A Personal View of War

 

By Takashi Yogi


    Our entire family was nearly killed by a war, but was
saved by a lucky accident caused by me.  It was February 15,
1945, and our family was scheduled to board a ship to Japan
from Okinawa to escape the war.  I was two years old and
hungry, so I put my hand into a pot of boiling rice. I was
burned badly and had to be taken to a doctor, and we missed
the ship.  We later learned that the ship was torpedoed by
an American submarine.  We tried to get on another ship, but
it was reserved for the Japanese army and it was also sunk.
There was a ship full of Okinawan schoolchildren sent by
their parents to the apparent safety of mainland Japan; it
was torpedoed.  I have often pondered why I managed to
survive when so many others died, people equally deserving
of life.  It was a lottery where my number somehow never got
called.
    There is a Peace Memorial in Okinawa that has endless
rows of granite slabs with the names of all the people that
died in the Battle of Okinawa, three months of the most
intense fighting in all of World War II.  My mother visited
this memorial to place her fingers on the etched names of
her son and father-in-law.  Like the Vietnam War Memorial,
this one reminds us of the personal cost of a war.  There
are the names of 14,005 American soldiers, 72,907 Japanese
soldiers, and 147,110 Okinawan civilians.  When I multiply
by mother's grief by all these individuals, my mind is
incapable of comprehending the enormity of the loss.
    It is cruel irony that most of the dead were from a
country that was historically peaceful.  The Okinawans were
colonized by Japan and had no part in the decision to go to
war.  They were deemed unfit to fight in the Japanese army,
so almost all of the 450,000 Okinawans were civilians,
trapped between opposing armies.  Among them were my mother
and father, four children aged nine months to eight years,
and 83-year-old grandfather.  We were forced to leave home
and spent three months dodging the incessant bombs and
artillery.  My father kept a small diary, and I later
correlated his notes with the US military record.  On April
29, my father wrote, "We walked all night.  The children
were so tired they did not speak.  We finally reached
Kochinda, but could not find a cave or hiding place.  We
walked and walked and finally reached Tomoi by morning.  The
only cave we could find was filled with muddy water, so we
had to stand there all day."  On June 19 he wrote, "We were
so tired we could not dig any more [for food].  We could
have only one meal every other day."  My mother said that at
first I was constantly crying about being hungry, but that I
later stopped because there was no food that she could give
me.
    After the war, when I was six, our family moved to
Hawaii.  As we got off the ship, I met an old man and asked
him, "Sir, is there lots of rice here?"  The man broke into
tears and replied, "Yes, there is plenty of rice here."  My
experience of war has forever colored my view of life.
Should we go to war?  For me that question is more than
debates about weapons, politics and ideologies, which side
is right, which side is wrong.
As a survivor of war, I cannot forget those that died. The
noblest of causes cannot outweigh the lives of people who
die in every war, especially the children, children whose
innocence is inescapable, incontestable. War is usually
associated with courage, honor, and  vanquishing evil.  We
are told that war is nasty, but necessary.  But when I
contemplate the endless list of war dead, I must protest
this slaughter because my experience tells me that war is an
atrocity.  It must end, there must be a better way, we must
evolve out of this savagery.  We have relied on war to bring
peace, but war has perpetuated itself, feeding on itself,
until it has grown into a nuclear monster that threatens all
life.
Our vulnerability has increased in spite of our formidable
defenses. What can we do?  For me the answer is clear:  I
will chose life instead of death.  I will work for peace and
justice instead of war.


Published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 2-2-03

Links

MoveOn.org

United for Peace

Poets against the War

03-20-2003