While a certain degree of skepticism may be healthy for society, raising unwarranted doubts can lead to a betrayal of truth. For a professor emeritus, Ramesh Thakur shows fairly sloppy — and dangerous — historical thinking in his June 7 opinion piece, “Which Tiananmen narrative is true?” While he never outright denies that the Chinese Communist Party massacred their own citizens in the early morning of June 4, 1989, his attempts to punch holes in the orthodox narrative makes it easier to dismiss the entire incident.
Simply by casting doubt where none is warranted, damage is done as the public throws their hands up — just as Thakur seems to have done — and decides (incorrectly) that if the truth about the Tiananmen Square can never be known, then there’s no point in thinking about it. The best propagandists know they don’t have to get the public to believe them outright; so long as the public accepts their words as a possible truth their work is done. Seeds of doubt can grow into a tree of mistrust that blossom into a flower of relativism that becomes the fruit of injustice.
By raising false controversies over the Tiananmen Square massacre it’s easier for the casual observer to become frustrated with the seeming relativism of the issue and stop thinking about the events of June 4th all together, and that’s exactly what the Chinese Communist Party would like people to do — stop thinking about it.
Thakur takes issues with parts of the official narrative that claim thousands of students were killed in the Tiananmen Square when some have suggested they may have been killed 5 km from the square and many of the dead may not have been students but workers. The point is that the People’s Liberation Army gunned down their own citizens, not that the victims were students or their exact location.
As for Thakur’s odd use of Brian Becker’s quote suggesting the American government may very well have reacted similarly had the Occupy protesters turned violent, I would ask on what basis makes such a wild claim.
The only way to know definitively what happened on June 4, 1989, in Tiananmen Square, is for the government of China to open its archives. So long as there continue to be people like Thakur who promote a relativist narrative and obscure events in unfounded ways, it makes the Chinese Communist Party’s job of keeping the truth hidden all the much easier.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.