Blackfive has a couple of things to say to Tom Hanks:
My dad served in the Army for 36 years and was on Saipan, Leyte and Okinawa. Unlike Hanks, he actually fought the Japanese in some very tough battles – especially the last one. He never talked about it much when I was a kid, although when old friends would stop by at the posts where we were assigned, I’d hear some of the stories by getting myself in an unobserved position in the next room and quietly listening.
I don’t remember he or any of his friends ever reflecting the sort of attitude Hanks would have us to believe was prevalent then. Sure, they referred to them as “Japs”, but not because they thought it was derrogatory or because they believed them to be “different”, but because, well, that’s what they were. The story I remember most concerned his time on Saipan. As he told the story you could tell the memory had an effect on him. He told about Japanese families – women, kids – jumping off a cliff to avoid capture (“Suicide cliff” in Saipan). You could tell he thought it was awful and it was clear in the telling that the memory was vivid. They’d brought in Japanese speakers to try to talk the families out of jumping, but the indoctrination and the culture were so strong that they jumped anyway.
If you want to “annihilate” someone, you don’t make that sort of effort to save them. If you consider them as “different” in the way Hanks intimates, such things wouldn’t shake you as it obviously did my father and those he had served with.
He said that the only Japanese captives they ever took were those who’d been either knocked unconscious before capture or were so badly wounded they couldn’t avoid it. Certainly they were “different” in the sense that their honor and culture called upon them to do things American culture would never call on its soldiers to do. But that didn’t make them less than human to my father. He certainly wasn’t at all pleased with the way the Japanese treated prisoners of war and held a hell of grudge about that. But I got the impression that he considered the Japanese barbaric because of that, not less than human. He held them responsible for that conduct because they were human beings. And after the war, we shocked them with the most humane occupation imaginable and the rebuilding of their nation.
The reason my dad and hundreds of thousands of other Americans fought the Japanese wasn’t because they were racially “different” or worshiped a different god. Nor did they do it with the aim of “annihilating” them. It was because the had attacked the United States, were the enemy and that enemy had to be defeated. Period. My father and his comrades would have fought the Germans with the same ferocity they fought the Japanese had they been in Europe.
The sad thing is that Hanks’ comments pass for intelligent thought these days. Gross, unthinking cliches and shallow psychoanalyzing has been substituted for any sort of serious thought. And when in doubt, call us racists.
But this is the stuff that is entering our schools.
And here are some quotes from an unpublished war diary of a Marine who fought on Okinawa with the 6th Marine Division. He discusses the sorrow he feels for the native Okinawans, many of whom got caught in the cross fire. His unit had been on the line for many days, in the heat of the battle. On June 9th they were relieved and got sent to the rear area to rest for a short time before being sent back in. He says this:
This morning we went for water at the old spring. We passed a building where a mother and father were watching over their two dead girls, a dead son, a sick boy, and another dead man. We gave them water and came back to our officer to get permission to assist them in burying the dad. Actually, knowing of this tragic incident that happened to them, we felt it was our duty. We came back, carried the dead down to the coral bank, and cleared a spot where the father had picked for their grave. The folks put clothes on the children, trembling and crying; they were rubbing the children’s faces. I guess to make sure they were really dead. Then they had carried the bodies to the spot we had cleared away and laid them side by side. Neatly she piled boards over them and then they returned to their only sick boy.
A few days earlier, he described this scene:
Last night on guard, Barnes and I were forced to listen to several crying babies that were in the village directly below us. We shoved off early this morning for the large hill about a mile in front of us. On the way over, we passed by a great deal of Jap supplies. We also came upon some civilians that were laying on the ground, covered up. They were wounded and weak. We offered them water and food, but instead they wanted to be shot in the stomach.
Comments like Hanks’ serve to trivialize war; to make it seem easy to avoid, just by adopting a frame of mind. Life is far more complex than that. The soliders who fought in the war understood that. But it is a lesson we are forgetting with each passing day, and with each facile comment.