Before I came to Japan an old Australian man scolded me for being unAustralian in visiting this horrible country. Why so horrible you might ask? Well for what happened in WWII. See, as we all know, the Japanese were on the other side of the battle. And, as I have seen at museums in Thailand and Malaysia, they did some really bad things. The old man was too young to be a WWII veteran. Maybe his father or uncle was. He’s held a grudge for a very long time.
So of course, I have come to Japan despite the old man. And I think little of that war to end all wars. ANZAC Day comes and goes. I feel little for the day as my Facebook feed is dotted with photos by military personnel who boast about being drunk at the march. One posts a photo of himself carrying a beer while riding a skateboard at the march. There are also many posts about the glory of warriors. About how we should venerate soldiers, sailors and airmen and women for deciding on that as their job. I cannot connect. War only conjures up two images in my mind: hatred of humans and waste of life (and, today in my country, a career choice made in uncertain economic times).
But I do stop to reflect often on other days about our shared history and the lessons not yet learned. In Korea I was moved by the memorials and museums of their ongoing civil war. I saw farmers with backs bent who were directly affected by military action. Innocent civilians whose farms were destroyed but who I were now harvesting rice. In Thailand the River Kwai bridge and death railway rocked my mind with the horror prisoners of war experienced. And in Malaysia the Cameron Highlands were not always so peaceful as the many jeeps that remain from the war can show.
But what about Japan? What have I learned here? I just went to a peace museum. A tiny two room display without English translations. It was the same photos from a different perspective. Some uniforms and ordinance. Military personnel marching and civilians supoorting their countrymen. But then there were five photos of Hiroshima and I felt the tears well up. Our side did that. We created that destruction. We crossed that line to destroy a whole city with one bomb blast.
I look around at modern day Japan. It is peaceful and calm. Every day I pass signs that say “May peace reign on earth”. Every day. I see no monuments to soldiers lost. No lists of names. No cenotaphs Just this simple wish written in both Japanese and English. And I see it every single day in parks, at shrines and in random urban locations. And it makes me wonder … which country is Japan currently invading? Are they currently at war? I know my country is. But what about this nation the old man warned me to stay away from?
I make no apologies for being a pacifist. I believe all people are one regardless of race, religion or politics. I know there are bad people who do bad things. But I am also not so naive as to believe what I am told to believe. As long as we are rich and others remain poor there will be conflict. Perhaps, instead of creating fear, we need to look at ways to reduce that poverty. And to step outside our perspectives to see a bigger picture. One in which we all play a role and no nation is innocent in times of war. Seeing the photos of Hiroshima today has changed me forever. At the very least, lets stop glorifying warriors and start focusing on one simple wish: Let there be peace on earth.
That doesn’t mean lets fight evil. It means let us all create peace on earth through peaceful measures. However small or large they might be.