Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Today, or should I say yesterday, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw the special exhibit, The Art of the Samurai. Over 20 years ago I had been to the National Museum in Ueno and seen some of the swords honored as National Treasures but as the Met exhibit made clear there is no place else, not even in Japan, that one can go to and see a collection of this significance. These swords are venerated as religious objects. Some were used in combat. These were violent people. I believe that it was mentioned regarding one blade that Nobunaga was insulted by a server dressed as a priest during a tea ceremony and he killed the man by driving the sword through the table the man was hiding under. And yet despite that capacity for violence the Japanese create and maintain a highly effective and organized government. The two qualities or impulses, the creative and the destructive, are not mutually exclusive. The same men who wielded those blades studied Buddhism and wrote poetry. They were not, and their descendants are not, effete. The same applies for the British and the Americans. The thugs and bullies exist. Sometimes a society manages to control them and sometimes it manages to suppress them and sometimes it falls victim to them. There is no reason that I can think of for the Philippines as a country to be less effective as an expression of the Philippine nation than Britain has been of her nations or America or Japan or Israel has been. The only difference I am aware of is the annual rainfall.