This article originally appeared at China Daily
The refusal of Western leaders, and those of Germany and Japan, to attend the 70th anniversary Victory Parade in Moscow on May 9 is a willful distortion of modern history. It makes a mockery of the endless self-congratulatory Western celebrations of World War II that have been held over the past year.
President Xi Jinping has exhibited a fine sense of history by deciding to attend the Victory Parade. Between them, China and the Soviet Union lost at least 47 million people in World War II, more than 100 times the total death tolls of either the United States or the British Empire and the Commonwealth.
It is particularly shameful that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has refused to attend the Moscow ceremonies. By contrast, although German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not attend the parade, she will visit Moscow for the 70th anniversary and other ceremonies. Her example should have been followed by US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. It is outrageous that they have refused to do so.
It is both admirable and revealing that Xi is ignoring this general boycott of Russia to attend this solemn occasion. At least 20 million Chinese people died in the invasion and occupation of China by the Imperial Japanese Army from 1937 to 1945.
The Russian people and other Soviet nationalities suffered greater losses — about 27 million Soviet citizens died in the war.
China played a disproportionately large role in the Pacific War. It pinned down 2 million Japanese troops. In contrast, US combat forces never had to engage Japanese forces more than 400,000 strong in the Philippines starting from October 1944. But these facts are never taught in US schools and colleges.
The Soviet role, and that of the Russian people, in the destruction of Nazi Germany dwarfed the efforts of the United States and Britain combined. Nine out of every 10 Nazi soldiers killed in the war fell to the Red Army. When D-Day was launched, 11 Nazi divisions were fighting in the West, while more than 220 Nazi divisions were fighting the Red Army on the eastern front.
To highlight that chapter of history is not to compete for the share of contribution to the WWII victory, but to remind the international community to attach equal importance to what China and Russia, and other anti-fascist allies, sacrificed during WWII.
World War II has now been consigned to the memory hole of history, especially in the United States. We live in a society where last week becomes ancient history, and where the ephemera of cheap insults tweeted and magnified through social media even drive national presidential campaigns.
But the past cannot be so easily banished from the present. Sigmund Freud taught us that the repression of important memories is lethally dangerous. It leads to subconscious drives to act out repressed events in compulsive, irrational and self-destructive forms of behavior.
What is true of individuals is also true of nations and national cultures that are composed of hundreds of millions of individuals. That is why the study of history, and the recovery of national as well as individual memory are crucial to preserve world peace.
Xi and Putin understand these profound truths. Obama, Cameron and Abe clearly do not. They refuse to acknowledge who really won World War II and who made by far the greatest sacrifices to save the entire human race from the worst barbarism in history. Such amazing ignorance and arrogance is repulsive. It is also highly dangerous. The only way to preserve world peace in this century is to remember and acknowledge the sacrifices that saved humanity 70 years ago.
The author is a senior fellow of the American University in Moscow.