By Kevin A. Stoda , in semi-exile in East Asia
This is the 3rd part of an article, which compares and contrasts Western and Eastern "learned helplessness" under the phrase (pronounced with a shrug of surrender) "Shoganai", which in Japanese literal means: "It can't be helped." This part focuses more on the aftermath of WWII in Germany and Europe. It was an era when the American ideal of pursuing happiness was combined with new global responsibilities aimed towards building greater and better post-WWII societies.
The German and Japanese sort of "it-can't-be-helped" spirit and attitude, called "Shoganai' (in Japanese) was historically considered fairly anti-American.
America was seen as the land of possibilities and if one worked hard enough--or so the legend went--one could obtain one's place under the sun. In other words, you could realize your American Dream! ("Yes, you can!" we were told encouragingly.) These optimistic ideas were embedded in us and our fore bares starting in the late 18th and ethe 19th centuries. Moreover, rail agents and other Americans marketed the USA as the Land of Unlimited Opportunities (the USA). That is, America was marketed in Europe and East Asia as the place where restrictions and traditions of the old continents (and their ethnic or familial) strife were to be left behind.
AMERICAN DREAMS & LAND OF POSSIBILITIES
"The term [American Dream] was first used by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America which was written in 1931." In it Adams stated: "The American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.'"
This image of America was relatively long lasting. When I worked in Germany in the 1980s, the USA was still called, "Das Land der unbegrenzten Moeglichkeiten"--The Country of Unlimited Possibilities. That was the American self-image that people of my generation still had nailed into our brains--even though we had lessened our chances by slowly giving up on many of our forefather's dreams of building a Great Society by the end of the early to mid-1970s.
Officially, in our homes, in our governments, and even in the military, we had higher expectations of ourselves and others than many in other lands around the globe. This is why at the end of WWII, our politicians and our military personnel in Europe sought to build a New World order, whereby government leaders and military personnel were to be held responsible for what they chose to do--"I didn't know."
Or "I was just following orders."
Or "It couldn't be helped." were expected to be phrases of the past--to be considered fascist and dishonorable, too.
First, we established the Nuremburg Tribunal with our Allies and carried out trials before the world court of public opinions for over three years. At that time, American leadership worked with our Allies to set down key principles concerning (1) all of our life choices and (2) our related responsibilities before the UN and towards the other citizens of the World:
Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment.