As the big carrier plowed through gentle Mediterranean swells, I was on the flight deck. My memory is foggy about the exact date, but it had to be my first deployment. I do remember that it was a fine day, with that lovely Mediterranean sunshine casting sparkles across the pale blue sea.
I don't remember if there'd been an announcement over the 5MC, but I do remember gazing aft and watching a ship approach.
It was the enemy, a Soviet Kashin Class destroyer. If she continued on her course she would pass up the port side of the carrier. Close.
|Like this, only closer. USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) with Soviet Kashin Class destroyer, 1967. Wikipaedia.|
I was standing somewhere in the vicinity of JBD 4, and there was a crowd of Roof Rats lining the port side of the flight deck.
The destroyer steamed past with about a five knot advantage. A sharp looking, pretty ship, obviously powered by big gas turbine engines. Gun turrets fore and aft, just ahead and behind twin missile launchers. Twin lattice masts amidships. Bridge ahead of the foremost, sensor tower aft of the rearmost. I could pick out acquisition, guidance and illumination radars. Between the lattice masts a big pair of exhaust stacks, port and starboard, repeated with slightly shorter stacks aft of the sensor tower. Between the forward stacks and sensor tower torpedo tubes and ASW weapons. A real, serious, capable warship. One we might have to fight if Jimmy or Leonid went off their meds.
|Kashin Class Destroyer. Source: Wikipaedia|
As the ship drove past I noticed a lot of sailors on her deck. Our guys were waving, and a few enterprising airdales even threw thick-skinned Mediterranean oranges from their tasty (?) box lunches across the narrow gap. The Soviet blueshirts Just looked at us; none that I saw returned a wave. Maybe a cultural thing. Maybe the threat of a Siberian vacation. Who knows?
But the thing that really struck me, out of the blue and with surprising force, was that those guys were people. Just people. I didn't see a single ogre munching on a baby. Maybe they were below?
For some reason the clear humanity of the Ivans irritated me. They're the enemy, dammit! You're supposed to be able to tell. The evil is supposed to be obvious!
Funny how the mind works. Seeing real live Soviet sailors flashed me back to my even-youngsterhood. I was watching a show about Japan on PBS. Maybe 1966? I knew all about Japan and Pearl Harbor and the dirty Kamikazes. But PBS was showing me something else. Normal people in normal towns doing normal things. Just people. But they're the enemy, aren't they? Shit! How does this war thing work anyway?
A few years later, very early 1970's. We get the word from Mom and Dad that we're going to have a Japanese exchange student live with us for the summer. When he arrived he was a scrawny little shrimp, probably 12 years old or so. He came to Kimball with a handful of other Japanese kids of about the same age, each of whom stayed with a different family.
His name was Kazuhiro Suzuki. He was from Nagasaki. He did not glow in the dark, we checked.
|Kazuhiro Suzuki with his little brothers, Nagasaki, circa 1970.|
|Kazuhiro and his dad.|
|Kazuhiro with his mom.|
Kazuhiro didn't habla much Anglais, and we nihonjin no shigoto o hanasu koto wa arimasendeshita. Well, I knew Mitsubishi and Nakajima and Kamikaze. Soryu, Hiryu, Zuikaku, Shokaku, Kaga, Akagi. Niitaka o noborimasu. But that was it. It was okay, though, because we were all human kids and we figured it out. Over the summer Kazuhiro's English got better, and so did ours. The one Japanese phrase I still remember is minikui obenjo. Go figure.
|Kazuhiro and Noodles the Bulldog in front of the ol' 930.|
|The Kazuhiro Kid atop Poke, with a couple of my brothers.|
Kazuhiro left at the end of summer. We were all going to write, but we never did.
When Kazuhiro visited our home the atom bombing of Nagasaki was only a quarter-century in the past. I knew a lot about it from reading. Kazuhiro didn't know much, or perhaps just wasn't saying. I don't know for sure whether his family lived in Nagasaki on August 9, but if they did, then his mom and dad survived being nuked. And had kids. Who didn't glow in the dark.
Scale, perspective and context. These are more than important, they are vital. We nuked Japan. It was a war, and not one of our choosing. Today Japan is vibrant and free and civilized. Countless little kids have been born in Nagasaki and Hiroshima since August, 1945. None of them glow in the dark. All of them have been free. And numberless children have been born across what was once known as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
Between 1931-ish and September 1945 countless children died. The death of each was a crushing, horrific tragedy. Every. Single. One.
|Kazimiera Mika, 12, at the side of her sister Andzia, 14, killed by Luftwaffe strafing in Poland in September, 1939. Wikipaedia.|
Only the children are blameless. Only grownups can prevent slaughter.
There are millions upon millions of people with uninformed opinions and ill-conceived notions about everything under the sun. Some opine that their neighbors are nuclear mass murderers, though no one living today was in a position to make decisions regarding the fate of Japan at the close of WWII. Many are in love with the notion of loathing their neighbors, perhaps to support their own misinformed and uneducated self loathing. To espouse such opinions and notions is to practice selfishness at a monumental level.
The kind of selfishness that leads to war.
Far better to ask, "what can I do, right now, today, to treat my fellow humans as an end only, rather than a means to an end?"
It's the only solution.
But these are mere words. There must be deeds. And that is the reality of reality.