Wait, before I go on, let’s put this into a little bit of perspective. What I am about to tell you isn’t anything new. In fact, it is something that you have always known, yet maybe never gave much consideration. It is something that I only re-discovered yesterday, but has instilled in me a completely new perspective on my own life.
Ok, that being said, here goes:
As I said, this came to me just yesterday as I became further engrossed in a work of non-fiction describing the terrors and tortures an American bombardier experienced at the hands of the Japanese while a prisoner of war during World War II. To say that the treatment of the American POW’s was horrific is an understatement; the levels of degradation, humiliation and deprivation were enough to make even the hardest of heart squirm in his seat. But it occurred to me that the events as they unfolded, while atrocious to us because of the villainy of the Japanese, would have been celebrated and rewarded had the Japanese prevailed during the War. “The techniques used were necessary to stamp out the evilness of the Americans and it is through these efforts that the American will was defeated, an historic victory for the Emperor!”
As I read and writhe in discomfort at the torment and anguish of the POWs, my thoughts travel to the other side of the battlefield and the Allied forces, whether in the Pacific or in Europe. Am I to understand that treatment of POWs by the Allies was not similarly despicable and inhumane? You don’t hear a lot about that, do you? We know all about Auschwitz, Andersonville, the Hanoi Hilton, and Siberia, but does that mean that the Americans didn’t have similar places with similar goals of torture and terror?
I don’t mean to be cynical; in fact, I feel that my position in this is more from the perspective of an historian. But are we really supposed to believe that the Americans have always followed the rules of the Geneva Convention and have treated prisoners with respect and honor?
But since the Americans, the good guys, won the way, our history books are filled with examples of the villainy of the bad guys. How else to substantiate and validate the thousands of lives lost in defeating such evil? And when you do hear about the heinous nature of tactics used against American enemies, the torturing souls are outcast and castigated as rogues, as exceptions to the rule. Or they are downplayed, with the suggestion being that the actions need to be examined based on the circumstances of the time. No one anywhere would attempt to compare the American conquest of the Native Americans to the Armenian Genocide, right? At the time of the Native American conquest, America was an unexplored and undiscovered country and the Native Americans were uncivilized savages. What the Americans did wasn’t good, but can you blame them? They used the only tactics they knew…
Maybe I am being cynical. Maybe I really do want to believe that as Americans, or as the good guys, or simply as the victors, that we played fair and let our actions on the battlefield speak for itself. That we didn’t have to resort to terror, persecution, and mistreatment; that we didn’t have to sink to the levels of our enemies in order to prevail.
I said that this all had a personal impact on me and I wasn’t being haughty. We all know that you can’t win them all. You can’t win every lawsuit; you can’t get every client; you can’t sell every house at the price you want; you can’t always get it right. So on those occasions in which you don’t prevail, that you don’t get the client, that you don’t make the best deal possible, how do you want to be remembered? Keep in mind, that when that happens, you won’t be the one writing the history of it, the other guy will. What’s he going to say about you? What’s she going to say about how you played the game?
“It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” In some respect, I disagree. For us to be successful in our professional lives, it really is whether you win or lose. That could be the difference between providing for your family and having to scrape to get by. But understanding that you won’t always win… how will you want your actions to be perceived? Will you want to be regarded as an adequate foe who shot straight and just didn’t get the job done at the end, but not for a lack of trying and hard-work? Or will you want to be remembered as the one who played dirty, employed nasty tactics, and still lost the battle?
The villainy of the loser is made more prominent as a further justification for the efforts needed to quell the enemy. I am not so naive as to think that Americans, or any victors in general, always played by the rules. I know that war is hell, campaigns are hell, battle is hell. And I know that much of life is winner-take-all… But does winner-take-all also mean that winner take dramatic license in reporting history?
How do you want to be remembered?