Have you ever stopped to wonder why you do some of the things you do? I’ll bet you think that the things you do are common sense, but if you stopped to consider some of them from a different point of view, you’d realize just how outrageously foolish they look.
It’s a bit like what your parents used to ask you, "If everybody jumped off a cliff, would you?"
I am reminded of a story that, long ago, I used to tell to Japanese people whenever I witnessed them doing something that I thought was strange.
The story went like this: A man and woman married. The wife wanted to please her new husband, so she cooked roast beef for him one night using an old recipe she learned from her mother. When she was preparing the meat, she sliced off both ends of the joint. The husband asked her why she did that and she answered, "Because that’s how my mother taught me to do it." Being a good husband, he left it at that and told himself to ask his mother-in-law about it next time he saw her.
That Christmas the family got together and had roast beef. The wife’s mother came for the dinner party and the husband remembered to ask her about cutting off both ends of the joint. She gave the same answer as her daughter: "It’s an old family recipe, and that’s how my mother taught me to do it." Once again the husband’s curiosity was piqued, and he told himself to ask his wife’s (still living) grandmother about it, if he ever got the chance.
Soon after, husband and wife were blessed with a baby boy. The entire family was thrilled. Even grandmother made the cross-country trip to be with her granddaughter when baby and mom came home.
For the occasion, the wife’s mother (now a grandmother) decided to roast a joint of beef for the dinner celebration. Now, with great-grandmother there, the husband had his chance. He asked the old lady why, in the old family recipe, the ends of the joint of beef were always cut off. She replied, "In the old days, ovens were very small. The roast wouldn’t fit inside of them if you didn’t cut the ends off."
All those years, the ends were being cut off because that’s the way it had always been done. No one stopped to question why.
In late 2003, my wife and I were blessed with a baby boy. He is my fourth child and my first son. In Asian countries, the first son holds a special place in the family and in the psyche of the people. Soon after his birth, I asked about circumcision. My wife’s doctor, who is one of the most famous gynecologists in Japan, told me that circumcisions are not performed in Japan. He didn’t know of any doctor in the country who performed this operation. I was surprised. "Why?" I thought. "No son of mine is going to be a freak!"
Time passed and I decided that since the Japanese don’t do this operation, that I would let it go and not have it performed on my son. I began to wonder why it was that circumcisions were performed. What purpose did they serve? I had heard that when babies are born, the operation is simple and the boys (girls too) merely yelp and it’s over. But if you wait until later, it can be excruciatingly painful.
Now, I find some information about circumcision that raises my eyebrows. I read an article that a friend sent to me. Some parts of it make really good sense. It says:
"If evolution put it there, its specialized design is one of evolution’s finest inventions. If God put it there, he put it there for a reason."
"There’s a point past which no custom can be justified. The antiquity of a tradition doesn’t make it right. Churches are obliged to adapt to whatever degree of human rights are recognized in their vicinities. Any faith whose adherents think they can only achieve spiritual perfection by creating hell on earth for their kids, needs to be curbed. Religious persecution is bad, but sexual mutilation of babies and children is worse."
Well, I can’t really find any fault with the reasoning here. I continue reading:
"To rationalize that excising a portion of it prevents future problems, is ridiculous. The arbitrary removal of a body part because something might go wrong with it is insane.
"You want to hear crazy? Some parents okay the operation because they want Junior to look like Dad. Suppose the old man lost an arm in battle or an industrial accident. Would they amputate the kid’s arm so he’d match Dad? Some parents are afraid the boy will be embarrassed if he’s not like his friends. Great logic: mess up your kid so he’ll fit in with the other messed-up kids."
This entire notion starts me thinking. Now, for the last few years, I’ve been wondering what is going on with Americans and American society. I’ve been wondering if there isn’t something in the water that’s making people back in the States go bonkers. It can’t be mass hypnosis, so what could it be? Then the friend who sent me the link to this article writes this to me:
"… It (circumcision) makes so many angry, frustrated people … like the Muslims, Americans and Israelis. Amazing, isn’t it? They are the ONLY three cultures in the world that circumcise their young. Only about 20 percent of the men in the world are c’d, but those who were think it is "normal" and "natural" and are usually surprised to find out that it’s not."
Okay. Now I begin to exhale and realize that this is beginning to sound like crazy talk. Yeah, that’s it. Crazy talk. He sounds like those nutty conspiracy theorists. So I send the article to another friend I trust who is a retired doctor. He writes back to me:
"This is an example of trying to justify an unnecessary procedure done on #1 and his kids … why not remove the appendix at birth as a tiny percent will get appendicitis … as a plastic surgeon we would see the botched circumcisions that were done for NO good reason other than maybe making a pediatrician’s boat payment …
"Why in hell do such an unnatural thing … what next, cutting off one earlobe at birth? It would be "no big deal — on infants.
"It is a primitive racket whether done by a witch doctor, a man of the cloth, or a money-hungry physician …”
The alarm bells go off. My retired doctor friend wrote the magic words that make the confetti fall from the ceiling and I win a bunch of cash. Let’s see here, he’s included all the red flags that I look for whenever I am hunting for medical scams: "unnecessary procedures" and "money-hungry physician" and "primitive racket" and "pediatrician’s boat payment."
Come to think of it, why do people have their sons and daughters circumcised? What could the purpose possibly be? I don’t know. Perhaps for the same reason that the ends were sliced off the beef before it was put in the oven: That was the way it had always been done.
Having a circumcision because "it" gets dirty makes no sense. I wash my two-year-old’s "it" — under the skin — every night in the bath. I am also teaching him to wash behind his ears and in his belly button. No big deal. The so-called benefits of circumcision come from areas of the world where hygiene is neglected. In northern Europe and Japan (places with ready access to water and whose people practice cleanliness) the racket never caught on, and they have none of the horror stories about uncircumcised males.
Then the good doctor sends me this report from the British Journal of Surgery that says circumcisions should not be performed unless there is a medical reason for it:
"Circumcision remains a common operation, with over 30,000 procedures performed annually in the UK, mostly on children. The British Medical Association has recommended that circumcision should be performed only for medical reasons. Despite this, controversy exists over whether too many circumcisions are being performed. Are patients being exposed to an unnecessary operation? It may be argued that in doubtful cases it is easier to proceed to circumcision on the assumption that the risks are low, but the operation is associated with a definite morbidity and rare deaths are reported. This review considers the spectrum of complications what may result from circumcision and discusses the possible aetiological mechanisms.
"Circumcision is probably one of the oldest of all surgical procedures. Although the origin of the practice is not entirely clear, it almost certainly began as a religious rite. That it was practiced by the Egyptians is evident as the earliest mummies were found to be circumcised. In the Jewish community circumcision remains a religious ritual and is usually performed on the child’s eighth day of life by a Mohel. Religious circumcision is also practiced by Muslims; the procedure is performed between the ages of 4 and 13 years. Curiously the Koran contains no specific ordinance on this subject. Currently approximately one-sixth of the world’s male population is circumcised mostly on religious grounds. In Western society circumcision is performed for medical reasons, the commonest of which is phimosis. There is however, enormous variation between the circumcision rate in the UK (5—6 per cent) and that in the USA (80—90 per cent). This large discrepancy exists despite recommendations from both the British Medical Association and the American Association (sic) of Pediatricians that circumcision should be performed only for medical reasons."
What? Well, I don’t know about you, but this looks to me like people are endangering their children and getting ripped off for a medical procedure that they don’t need. You know, in the 1960s it was tonsillectomies. Seeing as how my two-year-old is doing just fine, and as I’m surrounded by tens of millions of Japanese guys who don’t seem to be having too many problems (and seem to be much calmer than the average American), I can see that I lucked out. My son will not be getting a circumcision — a surgery that I thought he needed, but that I never really asked myself about.
Could circumcisions, as is reported in the above linked articles, be responsible for cases of violent behavior and frustration? Could it lead to depression, unhappiness, and all sorts of other problems? I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. But I will say that I think now, after reading this information, that it is an unnecessary procedure that can be dangerous, costs money, and has no practical benefits in any society that practices sanitation and has clean water.
If I ever have another son, I will not allow him to be circumcised either, until some doctor can give me logical reasons why he should. I will also tell my friends not to have their children circumcised until they’ve researched this and asked some awkward questions. I want to know if having a circumcision can lead to medical or psychological problems before I consider having one carried out on my child.
Could circumcisions cause medical as well as psychological problems? Is this all just psycho-babble from that Mike in Tokyo? You know, that schizo guy in Japan? Perhaps so. I have suspected many times that Mike in Tokyo is crazy.
After all, he was circumcised as a baby.
Edited by Jeremy Irwin
Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He is the president of a mass-media production company and also runs a talent agency in Japan. His first book, Schizophrenic in Japan, is now on sale.