He kept faith with a former enemy soldier
President Bush's fast-forward gave me a flashback. He saw an Iraq becoming democratic like Germany and Japan after World War II. I thought of 1945 and sitting for a souvenir photo in my marine khakis at a Yokosuka studio. I paid in advance for mailing it home. What could I lose? The bills in our hands seemed like Monopoly money in a land our atomic bombs had so recently conquered.Skip to next paragraph
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How could the Japanese photographer, the Japanese waiters in the restaurants, the salespeople in the art store where I bought the fold-out book of prints - how could they bear to look at us, let alone serve us in our American uniforms?
Back home I forgot about my reckless investment. Then surface mail brought the print and original metal plate as reliably as Montgomery Ward, which still thrived then. When my folks marveled over the photo quality, which gave me a certain Vermeer look, I guess I was a little ashamed for being surprised at getting value received from an occupied land of former enemies.
But those people resuming their daily lives were no more my enemies than the Germans were then or the Iraqis are now. As for turning their countries into democracies, Germany and Japan were more homogeneous to begin with, some say. Iraq's contending segments may be liberated into chaos.
Yet segmented people remain members of the larger family of humanity. An upside of globalization is a certain connective tissue between the individual and the whole, whatever the lines and colors of the map. It's a wise child who knows where his computer game was programmed. Mass communications reach into the desert and jungle to windup receivers and village TVs. Individual communications leap from keyboard to keyboard, sometimes spreading lies and viruses but also giving the option of shared truth.
To paraphrase a line from long before dotcoms, "If we're so smart, why ain't we rich?" What happened to the nebulous '90s that seemed the threshold of endless wealth? The awakening began before 9/11, and once more I think of my Yokosuka photographer keeping faith with someone he'd never see again.
What if the moguls of the West had been as faithful over big things as this man was over small ones? And, to risk sounding like the "sermonettes" on my parents' cathedral-shaped radio, what if everyone had thought less about "having" and more about loving?
Now we may not feel as jaunty as Robert Frost: "There's always been an Ararat ... To start the world all over at." But children of the Great Depression can testify that the ground is higher than it used to be.
We told plenty of war stories while in uniform but didn't when we were back with a family audience.
Was that true only of World War II? A war so accepted that, as my generation smugly recalled during later conflicts, people lied to get in rather than out of it.
Or is this another time to get the war stories out of our systems? Our peace stories will look back at people acting like family whatever their governments do.