This past Friday evening, the History Channel here showed Pearl Harbor documentaries all evening, as it was the anniversary. Now for U.S.-based readers it would seem hardly noteworthy that the History Channel was showing World War II programming, but here it is actually out of the ordinary. Obviously the Pacific Theater of the war had a massive impact on this region. We’ve heard many stories since we have been here of the hardships that the war inflicted here. Only two of the downtown buildings in Kota Kinabalu survived the war, and many other cities fared no better. We’ve talked to people who have shared the horrors that they suspect their grandparents endured in those years, though their grandparents would never directly speak of such things. The effects of the war were profound in this region.
Given how present the stories of the effects of the war seem to be in our three months here, it is perhaps not too surprising that there is no great appetite for watching documentaries on it. I don’t know, but the Pearl Harbor ones were certainly the first I had noticed being on the History Channel. That is part of why I spent some time watching – to see if there was anything to explain why the documentaries were on here at all. They were U.S. documentaries, so they focused on the reaction in America, and so at first nothing really jumped out. Then I noticed a throw-away line about British forces in Malaya (now western Malaysia) being attacked that same day. That led me to do a bit of quick research and finding that Pearl Harbor was not the first place surprised by an attack that day. The Battle of Kota Bharu, the beginning of the invasion of Malaya and the first major battle of the Pacific War, started about 45 minutes before Japanese planes reached Pearl Harbor. For all of the documentaries I have noticed being on, I can’t say that I’ve ever noticed one about the Malaysian stories of that day – whether because they are not available or because I have not paid attention I cannot say. Certainly the ones being shown this past Friday were all American shows focused on American interests. I would venture to say that outside of the areas directly affected, the stories of suffering are generally forgotten, or at least under-remembered.
In the approach to theology known as Process Theology, a favourite image for God is as the Poet of the World. That is, God takes up all that happens in the world – the good, the bad, the beautiful, the unusual – and brings it together into a poem. I like to this of this image as God, the Rememberer of Stories. God remembers the triumphs of life and the tragedies of evil and all of the other stories produced in this world. The comedies, the tragedies, the ambiguous tales, all of it. There are so many good stories, but as any collector will tell you there is something about the nearly forgotten things that makes finding them a cherished moment. I think that God has a special heart for those stories that have been silenced, like the ones those grandparents would never speak of directly. God holds such stories with great care because they are so precious.