December 13, 2018
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
In the 1970’s, before publishing my novel, Obasan, I worked in the PMO’s correspondence division for your father, who I admired deeply. But no individual, family or country is without flaws and during the struggle for Japanese Canadian redress, your father opposed our community’s efforts by stating that “descendants of dead ancestors” were not deserving of compensation or apology. As you know, we who still live are not dead ancestors. Later, in a startling action he apologized in Japan for Canada’s actions against us, Canadian citizens. This would be tantamount to discussing French Canadian matters in France or apologizing to Jews in Israel for what is described in None is Too Many.
It is often left to future generations to act as correctives for the errors of our forbears and I am proud of the moral high ground that you, the son of our great Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau bring to Canada and the world. I believe that the opportunity exists today to underline once more that we are a country that models the courage of truth and the call of reconciliation, among all our fellow Canadians.
I enclose a statement I made at the press conference on the day MP Jenny Kwan asked for government support to declare December 13 of every year, Nanjing Massacre Commemorative Day. Your response acknowledging the truth of the atrocity and the need for reconciliation appears to be contradicted by Liberal opposition to the motion on that occasion and the following day. I urge you and your Liberal colleagues to join MP Jenny Kwan in taking the first step required by efforts of reconciliation, which is an acknowledgement of truth.
Read Joy Kogawa's comments at a November 28 news conference in Ottawa with Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan:
Friends, I’m honoured to be here and thank you to Jenny Kwan for asking me to speak.
I’ll begin with this. Historical truth matters. It matters particularly intensely in times when history is put on trial by revisionists.
Humanity is one. We are each part of our common lot—our humanity and our lack of humanity. We must know this, must know who we humans are, what we have done and what we are still capable of doing.
Jenny Kwan, from within her responsibility to her community, is bringing us to awareness and to remembering. Where do we stand? If there is one thing history teaches us, it’s that bystanders and perpetrators are on the same side. She is challenging us to join her and to take action. I believe we need to do so for the sake of historical knowledge and for the sake of Canada’s moral stature.
The world hungers and thirsts for moral leadership. Our country, thanks in large part to our literate and educated populace has demonstrated this both within our communities and by leaders in our government. What was particularly memorable for me was the moral leadership shown in Parliament on September 22, 1988. On that day, healing and reconciliation reverberated throughout our country when Canada acknowledged that we had done wrong to Japanese Canadians.
I am deeply proud that the land of my birth had the moral fortitude to admit past injustices. And I am humbled by the support Japanese Canadians received as Asian Canadians stood together as one with us in our struggle and in celebration. That is one reason I am here, as a Japanese Canadian, to support Jenny Kwan and to thank those who stood with Japanese Canadians as we laboured to have our story known.
I long for the land of my parent’s birth to follow Canada’s model in acknowledging its wrongs by a countrywide government decree.
Large-scale atrocities in every part of the globe must be known deeply and thoroughly by the whole world to assist us all in our efforts to prevent them from happening again. The story of Nanking 1937 is just one of the horrors in Asia that remain largely untold. Many many thousands died in Nanking. But according to historians, 20 million people in Asia died at the hands of Japanese imperial forces. An unthinkable catastrophe.
When the time comes that the courageous people in Japan speaking truth to power are finally heard, when the long overdue outpouring of grief arrives across the land, when Japanese children are taught their history in their home country, in that future time the unbearable burden of shameful denial will begin to lift. Truth and reconciliation will join hands. And moral strength and honour will begin to be restored to the country of my parents’ birth.
I long for that day and trust that it will arrive sooner with the help of Jenny Kwan and the government of Canada. Let Nanking Massacre Day be established in our diverse country so that histories from the east will one day be as well-known as histories from the west.
I began with the statement that historical truth matters. I’ll end with the statement that love matters more. Truth without love begets war. It is for love of Japan that I seek the tears of Japan. Love, truth and tears offer a better and more lasting protection than the militarism around the world that threatens us all.