Delving into the Intangibles

   Countries may fall  

President Barack Obama of the United States mourned the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima seventy years after Japan’s defeat. As our country is the only one to have been targeted by nuclear weapons, we Japanese must find a way to contribute to the peace of the world by any means. And yet we tend to forget painful memories; as time passes, memories of the war fade.

At this very moment, the same folly is being repeated, to a greater or lesser extent, somewhere on the planet. Doubtless, as individuals, we are against war. But, as nations, this is not necessarily so. For the “merchants of death,” war is their source of profit. If there is a so-called “good side” of war, it is that it stimulates the economy. Following the destruction, “special procurement” demand is generated. Human desires are limitless. Sometimes religion is involved in war––for example, Islam and Christianity. Religion is something that must be embraced personally, deep in the heart, but why on earth does it become a source of conflict between people and countries?

Countries may fall, but their rivers and mountains remain.”

The Eighth century Chinese poet Du Fu composed this beautiful, sad poem. Does the poem hold true for today’s world? Seventy years have passed since Japan’s capitulation. War responsibility exists on both sides. Even if one gets something “tangible” from winning a war, victory does not guarantee happiness or peace. Even the winner must pay dearly, since great sacrifices are required.

I was a girl of three at “the end of the war,” that euphemism for miserable defeat. Just an infant, the bizarre scene of grown-ups crying listening to the Gyokuon Hoso, the radio speech of the Showa Emperor, is seared in my memory. I will never forget the banana that was cut up and shared among seven family members. Food, in deadly shortage, was rationed. I helped my mother smuggle provisions: sitting on a pram seat, bearing an innocent look, with the food hidden beneath me. I got boils all over my body from malnutrition. A lack of vitamin B led me to develop beriberi. The name of such a disease has long since vanished from our vocabulary. Many children were evacuated en masse to rural areas. I was one of them. How I cried, longing for my parents. Yet even such memories are fading.

But it is definitely better to recall what one can than not hand down one’s wartime experiences to the younger generations. But how to do it? I’m not sure whether the miseries of war can be properly understood by those addicted to war-themed video games. Even a scene from a horrific documentary film can be misconceived as a product of Hollywood. How will future wars be conducted? As the size of the catastrophe must be gigantic, how many will lose their lives? Just the thought of it makes me giddy. We are the most stupid animals on earth, incorrigible fools, to wage wars endlessly. We ought to be ashamed.

I interpret Du Fu’s poem like this: “No matter what I lose, if I myself and the mountains and rivers of my native place remain, I have not lost my spiritual home.” I think this is a very encouraging “Intangible” poem. For all of us, this planet earth is our home. To keep it unharmed for future generations is our––the whole of humanity’s––duty.

The more we pursue something tangible, the more we lose intangible values that are priceless. It is high time human beings living in the 21st century realized this. May the mountains and the rivers we love remain for the children yet to be born!