Reflections on 40 years: Letters to Iwo Jima

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I was recently in the Bangkok Airport at a bookstore when a sudden desire to read something on history overcame me; so I picked up the book, Letters from Iwo Jima, which has now been transformed into a film by Clint Eastwood. It came as no coincidence to me that at just about the time that I finished the book, I was flying over the same island on the way to Tokyo. This book recounts the story of the battle for Iwo Jima during World War 2 mainly through the letters of the commander of Japanese forces who defended the island. 40 years after the bloodshed in which both sides suffered over 20,000 casualties some of the survivors from both sides gathered again on the island, this time in peace, to commemorate the battle. The first moments of their reunion were warm, and yet somewhat reluctant each wondering perhaps how the other side was feeling, but soon the former enemies embraced each other as if they were life long friends.
Right now I am writing this post in Tokyo, my country’s former enemy, and I cannot help but ask myself the question that has become like a mantra to me. If the soldiers from both sides would have known 40 years prior that they would one day embrace, how would that fact have changed their behavior? The possibility of an eventual embrace existed before the war, but it took the courage and sacrifice of so many men from both sides and then an additional 40 years until it could be realized. It can only mean one thing to me which must be regarded as haunting to all of us. Having peace and embracing the current enemies like Al-Qaeda is already a reality in the future. Is it necessary to have to fight and shed needless blood for the eventual embrace to occur? What do I need to do now to accelerate the embrace of my country’s enemies? I am certain about one process that I can do. I can look into the future and see the possibility that few people seem to be seeing, that is, that we will embrace our enemies. Even history proves this fact. I don’t think it means that I can rush in and embrace someone who is intent on destroying my life anymore than Japanese and American soldiers could have embraced during World War 2, but I know that because the embrace is sure to happen in the future, there must be a set of core activities that will accelerate its happening faster.

Note: The picture above are 3 young Muslim boys who Debby and I met in Phuket last October. Do they look like terrorists to anyone?

Reflection on Radical Change

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The woman in the picture above is a grandmother in the northern hill tribe region of Vietnam. Debby and I stayed overnight in her house one evening during our treks in that region. Now if you were a young person growing up in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s, as I was, the thought of spending a peaceful evening with a villager in Vietnam may not have ever entered your consciousness. Today some 30 years hence, the relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam has undergone a radical change. The question I have to ask myself as I reflect on my experience with this beautiful grandmother is this. What would I have done different in my life back then had I known that I would be eating stir fry and drinking tea with this wonderful woman some 30 years after? Perhaps I could have had tea with her much earlier. Over 3 million Vietnamese lost their lives in their conflict with Americans. Everyone you meet in Vietnam has been affected directly by the war. Our guide’s father was handicapped for life after 10 years of fighting, but we managed to become close friends with the guide. If we know that peace is coming even with once bitter enemies, how can that change our relationships with others right now? Can we accelerate radical change? Whoever is your enemy right now will one day be your friend. Think about it. I have a lot of work to do to change my enemies to friends. I guess I need to see them as I see the grandmother drinking tea with me. I have much work to do because keeping enemies seems so tantalizing and for sure it is much easier.