I've noticed that a lot of Western fans seem to associate the genocide / war in Ishval with the Holocaust (or alternatively, the Middle East). However, from somewhat secondary sources, I've heard that Arakawa was inspired by the plight of the Burakumin or Ainu. (The first I don't remember the reference for; the second appears on this page for Scar and on this reported interview, although there's no statement of where this is from.)

Given that FMA is a Japanese manga and that the direct linkage of Amestris to Germany seems tenuous, I am more inclined to assume that there isn't an exact real world parallel to Ishbal. (After all, the exact details of what happened in FMA don't entirely match up to what I know about the Holocaust. In combination with the statements by Arakawa and the fact that Amestris isn't really reducible to being a "fantasy version of German", I would assume that the events are largely fantasy, even if some portions might be inspired by various real-life events.)

Moreover, I would see it as best to assume that the events in Ishval were inspired (at least partly) by issues such as Japanese colonialism (per statements about interviewing war veterans1), even if some aspects might be European. My cynical self suggests that Western fans are also more likely to say Ishvalan War of Extermination == Holocaust because they simply are more likely to have more experience with it (or with the Middle East being an issue) than with tensions in East Asia, and not because this was necessarily explicitly stated somewhere.

What exactly is the arc involving Ishbal supposed to be based on, if anything? Is the oft-cited factoid that it is based on the Holocaust true, or is it more reasonable to associate it with issues linked to Japan or to see it as a largely fantastic element with occasional grounding in things that have happened in real life?

  1. (Update) I now realise that the most obvious purpose of such interviews would be to get some grounding for the experiences of military characters such as Mustang or Hawkeye. However, I'm trying to preserve the question as close to its original form as possible (and there, I had mentioned East Asia) in this clean-up.

Hiromu Arakawa, the mangaka, states that she was not influenced greatly by any specific country, but rather a collection of European countries during the Industrial Revolution, as stated in the answers to this question, sourced back to an interview in Newtype USA, January 2006.

While I'm sure Arakawa took inspiration from her own country's history, too, the fact that she was inspired by Europe at all makes a convincing argument already.

With that said, I think it's fair to say that there is a decent amount of evidence specifically toward the extermination of Ishval being inspired by the Holocaust. In the question I linked above, there's a few other points that tie Amestris to Germany, but I think there's a few specific points to consider.

The leader of the time was labelled as a Fuhrer.

Not sure there's much more to say here. Hitler and Bradley share a title and a mustache.

During the flashbacks, the most prominent feature of the Amestrian army is their eyes.

It's quite clear that there is emphasis put on the non-Ishvalan Amestrians being very similar to the Aryan race that was dominant during the Holocaust.

Blue-eyed Rockbells as medics during the Extermination.

Ishval differs from Amestris greatly in its religious views.

Aside from their ways of living being similar to those of the Amish, the largest difference between them and the "regular" Amestrians is the fact that they believe in the creator Ishval. In the Holocaust, Hitler's motivation was a duality of both targeting their bloodlines as well as their faith.

However, the Holocaust is a very sensitive topic.

I think part of the reason Arakawa denies being inspired by this is that she does not want to take a political stance on the issue. As soon as she admits to being inspired by such a sensitive issue, she opens herself up to all kinds of criticism and alienation from specific groups, mostly notably those of Jewish faith or descent.

Answer the question already! Was the Ishvalan Extermination inspired by the Holocaust?

There is no straight answer! Sorry! If you believe what Arakawa has said publicly, then no, it wasn't. She does not admit to taking inspiration from any particular country or event, just the feel of the European countries during the Industrial Revolution as well as the 20th century development.

However, if you'd rather look past the word of God, I think there is ample evidence to suggest that there were aspects of the Holocaust and WWII Germany that were imported into Fullmetal Alchemist, with Ishval and the Extermination being two of them.

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  • Yeah... As a stickler for the "word of God", my interpretation is mostly that while some elements of this probably do come from Holocaust (e.g. some specific themes), a lot of them don't necessarily come from it per se (e.g. as with the FMA verse being based on Germany to begin with). (Unrelated: but was there a similar emphasis on blue eyes in the manga?) – Maroon Jul 28 '14 at 3:06
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    @Maroon The blue eyes are not emphasized as much in the manga, probably for the simple reason that the manga is not colored beyond the title pages. In fact, many of the flashbacks are simply described, instead. However, given Arakawa's tight involvement with Bones in the development of Brotherhood, I'd say that she was quite in favor of the blue eye emphasis. – Killua Jul 28 '14 at 3:20

I'm not sure what it was inspired by or based on. I think that's more a fault of the readers view to think that. I mean, if I say mass genocide what will any Westerner immediately think of? It's just because The Holocaust was such a major representation of such an event we get that image that it must be based on it, when in fact, several other mass genocides have occurred over human history.

As far as it might be, I don't think so. As far as parallels go to reality and history I don't see any others.

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It does seem more likely a collection of different countries. When looking at the Ishvalan people, I would not say the Jewish people. Looks aren't emphasized in the manga as much, but when talking about physical features, Jewish people match no traits of the Ishvalans. First, their geographic location. They live(d) in a desert. Even though some Jewish people now live in a desert, the tense does not allow such a correlation to create a parallel. The people in the desert have tanned skin. Majority of people who follow Judaism do not have that complexion. And finally, the Ishvalans fought back. I can't recall any recorded uprising of the Jewish people. The Ishvalans, on the other hand, fought back.

There are then two plausible choices, in a Western point of view, who the Ishvalens are. They are either Middle-Eastern people, maybe Palestinians, or, if looking at a present state, they are Gypsies. Conquerer of Shamballa introduced gypsies, but it is non-canon, so it probably isn't as reliable.

Some other things that reinforce, at least in a western view, how the Ishvalens are middle eastern is that they lie east of Amestris, and Xerxes could be shown as Jerusalem, a city destroyed overnight. Also, this could allude to the Crusades.

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    The Gypsies in Conquerer of Shamballa were actually in our world, not the world of Amestris. They also don't really make sense to me as an inspiration for the Ishvalans. I do think you have a good point about the parallels betweeen the Ishvalans and European colonialism in the Middle East; the Ishvalans look Middle Eastern and follow a different religion than Amestris. There were several uprisings against the Europeans in the Middle East during the colonial period, and there are obvious parallels between Amestris and Europe during the age of imperialism. – Torisuda Aug 3 '15 at 0:19

No it was based on the War on Terror in the Middle East. You can tell they are an Arab-looking ethnic group. King Bradley and his warmongering cohorts were creating false flags which would be allegorical to 9/11 and the subsequent invasion, but in the show it would be the killing of the child by a officer to incite war and create the stone.

She is using two different generations of allegory, one being the German Fuhrer and the white skin blue eyes rhetoric of Amestrians, and the million[s] of Iraqi civilians who perished under the embargo on them and the war on the country itself which happened in the show in similar fashion.

It is weird because Germany was friends with the Ottoman Empire of the Middle East so I don't see how she could make the connection of the two.

Also Aryan does not mean white, blonde hair with blue eyes as the mainstream history books tell you. Iran (Land Of the Aryans) is also Aryan and they are not white nor blonde or blue eyed.

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    As it turns out, FMA started publication in August of 2001. The early chapters Scar appears in (and thus, the basic details about things like the appearance of the Ishvalans, as there is an early-chapter comment about the war) must have been determined prior to the attacks as well. – Maroon Sep 16 '15 at 3:25
  • Also, there seems to be generally a conflation of "Aryan" with the specific Nordic traits Hitler emphasised -- e.g. see here or here. This is best understood as being a shift in meaning. – Maroon Sep 16 '15 at 3:37

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