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Strongholds for Peace

(This essay was first published in the December 3, 1971, issue of the weekly Japanese magazine, Shukan Yomiuri1)

Recently I read The Battle of Okinawa, one volume in a series of works in Japanese put out by the Ryukyuan government on the history of Okinawa Prefecture. It deals with the American bombardment and invasion of the island in 1945, a battle that claimed the lives of over 200 thousand persons.

It is a shocking document made up of interviews with a thousand anonymous persons who describe the horrors they experienced. Its lengthy pages contain very little in the way of overt antiwar sentiment or ideological protest. The narrative does not venture beyond a plain recording of the facts, surprising rather for the restrained and unimpassioned manner in which they are presented. The very simplicity and starkness of the narrative grip the reader and stir him to the depths of his being. Again and again as I read along I found myself overcome with anger and indignation.

One of the most painful passages relates the experiences of a farm wife of Aragusuku who was thirty-nine at the time. When the U. S. naval bombardment began, she and the other members of her family fled for shelter to a nearby ditch, but as the fighting advanced they were driven from place to place in a frantic and endless search for safety. In the course of their flight, one after another of the members of the woman's family were struck down.

The first victim was her eighteen-year-old daughter, who, in attempting to nurse the injured, was hit in the back by shrapnel as she was washing her face in a stream. She died three days later. The woman's younger sister was also wounded in the back, and died two hours later.

"Everything was in such confusion I couldn't stop to look after each one of them. My five-year-old daughter was wounded in the wrist and the stomach and her insides were coming out. She was already dead by that time, but my mother was making such a commotion that I became confused and began screaming, "Grandma is stomping on my little girl and making her insides come out!" All the time my mother was insisting she wasn't doing any such thing."

With the shelling still going on around her, the woman continued to flee in search of shelter. "We had taken refuge in an empty house in Maehira. I guess the bombardment must have started again, because this time I was hit by a piece of shell. I had my year-and-a-half-old baby in my arms; his wrist and right arm and forehead and chest were all cut and bleeding. My second son Tsutomu had a gash in his head and was knocked flat by the impact of the explosion. When looked around, I discovered that my mother-in-law had been killed outright in the explosion. . . .

"My aunt was killed at Arakaki. The shells and the explosions there were terrible. Pieces of human flesh came flying through the air out of nowhere. The bodies were piled up all over."

The woman's little baby died shortly after from lack of food. All told, the woman lost ten members of her immediate family as a result of the fighting. What a fearful slaughter!

And yet her experiences were by no means exceptional. Nearly every one of the thousand persons interviewed has much the same sort of story to tell. In fact there are probably persons besides those interviewed who could relate even more ghastly stories of the fate inflicted upon them. One woman, asked by those who were gathering material if she would describe her experiences, refused to say anything beyond, "If you get me started talking about the war, I'm afraid I might go right out of my mind and end up by attacking you!"

What cruel and pitiful scars war leaves! How stupid and senseless is its destruction! And always it is the nameless masses of people who are condemned to suffer and groan and weep in the midst of the gore and flames. It is their cries, the cries of men and women who have no one to appeal to, that we must harken to and respect, for their voices ring with a truth and sincerity far more compelling than any lofty statement of pacifist principles. Their cries must serve as the point of departure for any meaningful movement to oppose warfare and bring about lasting peace.

Unfortunately, men continue to overlook this fact, perhaps because they consider the cries of these anonymous human beings too commonplace to serve as a point of departure. And for this very reason the horrors of the Okinawan experience continue to be reenacted in areas throughout the world, their stench still with us today.

Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Korean War, the war in Vietnam, East Pakistan--looking only at the conflicts and tragedies of the past twenty or thirty years is enough to persuade us that history is a never ending succession of human crimes and follies.

In Harken to the Voice of the Deep!, a collection of notes written by young Japanese students who later died in the Pacific War, there is a passage which speaks out scathingly against such folly: "Bestiality--how deeply it is rooted in the nature of man! At heart, I cannot help feeling that ever since man created this world of his, he has not made the slightest degree of progress. The present war is not a matter of right or justice, whatever others may say. It is nothing but an eruption of hatred among peoples, and the fighting will no doubt continue until both sides have wiped each other out. How fearful, how despicable! Mankind, truly a cousin of the apes!"2

And yet the kind of sincere humanism which might combat such folly and engender a true sense of love and justice among mankind seems to be powerless to make itself heard in the realm of international politics. Despite the cries of outrage and opposition raised throughout the world, nuclear testing on places such as Amchitka (part of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska) continued.

Why is the bestiality of man allowed free rein? Simply, I would submit, because the doctrine of nationalism and national interest encourages and lends justification to man's baser instincts. To combat these tendencies, it is necessary for each of us as individuals, no matter how weak or ineffectual we may feel ourselves to be, to build deep within our hearts a stronghold for peace, one that will be capable of withstanding and in the end silencing the incessant calls to war. This is the only way man's tragic predilections for violence can be reformed and his energies channeled into new directions.

Some may scoff at the naiveté and sentimentalism of such an appeal, claiming that it takes no cognizance of the complex political realities of our time. But if it is sentimentalism to try to do what has to be done in the only way in which it can be done, then I am content to suffer the charge. Right now, the most important question, I believe, is how we can utilize the sense of pain and outrage that one experiences in reading a work such as The Battle of Okinawa and effectively expand it until it grows into a universal outcry for peace.

The term "nuclear allergy" has often been used in Japan in recent years, meaning, l assume, that the Japanese are overly sensitive in matters pertaining to nuclear armament. But if we cease to be sensitive to the prospect of war, if we develop an immunity and callousness even to the horrors of nuclear weaponry, then from that instant on we will indeed be in danger of destruction. And with each repeated testing of nuclear weapons the dark shadow of that moment seems to draw closer.

I have visited Okinawa several times. With its deep blue sky so characteristic of tropical regions, its coral seas, its dazzling sunlight, it is a place of superb natural beauty and freshness. And yet, by contrast, how gloomy and oppressive is the atmosphere of the human world existing amidst the beauty of nature. It is a society that lives in the shadow of strategies and maneuverings for world power and domination. The monster of war, which once in the past turned this beautiful island into a living hell, seems still to brood ominously over it. More ominously, I'm afraid, now than ever before.