David Eng Addresses Reparations in the Post-War Pacific

David Eng, professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, visited Williams on Wednesday, April 4th, to discuss the political and psychological aspects of reparations in post-World War II America and Japan.

Eng traced the history of political reparations from the Roman Punic Wars against Carthage until World War II, when governments had to deal with individual and group claims to state-enforced violence such as Japanese-American internment, the American nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the sexual slavery of Chinese “comfort women” by Japanese soldiers during the war.

He then began to trace the idea of reparations through the history of political philosophy and psychoanalysis, focusing on two figures,  John Locke and Melanie Klein, who, though multiple centuries apart, expressed similar ideas about the role of reparations in the years after conflicts and about the psychologies of colonizers in particular.  In his Second Treatise on Government, said Eng, Locke discusses reparations as they applied to colonizers in North America. However, Locke’s definition of reparations, unlike that today, sympathized with the colonizer rather than the native: because the colonizer was the victim of the native uprisings, colonizers were justified in seizing native lands for their own use.

In her work “Love, Guilt, and Reparation,” Klein, drawing on the works of Freud about Death Drive and traumatized World War I veterans, similarly defended the rights of colonizers to extract reparations from natives. Natives, said Eng, were “excluded from [Klein’s idea of an] economy of love and hate,” and European colonizers, psychologically harmed by the violence of colonizing, were the “triumphant victims deserving repair.” Eng also connected 19th century European colonialism of Africa to 20th century fascism through this idea of the “triumphant victim” and Freud’s Death Drive.

Eng then began to analyze this idea of reparations as it applied to historical circumstances, drawing connections to freedmen in post-Revolution Haiti, who had to pay reparations to the French government for having freed themselves, creating a cycle of endless poverty that beleaguers the country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, even today.

The rest of Eng’s talk discussed the role of reparations in the post-War trans-Pacific. In his most poignant example, Eng mentioned the Inuit tribe of uranium miners of Canada who, upon learning in the postwar years that the uranium that they had mined had gone almost exclusively to the construction of America’s nuclear bombs, sent a committee to Japan to formally apologize to the Japanese government for their contribution to the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The talk concluded with a question and answer session.