Inside the Capitol

Saturday, July 02, 2005

7-6 China

Syndicated Columnist
BEIJING -- Our trip through World War II battlefields of the Pacific ended in China -- a major site of World War II action that has been nearly lost in history.
History books in our nation's schools ignore Japan's march through China in the 1930s. World War II for the majority of Americans began with Pearl Harbor in 1941, ignoring Japan's actions of previous years. Japanese aggression against China began in 1874. By 1937, it was a full-blown war.
Resource-poor Japan marched all the way through China down to the East Indies to grab the area's oil, rubber and other resources needed to achieve its goal of conquering the world.
China remembers that well. The government recently orchestrated "spontaneous" demonstrations in Tiananmen Square protesting Japan's continued failure, in the most recent edition of school textbooks, to acknowledge its past actions.
What China doesn't remember is that the United States was its ally in that war. We came to China's aid, beginning in the spring of 1942. We flew supplies over "the Hump" from India. We built supply roads from India and provided offensive air support from Gen. Claire Chennault's American Volunteer Group "Flying Tigers."
Chinese tour guides, who work for the government just like everyone else, have a standardized routine, tracing the many imperial dynasties up to the beginning of the 20th century. And we were told of the many advances since Chairman Mao took over in 1949. But the first half of the 20th century is lost in their spiels. And they seemed to have language problems when questioned about it.
The tour guides don't tell of our assistance during the war or of Japan's atrocities. It is understandable not to want to talk about defeats, but our tour guides on a riverboat cruise up the Danube and down the Main and Rhine in Germany, did just that two years ago.
The guides pointed out the sites of famous battles, such as the Bridge at Remagen, and were very candid about answering the question in most American minds about how German citizens could have allowed Hitler's rise.
We saw no battle sites around Beijing, even though the Marco Polo Bridge, just west of town and not far from the Summer Palace and Great Wall, is accepted as the site of the official beginning of the war with Japan, on July 7, 1937.
Obviously two days touring in Beijing is not sufficient to understand the largest country and oldest existing major civilization in the world. But it is enough time to form some impressions.
Beijing is the capital of China and the location of the 2008 summer Olympics. Unlike Athens, the site of the 2004 Olympics, there will be no worry about whether the stadium gets finished on time. The stadium and roads leading to it are being completed at breakneck speed.
Everywhere we went, huge trucks, piled high with cement sacks sped past us. I am told that the worldwide price of cement has been forced up by China's purchases.
But there are other considerations. Slum housing lines the roads. It is unfinished concrete that is blackened as if it is burned out or bombed out. But there are people living there. It isn't good for the country's image and I can't imagine it being cleaned up in time.
Then there are the beggars. They're not like ours in the United States. They are aggressive. They grab you and shout "give me dollars." Government stores won't accept American money, but beggars seem to prefer it.
And then there is the pollution. The air is a dirty brown. With the heat, humidity, and overcast weather, it feels like swimming in muddy water. We flew back to Los Angeles, where the smog looked like crystal clear skies.
The asthmatics in our group had trouble. Can you imagine a marathoner trying to reach the finish line in that filthy air?
WED, 7-6-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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