John Mcreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Mon, 28 Aug 1995 06:51:17 +0900

Rich Spears asks to have messages re history reposted. Glad to oblige.

I've posted two so far. The first read

"Richard Spears writes,

not a People's history and culture be in their own hands?"

Who, pray tell, are the "People"? Shall we say Milosevic (for the Serbs)?

n for the Croats? Chiang Kai-shek or Mao Tse-tung for the Chinese? The

that history has too often been written by outsiders with their own historical
blinkers is just. The idea that insiders have a holy right to say whatever they
like about themselves and insist that other's agree with it is a remnant of
19th century "blood and soil" romanticism: racism sanctified. Does noone read
Boas and Linton any more?

The second reads,

Rick Spears writes,

"The idea that people make history and that they are shaped by their
histories is acceptable to me ."

Me, too. I've just never been fond of confusing "people" (a set of
individuals, each with his or her own memories and point of view)
and "People" (an artificial construct that demands that individuals
subordinate themslves to theofficial dogmas of their tribe).
As I write, there is a vigorous debate going on, both inside and
outside Japan, on whether or not the official history taught in
Japanese schools should ignore the claims of other Asians in
presenting WWII, and present Japan's role as that of a well-meaning
liberator, driven to excess by Western oppressors....The Chinese
and Koreans have, of course, a rather different perspective.
Am I to assume that you would approve the Ministry of Culture line
on the grounds that it is, which it is, the official representative
of the Japanese "People" in this matter?

Allow me to note, in passing, that I have actually r Said, Foucault,
Derrida, Baudrillard, Clifford, Rosaldo, etc.None have succeeded
(or even attempted, on my reading) to overturn Boas demonstration
that race, language and culture are utterly uncorrelated; a
point charmingly illustrated by Linton in "A 100% American."

I observe, too, that "the latest" is far from always being "the best."
What sensible historian would claim that Wordsworth was greater
than Shakespeare, Cicero greater than Socrates, or Banana Yoshimto
greater han Natsume Soseki? "The latest" will soon be yesterday's
news; hardly grounds for serious judgment.


Now a P.S.

I recognize that my view of a "People" as an artificial construct reflects
the mores of my own tribe. I grew up in Virginia, a few miles from
Williamsburg and Yorktown and got a good dose of the Jeffersonian notion
that institutions are made for people and not vice versa--a position plainly
stated in the opening to the Declaration of Independence. By birth I am a
mongrel: Scotch-Irish on my father's side, more German than French on my
mother's. My history is the history of people who left their native places
to pursue a dream of becoming something new in what they called "The New
World." Many of them were I'm sure right bastards--in every sense of the
term. Doesn't mean that their myth is invalid. That conclusion is pure
ad hominem. I think that it's a wonderful thing that people whose voices
have not been heard are writing their own histories. The more voices we hear,
the closer we'll come to a full and accurate picture of what's gone on. It's
no disrespect to listen to those voices with the same careful and critical
attention we give to people writing in our own traditions.

I know far less than I ought to about North American Native Nations. My
hands have been full with China and Japan.So the following remark may be
in considerable error. I am ready to be corrected on the facts. The logic is,
I believe, impeccable.

I mention Jefferson. Do we dismiss his ideas on liberty and the relation of
people to institutions because he was a slave holder?

I could mention Black Elk. do we dismiss the beauty of his visions because the
people to which he belonged were, during some of their history, to other more
settled Indian peoples along the Missouri as the Mongols under Genghiz Khan
were to Chinese behind the Great Wall?

My answer in both cases is "No." Knowing where someone is coming from may help
us to understand what he produces.The value of the product is what it means to
others who come after them. Some will be their children. Some will not. What
a strange and dangerous world it will be if only the children talk to each
other and those who are not are not permitted to listen in and add their own
bits to the conversation.

John McCreery
Yokohama, August 28, 1995