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Writing about WW2

I've been working on a story based on a request by Loveless Raine. She asked for a SD senru fic based in the WW2 era. The topic really got me thinking.

Firstly, I was a little reluctant. I feel, quite strongly, that that period of history was a tragedy beyond reckoning. Millions of innocent people died, millions of heros gave up their lives for freedom. It's not fantasy or empty rhetoric or exaggeration. It's real. It happened. I can barely get my head around it.

I was concerned, I suppose, that to write a story about it was to make it "unreal". I would be tampering with a past that should never be forgotten, and should be treated with utmost respect. Worse, it would be a "fic"! Fanfiction is a primarily frivalous pasttime. We take our characters (who are ultimately cheerful boys created to run freely chasing a basketball in the Kanagawa sunshine) and thrust them into alternative situations. I almost felt it was insulting to the memories of WW2 victims to combine the two.

So I thought about it some more.

One of my favourite books of all time is Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes. It is a work of fiction set in France during WW1. I remember the experience of reading it. The book helped me really understand something of the horrors of the Battle of the Somme. But I read it all in a sort of supefied astonishment, with my emotions 'safe' behind the wall of 'fiction'. However terrible it was, the blood and the battles and the horrors, it was a story that I could close, put down, and do something else for a while. It remained distant, unreal. It was only at the end, where connections began to be drawn between the 'story' of the book and the 'reality' of our present, that I could only continue reading in tears. Suddenly it wasn't fiction. It was the experience of millions of brave people - some of whom still live in our communities today. It was a dawn of comprehension that I will never forget.

For my own story I began to feel that if I could manage to focus on the characters, and brush up against the terrible reality of the past in a way that would make it both respected and accessible, then perhaps it could be justified. Surely, touching our reality and our perception of it is the whole point of story writing/reading - even the most fantastical kind.

But I have never read a 'fanfiction' based in wartime that I liked (and I have read a few). Too often the writers lean on the historical context to provide drama and feeling - relying on the reader's prior knowledge of events to amplify the character's situations. I feel quite strongly that it ought to be the other way around. That the characters come first, and through their tales the story may begin to shine light on the realities. I have done my upmost to keep that in mind while writing.

With some of my misgivings thus laid aside, I was ready to start thinking and researching.

Being born and brought up in the UK, my knowledge of the world wars has always been what happened in the European theatre (even though my Grandfather was actually fought in British Burma against the Japanese! I put my limited knowledge down to my inferior schooling!) Apart from the famous Pearl Harbour, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I actually know very little of what was happening in Asia.

I have now lived in Hong Kong for many years and have noticed that anti-Japanese sentiment remains very strong among some individuals. I have heard statments from several of my (mostly middle-aged) collegues along the lines of "I don't like the Japanese", "my husband hates the Japanese" and "I would never go to Japan." But I never really understood where this vitirol was coming from.

So I decided I would take this opportunity to find out. I read widely about Japanese occupation and war crimes, specifically in the Canton/Hong Kong region. The attrocities I read seemed light years away from my personal experiences with Japanese people (who are overwhemlingly polite and kind). I knew I was reading history as painted all with one brush. I knew that reality was far more complex than simple accounts of the past often led you to believe. It was impossible that all Japanese people would condone that things that happened in China. So I realised right then what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about the Japanese objectors to the war. The people who stood up and said "no, this isn't right." It didn't even occur to me to ask whether such people existed. I *knew* they did.

That's how I found out about the Soka Gakkai Buddhists, and Makiguchi Tsunesaburo who would ultimately die in prison for his refusal to support the war.

I also wanted to show the plight of a Japanese soldier who faced the terrible attrocities head on. I wanted to show the conflict between the desire to do his job (as a soldier) and his sympathetic consciousness (as a human) when faced with such terrible sights.

Thus, the story came into being.

The historical context is as true as I could make it. The occupation of Canton, Major General Sato and his research, Unit 6804, Rakan-ji, the fire at the temple, and of course Makiguchi Tsunesaburo are all real. They all existed. The only part, apart from the other characters of course, where I have written imaginatively is Makiguchi's arrest and his presence at Rakan-Ji during that time. (Note: Rakan-Ji burnt down in 1943, though it was unrelated to the war).

If you are interested in reading the story I am in the process of uploading it to fanfiction.net. I hope you enjoy it :)


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Sep. 28th, 2014 02:59 am (UTC)
just a comment from a fan-loveless.raine
I remembered mother because of this post. I loved everything Japan ever since I was young and she would say; 'Do you know what those Japanese did to your grandmother? They almost raped her after killing her first husband!' Or 'your grandmother saw how those Japanese soldiers killed even innocent babies.' I also tried researching about the war to try and point out to my mom that not all Japanese are barbarians as she claims. But during that time my research materials are limited and so I was not able to prove my case. (I mostly focused on Japanese invasion of the Philippines). Your story and all these information you have here made me want to research on WW2 again. These time on a broader scope. I want to thank you not only for the fic but also for helping rekindle my interest on the era :)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )