On a certain You Tube video I found randomly on that site in my search for videos about Pearl Harbor to see how there were patterns on how information and memory are represented, I found some comments by viewers on a couple of sites, that mirror those of comments on Hiroshima 1945. Some of the people on these sites, commented that the Japanese deserved the Atomic Bomb. This echoes thoughts and sentiments expressed by many people I’ve known from the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, and other places where Japanese imperial forces committed atrocities. So as we all must know and understand by now, is that the past is never gone. The past lives in different ways and forms, in the present.
When I was eleven and twelve years old, our family lived in Hawaii, in an area called ‘Halawa’ in Aiea. Until this time, we had moved from Japan to Albuquerque, New Mexico, then to Hawaii. During these times, I remember that my mother grew steadily despondent and quiet. But in Hawaii, my mother began to feel enlivened by company and a social life. All around were families that were of Portuguese, Saamoan, Caucasian, Japanese-Hawaiian, Hawaiian, Black, Puerto Rican, and other ethnic groups that defied the notion of separate and divided. Our neighbors immediately closest to us, with our front doors not even a meter apart, were the Aiu family. I was close with the four kids of theif family. They were Caucasian. Mrs. Aiu, the mother of the nuclear family, was very friendly and kind and I remember her helping my mother with many adjustments to living in our new home.
She was in her teens on the morning of December 7, 1971. When I asked her a couple of times, about that day, she would say how horrific it was and terrifying, and she would describe their run into the bomb shelters near the house. We lived in a housing complex that had been through that attack and remnants of that day are seen in the bullet holes and craters created by Japanese pilots with their planes that day.
One day, I heard my mother crying in her room. I went to see what was happening and she said to go back to my room and nothing was wrong. I was afraid and sad. When I was in my room I heard the front door open and Mrs. Aiu called out to us that she was in. In those days, in Hawaii, people rarely knocked on doors of friends. Just as it had been when I was a child in Japan, we enter homes without knocking or doorbells, announcing our presence. That day I told Mrs. Aiu that Mama was in her room crying and I didn’t know what was wrong. Mrs. Aiu went in to find my mother in her bed, crying, yet nothing was physically wrong. Mrs. Aiu pulled my mother’s head gently into her chest and rocked my mother while stroking her hair. I felt sad, relieved, and inept, not knowing what I–a twelve year-old could do in this situation. My mother’s loneliness as a military bride in the US had not sunk in for me.
Later that same night, Mrs. Aiu returned with a pot she held with pot-holder gloves. She carried this into my mother’s room and she opened the lid. It was oka-yu, or as my mother called it: okai-san (rice gruel). Mrs. Aiu had also placed an umeboshi (preserved Japanese sweet plum) in the middle of the okayu, with its distinct purple pink color. My mother again began to sob and Mrs. Aiu held her for awhile, tellilng her that everything will be okay. I remember this as a photo in my memory. And soon, Mrs. Aiu began to feed the okayu to my mother as she cried and ate. My mother said in her broken English: Sank- U, Sank-U.
I remember asking Mrs. Aiu a couple of weeks later why she was so nice to us, since she was a white-American who had been bombed by the Japanese. She told me that governments and military people play games with people but that is no reason to hate a whole people. She said that my mother did not create the war and did not make any hatreds and obedience on her own. So she felt that we should all be taking care of each other as people.
December 1941, Hiroshima 1945, the fire-bombings of 66 major Japanese cities, the devastation of war on all sides of the Pacific and inside of it–all did not begin in 1941 or 1939 or 1925. The dates are markers of certain events that are used by the people writing the stories. They may all contain elements of a ‘truth.’ However, it’s never the way are told or shown. We must think. Japan’s rise to imperialism had a whole array of reasons that explain (but do not justify) its complexities in the international racisms that existed. Elite militarisms in desperate contexts as well as moral superiorities. No American or European group of men in world government, took any Asian nation seriously. They were inferior. This creates a certain kind of ‘blowback.’
But I remember Mrs. Aiu’s kindness and sober way of carrying herself in thoughtfulness. The memories of December 7th, for her, were to be lived with increasing self-education, thought, care across difference. This contrasts strongly with those who view vengeance as the priority. However, pain is pain, memory is memory. How will we, in the world, move forward. It is easy for those who do not understand the horrifying life of living in war and domination, and who would admonish others to forget and ‘be peaceful.’ This is also violent. We must work together to forge memories ‘with’ these pains of history in life and to transform them. Others are still more attracted to violence and the only way they can attain their self-mastery is through the mastery of others. Violence is a tool.
My mother. Mrs. Aiu. Hiroshima. Pearl Harbor. But there’s always more behind the representations. Shanghai, Nanking, Brussels, San Francisco Peace Treaty, Manchuria, Taiwan, South Korea, European colonialism, US economic and military wealth, Christian missionaries, racism.
In memory of soldiers who sacrifice themselves in the name of the game of governments, in the name of the military’s game of vying for supremacy or being killed, in memory of those families who suffer. In the memory of deaths that make our nations and realities. There is not much else in the world but that we are alive because of people who have died in the name of nation and its constructed honor. The honorable, the valiant, the inescapable link between valor and violence. In memory, can we construct different memories?
Thoughtfulness. Kindness. Commitments to forging peace across differences.