America’s Dark Side(s)

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Japanese people have ideas about America, but mostly these come from TV and movies; which I don’t consider the best sources of information. Inevitably, I meet people who are curious to know more; although, there are a number who just want me to listen to what they heard about America, and not express any contradictory view.

A few months back, some discussion came up about the KKK. My friend was shocked that they still exist today. We discussed a lot of background including cases where the federal government stepped in and tried murderers for violating their victims’ civil rights. Explaining that the federal government can’t try a murder case was a good test of my language skills.

In the end he said something about America’s dark side. Certainly the history is dark, and it is unfortunate that people with such feelings still want to gather as an organization; however, it is also a positive point of America that we have separated (hopefully) their influence from the legal system, but otherwise allow them to exist.

Recently, I have been teaching new classes a little bit about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. I consider it a bright point in American history, but it highlights a very dark side. They were able to travel across a great expanse of uncharted territory, overcome natural obstacles, and develop good relationships with the tribes they encountered. Even though some of the more war-like tribes had tense encounters with the Corps, they always ended on a positive note. Most of them sending gifts and communications to the President.

Inevitably, people want to know more and when they ask, it is hard to avoid the fact that our government made repeated agreements with various tribes and violated those agreements. Wars resulting from the violations left about 99 percent of the natives dead.

What a waste of a good beginning. I believe that a lot of the broken agreements came down to cultural misunderstandings: multiple parties agreeing to something even though they didn’t have the same understanding about the agreement. Many times we misunderstand Japanese culture. I think the first step in understanding a culture is to learn the language, because it is a product of the culture.

If you have the time, study a language – preferably one from a very different culture. More cultural understanding usually serves to reduce conflict.

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