I must nom­in­ate Hotel Rwanda as my Movie of the Year. I know that it was offi­cially released last year, but it only came to Aus­tralia this year. I rank it right up there with two of my oth­er favour­ite movies, The Killing Fields and Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fire­flies).

These movies deal with incred­ibly dis­turb­ing sub­ject mat­ter: the effects of war on a civil­ian pop­u­la­tion. Each movie took its own approach to the top­ic, but they all mas­ter­fully cap­tured the des­pair and suf­fer­ing that people go through. What I also like about these films is that they have dealt with incid­ents which were either ignored or for­got­ten by people in oth­er coun­tries. Hotel Rwanda cov­ers the Rwandan gen­o­cide of 1994, The Killing Fields is set in the Khmer Rouge dom­in­ated Cam­bod­ia of the 1970s, and Grave of the Fire­flies is about Japan dur­ing World War II. 

Hotel Rwanda and The Killing Fields both deal with civil war. Who cares about that? After all, it’s not in my back­yard. Most of the coun­tries in Africa are in some sort of war, yet the West cur­rently seems more con­cerned with Pope John Paul II’s funer­al or Prince Charles’s wed­ding. In the case of Cam­bod­ia, Viet­nam (with dip­lo­mat­ic sup­port from the USSR) turned out to be the Good Guys (fun­nily enough), invad­ing the coun­try and depos­ing the Khmer Rouge with pop­u­lar sup­port (des­pite their mis­giv­ings about the Viet­namese). The USA, Thai­l­and and China act­ively worked to sup­port the Khmer Rouge. Did we hear about any of this on tele­vi­sion? Is it in any school his­tory books? Nope, it’s as (self) cen­sored as the Japan­ese occu­pa­tion of Korea is in Japan. 

The Rwandan gen­o­cide was yet anoth­er shame­ful event in world his­tory. The United Nations and eco­nom­ic­ally developed coun­tries had the power to inter­vene and halt the blood­shed, yet they didn’t. The US had been in Somalia only a couple of years pri­or, but I guess Rwanda wasn’t import­ant since it it didn’t lie on any major ship­ping lanes. The UN itself, France and oth­er coun­tries also deserve much of the blame. 

Grave of the Fire­flies is some­what dif­fer­ent, yet the same. Firstly, it is anim­ated. This is no children’s movie, how­ever, even if the two prot­ag­on­ists are chil­dren. I don’t think more impact could have been achieved if it were a live action film. Grave of the Fire­flies cov­ers yet anoth­er ignored event in world his­tory: the effects of World War II on the Japan­ese pop­u­la­tion. It is nat­ur­al to ignore the aggressors (or even applaud their suf­fer­ing), par­tic­u­larly ones as bru­tal as the Japan­ese in WWII, but it is import­ant to remem­ber that they are just as human as every­one else. Many Ger­mans con­sider the Allied fire­bomb­ing of Dresden as a war crime, but did you know that the fire­bomb­ing of Tokyo caused more dam­age and loss of life than the atom­ic bombs on Hiroshi­ma and Naga­saki (which BTW were dropped on non-indus­tri­al res­id­en­tial areas)? I won’t get into the debate over wheth­er such attacks were truly neces­sary (it was a war, after all), but we shouldn’t for­get the human suf­fer­ing which took place as a res­ult, regard­less of whom it is. 

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