LET US REMEMBER THE WAR’S DEAD ON ALL SIDES
“We owe it to everyone who perished to say, “Never again.”
I was a child during the second world war in Japan, and I had a simple faith. Perhaps that’s what sustained me throughout the war. In June, 1945, I had been evacuated from Tokyo and lived in the fishing port city of Numazu at the foot of Mt. Fuji. One beautiful day, I was walking home with my friend from school. The streets were covered by a canopy of fresh green leaves. The “all-clear” siren had meant that bombers had left the area. We were happy, kicking stones, fooling around.
Suddenly there was the sound of a bomb falling. We hit the ground and covered ears, eyes, and the nostrils with our hands as we were all trained to do. After a huge shock that shook the ground, silence fell. When I got up, I didn’t see my friend. There was only a long piece intestine hanging from a tree branch. He had been completely blown away. It was a direct hit.
War is ugly. No wonder many veterans don’t want to talk about their experiences. I survived this. I had my faith but also my nerves were numbed having seen many charred bodies and body-parts. Death was everywhere. The dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the second one on Nagasaki, led to a quick end of the war. It was a relief, we were exhausted.
Since coming to Canada in 1957, I have served the United Church. But I have always felt a tiny apprehension participating in the observance of Remembrance Day, though I believe it to be an important part of ministry. H have never been able to honour the war dead in my family except in silence, because they died fighting for Japan. When the vanquished are not included in remembrance, it takes away their dignity as people who mourn them, and a faith that sustained them. Only by remembering all of the war dead can we mean what we say: that we prayer for peace.
My granduncles Masao and Shiro both died in 1900 in the Ruso-Japan War. They were my grandmother’s brothers. Masao, a navy lieutenant, died while leading a fleet of old cargo ships to seal the port of Yingkon (Port Arthur), where the Russian Pacific fleet was based. He was ordered to scuttle the ships and sink them at the mouth of the port. But his boat was blown up by a land-based artillery with him on it. Shiro died of dysentery in a field hospital. They were twenty-eight and twenty-three respectively.
My uncle Mitsugu was my father’s youngest brother. He was briefly my Sunday School teacher and was my favourite relative. He was conscripted and lost in the battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in 1944. He is still missing officially but presumed dead. Nobody knows whether he died at the sea or lost in the jungle and starved to death. Only a few in the regiment came home. He went to war most reluctantly, because he was a pacifist. He was eighteen.
All those uncles were Christians. The Mitsuis have been a proud Christian family for four generations, since the late 1980’s when Christianity was till prohibited. In my family there was no problem fighting Russians, but the World War II was a big problem. My family was all Methodists, and all women went to the Canadian Methodist schools and my father went to an American Methodist Seminary in Japan. The kindergarten I went to was American Methodist, and my favourite teacher was Miss Winifred Draper. My father became a pacifist.
I believe that war is evil, and all those who died are victims. Perhaps this is the lesson in Christian pacifism I learned from my father. The Memorial at the Peace Park in Hiroshima simply says, “Rest in Peace. We will never repeat the same mistake.” That pledge should be made to all who lost their lives, regardless of their nationality or loyalty, whether they were soldiersor civilians, men or women, elderly or children.