Monday, December 22, 2008

Forgiveness

A few weeks ago, some friends were over and, as they are both history buffs, I dug some of the family history out of the basement to peruse. The old photos and family bibles and such were pretty interesting, but what really captivated us were two journals from two military men in my family's history. I hadn't actually read either of them yet (I've only recently become the family historian, and we have a lot of history).

The first of these was from my granduncle. It starts on Sunday, October 18, 1941, when he was leaving for his first assignment: Manila, in the Philippines. For those who might not know, the Philippines were not a good place to be for an American soldier in late 1941. He took part in the battle of Bataan (although the few months worth of journal detailing that experience are, according to a note in the margins, "buried somewhere on Bataan, North W. of Mariveles." After the conclusion of that battle, he became a part of the Bataan Death March. The bulk of the journal describes the next 3 1/2 years as a Japanese prisoner of war. The constant disease, the beatings, the mistreatment, the starvation rations, it's incredible that anyone could make it through such an experience... and many didn't. But for all of that, the one thing that amazes me more than anything came after the end of the war, after the surrender of Japan, when he and his fellow prisoners stopped being "prisoners of war" and suddenly became "displaced persons". It took some time for the logistics to catch up so that they could be brought back from their camp in the Fukui prefecture of Japan to the States. His entry from September 2, 1945 speaks volumes. In part:
The supplies dropped to us yesterday have us swamped - food, candy, clothing, smokes, -everything- ten loads dropped by B-29's flying at low altitudes littered the compound and hillsides - red, yellow, green, white, blue parachutes, - some bundles and boxes went thru roofs of barracks, there were a number of close shaves, one Nip hurt.
...
Here's something we thought we'd never do; give extra supplies to Nips; the local school children and villagers - It's so weird - up until two days ago for 3 1/2 years we've dreamed and longed and planned for the goodies and food of normal life - now we have more candy, foods, clothing, cigarets than we can use before we leave.
To me, that's amazing. Granted, as he says, they had more than they could use; but still: after 3 1/2 years of horrible conditions at the hands of a nation, to be able to turn around and freely give your food to them in the aftermath of such a horrible war, speaks of a forgiveness that inspires awe. I don't know if I could be that person. I hope I could.

The other journal is from my great great grandfather, also written while he was a prisoner of war (apparently my family, while reasonably talented at serving in the armed forces during wartime and fairly talented at not dying while doing so, aren't quite so great when it comes to not being captured by the enemy.) He was a POW held at Johnson's Island near Sandusky, Ohio in the early 1860's. His journal isn't so detailed, mostly containing poetry he wrote but, historically speaking, the prisoners of Johnson's Island were apparently treated fairly well, and all things considered it wasn't a particularly terrible situation, given that it was a prison. It's been 145 years now, and it's still hard to muster up the sort of forgiveness that my granduncle showed just two weeks after the surrender of Japan. I suppose forgiveness is a lot harder after you've lost the war.

1 comment:

Mike Patterson said...

Of course, you might view the situation as being thus: Ohio lost that war too, although they chose to fight on the same side as the Federal Government, which won it. That's why Ohio is now part of a monoculture that didn't have to come into being.