Thursday, October 09, 2003
Just wanted to let you know that you can feel free to e-mail me to comment on any of my posts or essays. In fact I hope you do. That way I would get an influx of ideas on what to improve upon, as well as constructive critisism, which is always a good thing. Unless you specify against doing so, I may post part or all of your e-mail on the blog.
This essay is one I just completed for my International Relations 160 class. We watched the movie Rashomon. It is a Japanese film made around 1950 that deals with a crime and the different remembrances of it by the participants and witnesses. I would say it is similar to 12 Angry Men, although I have not seen that movie recently enough to make detailed comparisons. Overall, it is a good movie and I recommend that you watch it both for its entertainment value as well as its thought provoking material. Anyway, here is the essay:
“Dead men tell no lies.” Unfortunately, priests do not always tell the truth. In the movie Rashomon, a dead man tells a lie, along with the three surviving members of the incident in question. These four participants all dispute the facts of the incident, but one thing seems to be the truth: a bandit happened across a man and his wife, the wife had sexual intercourse with the bandit, and the husband ended up dead. How exactly these events were brought to pass, however, can not be determined, as the four each have differing accounts of what happened. The bandit claims the wife willingly had sex with him and then begged him to kill her husband, which he did in an honorable duel. The wife asserts that she was raped by the bandit, and when she got no sympathy from her husband, she flew into a rage and fainted; when she awoke, her husband was dead, most likely by her hand. The husband believes his wife had been asked by the bandit to marry him and she said yes on the condition that the bandit kills her husband. The bandit is shocked, and asks the husband what he should do with his wife. She then runs away, the bandit follows her, and the husband kills himself out of grief. The witness claims that the wife was raped and then she convinced the two men to fight over her. Despite being terrified of each other, the bandit manages to get the upper hand and kill the husband.
In all of these versions, some details are agreed upon, but critical details such as who did what have become jumbled. So what did happen? There are three possibilities. The first is that there is a true version of events, but all the participants purposefully lie. The second is that there is a true version of events, but all the participants disagree because of their biases towards the fight. The third possibility is that there is no true version, so everybody should be telling a different story.
The third possibility can be immediately discounted. If there had been video cameras in twelfth century Japan, and they had been placed around the forest where the incident took place, they all would have told the same story. However, it is harder to discount one possibility from the remaining two. It is most likely some combination of the two, where some of the participants purposefully lie to make their case look better and others simply subjectively perceive the objective truth. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell the difference between purposeful deception and accidental self-deception, at least not in this case. For example, it could be that the bandit raped the wife and, because of his twisted mind, thought she was going along with it. Or it could be that the wife really did not like her husband and the sex was consensual. One story does not seem more likely than the other, especially when all four versions are compared.
Despite the fictional nature of this movie, its subject of opposing testimonies is mirrored in some real world instances. One of these instances involves what happened at No Gun Ri during the Korean War. One version of history has soldiers being ordered to fire on a large group of civilians. The other version of the incident claims that civilians were killed, but no order came down the chain of command to do authorize the massacre. Both sides of the story have multiple witnesses backing up the claims, and since the documentation of the war is for the most part unreliable, there is no way to know what really happened even though something clearly did happen.
Another such incident occurred during the Vietnam War. A Navy SEAL team, led by future Sen. Bob Kerry, was sent to attack a Viet Cong meeting. However, when they got to the town where the meeting was supposed to take place, they found nothing. This is when the accounts break apart. Kerry claims they started taking fire, so they fired back while they retreated, killing numerous civilians in the process. Six of his fellow team members back up this story. However, one other team member, as well as some witnesses to the event, dispute Kerry’s claims. They say the SEAL team gathered a group of women and children together and mowed them down with their machine guns. Is it the traumatic experiences of that night that are causing the stories to diverge? Is Kerry’s story a lie given to save his reputation? Is the other SEAL commando just trying to get some publicity or has memory of the occurrence been altered by his feelings of guilt after killing the civilians? The truth of the matter may never be discovered.
Rashomon and these two incidents illustrate how easily a situation can become ripe for dispute. Due to the many actors on the world stage, and the many contacts between them, the implications of different versions of the truth play a major role in international relations. The Palestinian-Israeli crisis is a good example of what effect such disputes can have. The Palestinians view Israel as oppressors who took away their homes and land. The Israelis view their control of the land as rightful due to their history in the region. The U.S. sympathizes with both sides, but views the terrorism used by the Palestinians as the more immediate issue. Each side has some part of the truth they are fighting for, but they are selective in their choice of it.
Another example of how two different accounts of an incident can figure on the world stage is the differing views on Christopher Columbus. In the parts of America heavily populated by European-Americans, Columbus is seen as a hero: an explorer who discovered the New World. In the parts of America with a significant native population, however, Columbus is thought of as an imperialist invader who brought with him the seeds of death, destruction, and slavery. The same man inspires such different reactions based on how the different groups perceive him.
History is full of examples of differences in perception creating conflict in international relations. From the China and Taiwan dispute, to the India and Pakistan situation, to the recent war in Iraq, differences in perception have been a negative force towards stable relations between nations. Although it is a fictional work, Rashomon serves as an outline for how one incident can be perceived differently by many different people. The truth is out there, but the means to obtain it may not be.
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Yes I know I don't have any way for you to contact me. I will be working on that also.