Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Message of Reconciliation and Hope

Capt. W.A. Chapman during the Battle of Okinawa.

I spoke with my friend Judge Socrates Peter Manoukian this week and I was deeply moved by what he said to me about the death of his son, Capt. Matt Manoukian, who was killed last Thursday in Afghanistan.

"I don't hate those guys," he said. "If we hate them, then they have won." I realized at that moment that my friend's strength of character would see him through this difficult time. It reminded me of some things I read in my father's letters from Japan at the end of World War II.

My mother and father were married in October of 1944 and in January of 1945, my father headed out into the Pacific, expecting to be part of the invasion of Japan. Instead, he took part in the last terrible battle: the Battle of Okinawa. He wrote my mother every day and after his death I found these letters.

In August 1945, sixty-seven years ago this week, Japan surrendered. Shortly afterward, my father boarded an LST as part of an advance party to begin occupation duties in Sasebo.

One of the things that struck me in his letters home were the passages about his interactions with the Japanese. He had lost his best friend just before the end of the war in a Japanese air raid. And yet, with the vanquished civilians, he and his friends seemed to have no desire for vengeance. 

Here's a paragraph or two from one of his letters, written on a day when he and some friends hopped in a jeep and headed for a nearby city.

 Friday, October 12, 1945
"About 8 a.m. as we were riding we saw hundreds of kids going to school. The boys went one place and the little girls the other.  We had fun with them.  As we would pass we’d shout 'O-Hi-O' which means good morning.  The little boys were delighted and would usually shout the greeting back in loud unison.

Later we saw a Jap vehicle stuck in the mud directly in our way.  It was a three wheeled affair about like a motorcycle.  The driver was a man and he had his wife out pushing!  We tried to push him out.  The jeep wouldn’t quite make it so we got a gang of men together and pushed it out."

The fact that Dad and his friends in uniform were kind to the children and treated Japanese civilians in trouble with respect is something I found enormously gratifying. Pete Manoukian's response in similar circumstances was just like my father's.

Pete says he's wondered if the man who killed his son was not a victim of terror too. My father may not have realized it at the time of the Occupation, but the Japanese people were certainly victims of their government's militaristic terror. In both cases, both men made a choice to have compassion for those who hurt them. Forgive your enemy. In my father's case, what it did for the enemy, I cannot say. What it did for my father was everything.

As it will do for my friend Pete.

It is the same philosophy that informed the works of Winston Churchill, who wrote the following at the beginning of his book Their Finest Hour: "In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Good Will."

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