Joined: Jun 2008
From: George Town Tasmania Australia
A note on diaries
There are a host of electronic journals online--available on the world-wide-web to enrich the reading of retirees like myself---to say nothing of some of the two to three billion readers who now have internet access. One such journal that I was reading this morning is entitled IDEA. As I was reading the 29 November 1999 issue, Vol.4, No.1, my experiential and memory bank, somewhere in my hippocampus where memories are recorded, reacted to a book review of The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe. I had never heard of John Rabe, but I had heard of the rape of Nanking in my years of studying and teaching modern history in the last half of the 20th century: 1949-1999.
The book was published in my last year of FT teaching, 1998/99, in Western Australia, and the review appeared in the first two months of my retirement years, my years of a sea-change from the world of being jobbed. I was 55.
On 22 September 1937, right at the start of the first teaching plan of the North American Baha’i community, a plan I have now been associated with for nearly 60 years, a John Rabe picked up his pen with the same determination that the Japanese soldiers advancing on Nanking picked up their rifles. He began to record the terrible atrocities and he produced a testament that will confound those cynical about altruism, as well as naysayers who deny the brutality, or even the occurrence, of what came to be known to historians as The Rape of Nanking.
Rabe was a Hamburg businessman posted to the city of Nanking. When Japanese forces advanced on Nanking, he organized a sprawling International Safety Zone, "that eventually saved over 250,000 lives even as an equal number of people reportedly lost theirs". His diary details his activities and what he witnessed during the several weeks of murder, rape and pillage that started in mid-December 1937.
If you are interested you can google more of the details of both this review and this diary of John Rabe’s. I’ve been keeping a diary for more than 25 years and recording a far-different war. It’s a war that the American writer, Henry Miller described as follows back in 1941 in the midst of WW2:
“When the destruction brought about by the Second World War is complete another set of destructions will set in. And it will be far more drastic, far more terrible than the destruction which we are now witnessing in the midst of this global war. The whole planet will be in the throes of revolution. And the fires will rage until the very foundations of the present world crumble.-Henry Miller in The Phoenix and the Ashes, Geoffrey Nash, George Ronald, Oxford, 1984, p.55.
Some of the observations of Carl Von Clausewitz(1780-1831), a Prussian soldier and military theorist who stressed the moral, psychological, and political aspects of war, are found in his most notable work, On War, which was unfinished at his death.
His observations on war can be said to apply in this new ‘far more drastic, far more terrible’ destruction. Some military strategists argue that Clausewitz’s work was the first written effort to systematize the principles of conflict. His essays appeared from 1817 to 1828 and were published in On War(Princeton UP, 1976). He said “everything in strategy is simple but not easy”(p.656) and “there is no higher or simpler law...than keeping one’s forces concentrated.”(p.664). Both principles apply in this new style of war, but I must add the caveat that ‘forces’ are those that operate in the private theatre of one’s inner life. Here, in this inner life: detachment and persistence, virtues and character, determine success in battle, a success which is itself difficult to quantify. -Ron Price, comment on Clausewitz’s On War.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Five Epochs, Updated on 18/11/’12.
Miller continues: “To most men the past is never yesterday, or five minutes ago, but distant, misty epochs and centuries some of which are glorious and others abominable, Each one reconstructs the past according to his temperament and experience. We read history to corroborate our own views, not to learn what scholars think to be true. About the future there is as little agreement as bout the past, I’ve noticed.
We stand in relation to the past very much like the cow in the meadow, endlessly chewing the cud. It is not something finished and done with, as we sometimes fondly imagine, but something alive, constantly changing, and perpetually with us. But the future too is with us perpetually, and alive and constantly changing. The difference between the two, a thoroughly fictive one, incidentally, is that the future we create whereas the past can only be recreated. As for that constantly vanishing point called the present, that fulcrum which melts simultaneously into past and future, only those who deal with the eternal know and live in it, acknowledging it to be all.1 See 1Maria Popova, Henry Miller on Art, War and the Future of Mankind, Brain Pickings, 7 November 2012.
These reflections of mine
with less than two weeks
to go to another Australian
summer, observing some of
that third war Henry Miller
describes above, I can hear
my neighbour watering his
grass and my wife talking on
the telephone downstairs. It
does not look like war from
this vantage point, Henry, but
what one sees around one is a
mask for that destruction you
described back in the midst of
that first global war: 1939-45.
end of document