Listening to President Trump’s bellicose remarks in the building dedicated to promoting peace throughout the world was one of the more depressing things this manifestly unqualified to be president amateur has done to date.
Engaging in juvenile name-calling demeans the Office of the Presidency and further troubles America’s allies, all of whom wonder just what kind of loose cannon has America unleashed on the world. The president appears to be one of those who never served but think they can send young Americans all over the world to die in conflicts initiated by old men who think they have the testosterone of their younger years.
Nothing is truer about history than the statement that those who do not learn from history and the mistakes made are doomed to repeat those mistakes.
In today’s interconnected world every person’s needless death diminishes further mankind and touches all of us. A nuclear exchange of any kind is too horrible to contemplate so we sequestor it away in a corner of our mind where we can dismiss it totally. Yet this carries real peril with it.
Almost 30 years ago I accompanied then Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus on a trip put together by my public affairs office of the “Trust Territories” out in the Pacific, those hundreds of islands run by the Department of the Interior.
One of the stops during the week long trip was the island of Saipan, in the Marianas, the site of some fierce fighting between American Marines and Japanese Army soldiers. From my hotel room in the modern western hotel built in the 70s to accommodate the numerous Japanese tourists to Saipan, out in the harbor one could still see an American tank stuck on the reef it could not get over during the amphibious assault on the island.
It served to remind folks that wars should not be forgotten, that they wreak pain and suffering not just for the combatants but also for innocent non-combatants. We truly must never forget those who gave the last full measure for their country, but also remember there are often innocent civilians caught in the cross-fire.
Wars understandably also elicit fear on the part of the innocent. A must stop for Japanese tourists on Saipan is the north end of the island, where hundreds of men, women and children threw themselves off the high cliffs rather than suffer the torture, rape and physical abuse their propaganda said they would suffer should they fall into American hands. Fear, easily instilled, is tough to root out.
Both sides engaged in propaganda efforts designed to de-humanize the opposition. For us the “Japs” were devious, slant-eyed, yellow sub-humans who gunned down our fly boys when they were in rafts after their planes were downed. We, however, did the same thing.
History books tend to focus on the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with each bomb killing between 60,000 and 80,000 people. We rationalized using such a weapon of mass destruction on the grounds that it was saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of American military.
Lost in many memories is the fact that American B-29’s, launched from the airbase we created on Saipan, engaged in saturated fire bombing runs that in one night incinerated over 100,000 Japanese. American planes completely razed the city of Sendai, a city the size of Seattle.
In our arrogance we act like we think God will never allow mass destruction like that, but over 50 million people died during World War II. If as a race we’re crazy enough to destroy ourselves, one suspects the Almighty won’t stand in the way of such stupidity.
Another lesson of history is that today’s enemies can be tomorrow’s friend. Witness Japan and Germany.
In the early 60s I met Group Commander Fuchida,who led the air attack on Pearl Harbor and uttered the famous words back to the carriers they’d flown off of “Tora! Tora! Tora!” It meant they had achieved total surprise.
After the war he had become a Christian and was on a speaking tour of the United States sponsored by the American Baptist Convention. He seemed like a pretty normal human being.
In 1982 along with my wife and our four children we spent three weeks in Sendai. The courtesies and kindnesses extended to us were simply incredible. Our son was not yet three so I carried him about in a back carrier. His blond hair and his old felt cowboy hat were simply irresistible to the Japanese, especially women, many of whom asked us to pose for pictures with them. They would touch his hair and say “cowboy, cowboy,” and smile.
Had the Japanese killed a comparable number of American civilians as we killed I had a hard time imagining that we would have reciprocated such hospitality.
Another night I sat down in a bar and was engaged by the owner in a convesation. It turned out that like my father he had been a gunnery officer on a destroyer, and had gone through several of the same battles.
Time had turned these people into friends and it was clear to me that honey on our part towards this one-time adversary worked far better in achieving a lasting peace than did threats, recriminations and things like juvnile name-calling.
One can only wish our president gains this understanding before stupidly leading us into another inhumane and downright insane war.