March 11th 2004, when i first heard the Madrid bombing on radio, i thought of Hemingway, and how he portrayed Spaniards with their “gusto”, their love for bull fight, their passionate Flamingo music and dance. So I thought, al qaeda has miscalculated; Spain is not a nation that could be beaten into submission. They might have solidified Spain’s support for war. As Spain’s election story unfolded. I realized how wrong I was. One shouldn’t pretend to know a nation based on some foreigner (a suicidal American drunk at that!)’s novels. Or, maybe Hemingway wasn’t meant to be read this way, maybe Hemingway lied. I thought of a BBC reporter’s words during the days immediately following 911, he said something like, the US is a young nation, whose courage and strength are to be admired, especially for the well-beaten Europe. He said if this tragedy had happened in Europe, the reaction would’ve been markedly less courageous. It was not meant to belittle Europeans. Europe had seen two world wars torn it apart, while the US is young and inexperienced in the matter and cruelty of war. It is analogous to the difference between an old man and a young lad. It is “what you didn’t know won’t harm you” kind of thing.
Soon after, I heard the Japanese hostage situation and Japanese government’s stubborn stands on its no-negotiation policy. I was again surprised, this time, by their toughness and almost “cold-blood” tone. Naturally, I thought of Samurai, and kamikaze pilots.
At first there were reports that al qaeda’s announcement of a “truce” in Spain, claiming they were happy with Spain’s withdraw announcement and will cease harassing Spanish mainland. And the Japanese hostages were left to die, or so it seemed.
Then there were more bombing attempts appeared in Spain, and more harsh announcement from their new “al qaeda” boss showing their displeasure at the slowness of the withdraw. And the Japanese hostages were released and unharmed.
Then come this interesting report (For Japanese Hostages, Release Only Adds to Stress, by NORIMITSU ONISHI, NYT 4/22/2004 )on how the freed Japanese hostages were treated badly in their homeland because they were now considered a national disgrace, because they caused too much trouble for the country and for everyone else. I don’t know what will happen to Spain’s new leader and whether the violence will stop once their solider left Iraqis soil.
But I do find this contrast interesting. Spain and Japan are probably one of the most polarized culture pairs we could find on earth. One west, one east, one had fallen under quasi-communist rule, and one had been the loyal follower of their military empire dream. In the face of terror, did their governments’ reactions represent their culture belief? Even though I didn’t believe in the Iraq war effort myself, but part of me was disappointed that Spain caved in, it somewhat tinted my image of the country. It seemed to be a matter of principle and it seemed Spain had chosen a cowardice way out. On the other hand, Japan’s tough stand didn’t win my admiration either, because their cold-heartedness toward their own citizen’s suffering. Could there be a third, better way? Can a government be strong, true to its principle and remain humane at the same time? That reminded me of Israeli’s miraculous hostage rescue operation in 1976 at Entebbe airport in Uganda.
At the end of day, I guess I just crave for heroic acts and superman abilities from the “good guys.”
Even that kind of shiny military records couldn’t save Israel from sinking into today’s Middle-east messy and bloody situation. Then there is really no reason to blame Spain or Japan to do what they think it is the best course of action, based on their own believes, or is there?