Viewpoint: A Tale of Two Perspectives

On one side of the world, a long-term historical outlook is keeping one World War ii antagonist in check; on the other side, short-sightedness is letting another rise to power.

After World War ii, the United States and its allies went to great lengths to ensure that their two greatest enemies of that war—having just been defeated—would remain unable to “disturb the peace of the world” again. Those were actually the words of Winston Churchill in a signed document about American-British policy on Germany in 1945.

Nazi Germany was the main force behind the European faction of the Axis powers. In the East was the Asian side of the Axis: Japan. Both Germany and Japan had shared one vital commonality during this war: Both wanted an empire, or a reich, as the Germans called it. What the Germans did to Czechoslovakia and Poland, Japan did to China and the Philippines. The damage each did to its respective neighbors involved the greatest atrocities of mankind to that point: unheard of cruelty to fellow man—from the Jewish Holocaust to the Rape of Nanking and the Bataan Death March.

Hundreds of battles and two atomic bombs later, the Axis powers were defeated—all major German cities in a heap of ruins, and two Japanese cities melted beyond recognition. The Allies wanted to ensure that neither country could inflict such worldwide horror ever again. They quartered Germany into occupation zones and began a rigorous but short-lived campaign to disarm it and root out Nazism for good. In the East, Japan received a new constitution with an important clause stating that it would renounce war and never maintain a military of any kind.

Skipping ahead nearly 60 years, we have a markedly different global situation. As time passed and memories faded, Germany and Japan both became allies to the U.S. Though the U.S. still has a military presence in both nations, it has been drastically diminished over the past decade. Only two years after the war, the Germans were left to denazify themselves (a project they conveniently terminated four years later). Today the U.S. allows the German military full access to several American bases. And since the war, the U.S. has softened the interpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution to imply that self-defense is an appropriate use of the Japanese military.

Obviously, U.S. memory is pitifully short-lived. But this is not a uniquely U.S. phenomenon. The European mindset is similar—this short-term perspective pervades the Western democracies. These nations—once pummeled by the Nazi war machine—are again allowing Germany to rise to dominance.

There is, on the other hand, quite a different mentality in the East. Japan is still relatively unable to rise militarily. Why? Memories of World War ii are still fresh in the minds of Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese and Filipinos who were all ravished by Japan’s fierce power.

Why this difference in thought, even though the same amount of time has passed for Asians as Westerners since World War ii?

Germany has been militarily active in Europe for several years now—since the onset of the Balkan crisis—with encouragement from the U.S. and Britain. But every time Japan’s troops merely warm up for any type of military operation—no matter how minor—or a prominent Japanese official shows the slightest bit of nationalism, outrage erupts in Asia. Three times, Japan’s current prime minister visited a war memorial that honors Japan’s war dead (World War ii’s most savage participants are honored there), and each time, Chinese, Koreans and other East Asians have held massive protests. Diplomatic and political tensions rise—all from a seemingly simple visit. Japan sends logistical support to the U.S. military in the Indian Ocean after the 9/11 attacks, and Asia tenses up. Japan’s officials hint that the nation should consider nuclear power or even mere missile defense, and the region cries out in fear (more so than when North Korea openly admits to having a nuclear program).

The Occident and the Orient certainly have two different mentalities—two different perspectives of history. The Oriental mind tends to think more long-term than the Western mind.

Contrast the amount of time it took most Americans to minimize the impact of the 9/11 attacks to the Asian way of thinking. During President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China, Premier Zhou Enlai was asked his assessment of the 1789 French Revolution. He said, “It is too early to say.”

As a cultural norm, the Oriental mind thinks more long-term—ahead into the future, and back into the past.

Winston Churchill, who believed that history was prophecy, tried to get Britons to have that kind of memory between the two world wars—only a little over 20 years apart—to keep Germany from wreaking havoc on the West another time around.

To have a long-term perspective of the past and the future would do the Anglo-Americans well, because those who don’t remember history are destined to repeat it, as Santayana said.

This becomes especially important when considering the prophetic perspective. The Bible shows that Germany will once more disturb the peace by its classic desire for a reich. Europe, far from being the deterrent that Asia is to Japan, will be at Germany’s side either willingly or by coercion, as in the past, while the Anglo-American nations of the U.S., Britain and others fall victim.

Almighty God, the greatest historian and long-term visionary, foresaw this coming war. He also took into account the fact that the Western mind would allow, and even aid, the Germans—that some nations once opposing Germany would join with it in a powerful political, economic and military union—while others would be betrayed and defeated.

This is not to say that Asia’s firm grip on war memories will keep Japan down forever. Nor is this to say that a clear historical perspective alone would save us from destruction. It would require ridding ourselves of the naïveté, idleness and pride that causes us to forget the lessons of history!

History is teaching us something. And it is showing us exactly what is prophesied to happen. When it’s all said and done—people will look back on the final world war, as they did at the end of World War ii, and wonder, Why didn’t we see it coming?

A more long-term perspective is far from enough. We need God’s perspective. We need the foresight to ask, Why would God allow such destruction to come upon us? How can we be protected from such atrocities? And that is something that no one but God can show us.