Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Acts of God and Acts of War

Those who have suffered the earthquake and tsunami and threat of nuclear meltdown in Japan have seemed close at hand because I am currently transcribing and editing hundreds of letters between my late parents, exchanged during three circumstantial separations, the last of which occurred when my father served as part of the U.S. occupying forces in Japan at the end of World War II.

One of yesterday’s articles in The New York Times told how elderly Japanese, the most vulnerable in the several disasters, had not seen such devastation since that war. I remembered a touching letter my father, then 29, wrote November 18, 1945, on board the U. S. S. General W. A. Mann docked in Nagasaki harbor, as he awaited debarkation.

Dad describes a tiny boat sailing by their ship, whose occupant, a “little old man,” “first waved a white handkerchief above his head” to demonstrate his non-violent intent, then “started bowing very low and very vigorously” as he sailed by, finally holding “both hands high above his head” as he passed. The GI’s on board laughed that he worried they might think his little boat would attack their huge ship.

Then my father turns contemplative:
As the tiny boat went on, later rocking perilously from the backwash of a motorboat which rushed by him, many a GI’s face grew thoughtful. I suppose many wondered, perhaps, if this little old man sailing alone once sailed with sons or even grandsons of his own, now dust on the fields of Manchuria, or lost in the teeming jungle of Guadalcanal. … Somewhere nearby lay the ruins that resulted from one atomic bomb. One wonders what feelings stirred in these people as they stumbled their way through the dust that hovered for days after the explosion. …. They were terrified, but what followed terror when it had exhausted itself?

My hesitancy blogging on current events is that discovering their meaning requires time and thought, especially when considering so-called “acts of God” or acts of war. I can’t presume illumination on the recent events in Japan. Yet it feels wrong not to talk about them. Thankfully, my dad provides a little insight and comfort about such calamities in another onboard letter written to Mom on Thanksgiving Day, 1945:

Honey, in spite of the situation in which we find ourselves, I believe you will agree that we have many things to be thankful for. For many people, including us, war and the aftermath of war shrouds much of our happiness, like a fog whose murky mist hides temporarily the beauty of any landscape. We have only the memory of the landscape as it appeared in the brilliance of a sunny day to tell us that it is still there, hidden in the gloomy vapor, and will appear again, when the fog clears under a summer sun. For that memory we thank God, and until the fog clears we pray God give us faith that the landscape awaits us and that we will have the vision to see it when it reappears again.

For many less fortunate people the fog will never entirely lift again, no matter how bright the sun—little scraps of paper with the words “We regret to inform you” brought certain news that their landscape had changed, and though the sun may disperse much of the mist, there will be hills, once loved, that are hidden, and the vital brook that rippled with laughter no longer visible as it tumbles its way down the mountain to give its all to the lake that lay quiet and peaceful in the valley. God grant that these grieving souls find peace in the quiet tranquility of the lake, as it lay sleeping in the sun. God, please give them faith that their lost loved one has found peace and joy and rest in the sunlight, in that Landscape Somewhere, that sometime we all must see.

Dad was not a professional writer. Yet, as he says later in the letter, “Sometimes, quite often in fact, I am never quite sure just what will come out of this pen when I pick it up.” The same is true of my laptop.

1 comment:

  1. This post is especially meaningful to me because you shared your dad's reflections written while he was in the service during WWII. My own dad, Ted Schuyler, was a bit too old for the draft at that time, but he spent the war years as a civilian employee at Ft. Wingate Ordinance Depot in Gallup, NM. He has the story that when the Trinity test of the A-bomb occurred, the concussion was felt so strongly at that location, over 100 air miles away, that the commandant of the fort actually though their munitions storage bunkers had exploded. Ted was always of the opinion that if at the time of the test the US military had brought in Japanese officials then in custody to observe, and sent them home with the warning that if hostilities did not cease we were prepared to deliver such bombs to the Japanese homeland, we could have ended the war without destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was his firm conviction, as it is mine, that as followers of Jesus we should always seek the humane and compassionate option over the aggressive and destructive one.