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[For our purposes, Toronto columnist Jonathan Kay’s intriguing observation, ‘It makes no moral sense that beauty should erase sin. And yet, in this world at least, it does’ should be slightly paraphrased by substituting “admiration” for “beauty.” This would broaden it, since beauty is one of the things that everyone admires. In the youtube clip below we see how strongly Jim, the protagonist of Steven Spielberg’s 1987 film Empire of the Sun, admires the Japanese, despite their sins of imperial aggression and racial superiority. It has been estimated that the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in the years leading up to the second World War resulted in the deaths of 20 million Chinese. And in the wider war that followed, thousands of Western prisoners, both soldiers and civilians, of whom Jim was one, suffered the inhuman treatment the Japanese Imperial army meted out as a matter of course to those who dishonoured themselves by surrender.

Nevertheless, Jim admires and in some way even identifies with his captors. Perhaps the primary reason is what is called the “halo” effect. Jim is passionate about aircraft, and it could be argued that the propeller driven fighter aircraft of those few years represent the aesthetic high point in the history of aviation. The airplane he admires is the Zero (by Mitsubishi). Though a dangerously superior machine when first encountered by American fighters, which it swept from the sky, it soon fell behind in the relentless arms race. But as a slave labourer in the internment camp adjacent the Japanese air base, the Zero is the only plane that Jim has the opportunity to worship. The exotic nature of Japanese culture with its discipline and ritual is probably an added attraction for a precocious lad like Jim.

Finally there is an unspoken friendship between him and a Japanese boy, an aspiring figher pilot, who share their passion through the barb wire that separates them. But admiration and love that is based on anything less than a transcendent ideal must always be unstable. Sure enough, when the Americans attack the base in their state of the art P51 Mustang (the Cadillac of the Sky, as Jim calls it), Jim’s dismay at the destruction of the air base he helped to build suddenly turns to delight. An American pilot who waves at him as he flies by transforms the reversal of his emotional allegiance into a kind of epiphany. I think the lesson to be taken is that that which is true of children is also true of grown up children: without a commitment to a transcendent ideal of goodness, emotions of loyalty can get transferred from losers to winners with shocking rapidity.]

Jim arrives at the internment camp

The American attack on the air field

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