Last night Debbie and I watched the 1988 Japanese anime movie Grave of the Fireflies. It is beautifully done and if you have an emotional heart it will bring some tears to your eyes. It’s about a Japanese family and their desperate struggles during the bombing of their city late in World War Two.
I remember the beginning of the war on December 7, 1941, because my father gave the six-year-old me the war lecture. “I know some of your good friends are Japanese, but America is now at war with their parents’ home country, and things will be different now.” I was shipped off to my mother’s parents’ farm near Homedale, Idaho, where I then went to the first grade. I was there intermittently until the Atomic bombs concluded the war. I sat with my grandpa listening to his floor model Zenith radio about how we lived in a dangerous world but now filled with even more dangerous weapons.
The movie was dubbed into English and I wondered if there was some editing of the dialogue because this version had not the slightest anger at the Americans for dropping the bombs that killed the two kids’ mother and flattened their city. All of the people in this war-torn city, with lots of death all around them, treated one another with kindness and respect. The starving boy gets beat up by a farmer for stealing his crops, and a grouchy aunt complains non-stop about the orphaned boy and his sister living in her extra room for a while, but everyone is astonishingly civil. Is Japanese culture so deeply imbued with social courtesy that they are kind to one another even in horrible living situations?
Is war ever just or is it nothing more than political elites head butting for control? The political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli in 1515 wrote that it would be nice if nations could always solve their problems with diplomacy, but that war is not measuring the quality of politicians’ rhetoric but the total strength of the whole country’s people. It isn’t a question of personal morality and being kind to other individual people; it is a question of life or death for their whole cultures.
This movie was particularly meaningful to me because my uncle Charles, whom I knew quite well before the war began, was in one of those B-29 bombers that throughout the movie was repeatedly dropping bombs on these good Japanese people. My problem is that he was really a good person himself and always kind to me. Fifteen years after the war was over I was a pilot in the US Air Force and in 1959 was assigned to B-47 bombers and knew lots of the pilots of those airplanes. All of them were college graduates and after a year of intensive training had proven themselves technically capable and socially sane. They were all good people. I dropped out of that occupation when they offered me an H-bomb to fly around with, and at some coded radio signal I was supposed to go some place and annihilate a city. It was between wars and I said I didn’t think that would solve any problems and would probably bring a retaliation which would bring an end to world civilization. They let me out saying I could do more good for our country as a civilian.
The point is that those friends of mine, who were all good people, went and killed something like three-hundred-thousand people during the war in Vietnam. My personal question to this day is would I have had the ability to say no to that conventional war? It wasn’t a threat to America or to all humanity. Instead of participating in that foolish war for Americans I went to school and got a Masters of Fine Arts degree and taught school for a few years.
Decades later I am still trying to save the world by writing blogs.