “It just can’t be helped.”
WAKE UP FROM THE LONG NIGHTMARE AMERICA!
We need to grab the bull by the horns, Americans—and stop putting off or sloughing off our opportunities to make right choices and to build a great society—not leaving our American Dreams to Wall Street, the Koch Brothers, and Too-Big-To-Fail Corporate nonsense.
We need to quit once and for all this dominating tendency of “shrugging our shoulders” and saying. “It can’t be helped.”
We didn’t accept such excuses or such a way of thinking concerning either the 1930s-1940s Germans or the 1930s-1940s Japanese. We held many of these irresponsible world citizens responsible and also cut up many of the fascist economic combines and oligopolies that helped run those countries. (We need to be prepared to do this same trust-busting again in America, now.)
Stop with this foreign “shoganai” (or “It can’t be helped”) attitude and become a land of possibilities and a Great Society—again(i.e. —if we ever were one?).
Many peoples around the world are watching and praying that America and Americans get their dreams and their sense of responsibility for their destinies back—and the sooner the better!