August 16, 2008

An Unfortunate Encounter

I'd like to relate to my readers something that happened to me earlier today, something that can only be described as confusing, perplexed and, ultimately, sad.

This morning, I went grocery shopping at a local store that has a fairly decent "international foods" section.  You know the type: Mexican staples, Indian chutneys and the like.  There's also a wide selection of Asian foodstuffs, including Japanese things like soba, 10 different types of soy sauce, some microwaveable beef bowls (awful), a couple of different flavors of Pocky, instant miso, sushi fixings, yadda yadda...

I was browsing through the section, trying to decide if I wanted to get a cheap packet of instant miso (I did, eventually) along with the Pocky and some hot sauce (good to add to chili) when an elderly man said to me "you shouldn't buy that (crap)."  I gave him a surprised look and asked, intelligently, "what?"

He repeated his assertion, adding "it's made by the Nips."

By now, my eyebrows had long left my forehead and headed for the stratosphere.  Like an idiot, though, I asked him what's wrong with getting Japanese food.  It's awfully tasty, after all.  He visibly became angry with me as he said (I'm paraphrasing here) "I fought them in the Philippines, they shot me and killed some of my friends, I hate those damn Japs and I will until the day I die."

I want you to imagine my state of mind at this moment: standing in front of me was a man I automatically honor, a WWII vet, and one who fought in the Pacific theatre no less, an area of history I'm fascinated in.  At the same time, though, he's trashing an entire race of people (including some that I'd call casual friends: Duck U has an exchange program with a Japanese college, so there's always around 5-10 students from there attending) for events that happened over sixty years ago, and a culture that I enjoy learning about to boot.

To say that I was confused and saddened just then would be accurate.  I would have loved to have spoken with him about his experiences if he would have let me, but at the same time his attitude (and don't get me wrong, I understand where it comes from: if you're not going to like someone or something, seeing your friends killed and being shot yourself is a pretty good reason) was distasteful at best.

Fortunately, he didn't recognize the baseball cap I was wearing (the Hanshin Tigers, brought back from Japan by a Duck U student for me).  After heaping some more abuse on "the Nips" and scorn on me, he stalked off (as best he could, using a cane and an old person's shuffle) muttering under his breath.

I'm still disturbed by the whole thing.  I think of Brickmuppet, who's touristing in Japan right now, and wonder if there's old members of the Imperial Japanese Army who might want to chew him out, or skewer him with a bayonet if they could get away with it, just for being American.  I think of my DVD rack, filled with anime, and my end-table, covered with pockyboxes... and one of my bookcases, stuffed with history books about the Pacific war. 

And I wonder which of us has the right of it: the elderly man who fought and bled for our country, who's attitudes are over a half-century out of date?  Or myself, who has the more modern attitudes, but who respects the actions of the other man.

In this multi-culti, politically correct world, are the experiences of the old soldier scornworthy?  I'm glad I don't feel the way he does, but is he wrong to feel that way?

Posted by: Wonderduck at 08:29 PM | Comments (7) | Add Comment
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1

It's understandable why he should feel that way, though many old soldiers do not.

I'm glad you didn't try to argue with him; that would have been wrong.

And it's OK for us to like the Japanese. The war was a long time ago.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 16, 2008 08:43 PM (+rSRq)

2 I guess there really is no "right" here. My dad fought in Europe (came ashore 3 days after D-Day) and fought all the way through (including in the Ardennes during the Bulge) until about two weeks before V-E, when he was hit by shrapnel and ended up in a British hospital. Just like the man you encountered, he lost friends and was wounded. He didn't seem to harbor any particular hatred towards the Germans. I suppose it's something we can never understand, so its best to just let it lie.

My dad's unit was one of the ones that liberated Mauthausen... if he had been there, he might have felt the same towards the Germans that the man did towards the Japanese. Hell, I'd probably feel the same way.

Posted by: Evil Otto at August 16, 2008 09:15 PM (tYvh+)

3 Steven, the last thing I would have done is argue with him.

Otto, everything I've ever read indicates that the Germans were "just like us" in WWII.  How many immigrants from the Old Country served in the Army, after all?  Or lived on your street?  The Japanese, though, were looked down upon to start with, then as backstabbing sneak-attackers after Pearl Harbor.  There weren't internment camps for German-Americans, but there sure were for Japanese.  They were (and, I suppose, still are in some ways) too different.

Which is why I'm fond of the Japanese culture: it's different!  In another world, maybe I'd be fascinated by (say) the Indian culture, or Egyptian, or whatever... *shrug*

But add in the stress and horrors of war to the "different", and one can see how hatred can occur. 

Posted by: Wonderduck at August 16, 2008 10:35 PM (AW3EJ)

4

In response to "but is he wrong to feel that way?" I feel the answer is no. He's entitled to feel any way he wants. People are who they are and they take from life what they choose. But always remember that we are entitled to agree, disagree, become motivated, be disappointed, etc with/by the thoughts and behaviors of others.  He will never change and I find it sad, but what would be sadder is if you allow his bitterness to affect your life.  You each have the right to live your lives as you see fit. His issues are his. Don't let them become yours.

Posted by: The Librarian at August 17, 2008 02:44 AM (lMPdx)

5 We tend to forget that history was and is personal, that all those good and bad experiences happened to someone.

My boss is half-Japanese.  I've had the pleasure of meeting her mother, who fits the perfect stereotype of the little old Japanese lady.  Her mother's family still lives in Japan.  Her father is a veteran who was stationed in Japan after the war.  I've never felt comfortable asking, but I'm sure there's a story there.

I wouldn't be surprised if there's a veteran of World War 2 somewhere, probably of Jewish or Eastern European ancestry, that fought alongside one of the Nisei units in Europe, that admires the Japanese but can't look at a German car without feeling a similar hatred.

Posted by: Civilis at August 17, 2008 05:01 AM (Y1ZWN)

6 I don't think he's wrong to feel that way at all.  He's got a good reason for his feelings and he's entitled to them. 

That's the way of it, though, and his time will eventually pass.  Japan and the US are friendly now, and in some ways we would both suffer greatly from ending that friendship.

Of course, I'm a big Japan-o-phile too.  I'm sure my Dad (who was in boot camp about the time they vaporized Hiroshima) was mystified that I could be so interested in Japanese culture and stuff.


Posted by: Ed at August 17, 2008 06:15 AM (XJZSD)

7 I think that if I had time to compose an answer, I'd offer him my hand and say, "Thank you for helping make it possible for future generations to not hate the Japanese people." In reality, I don't think my synapses would start firing until about ten minutes after he left. I could manage the thank you, but that's about it. -j

Posted by: J Greely at August 22, 2008 06:48 PM (2XtN5)

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