7:29:14 Right Speech

The national trauma often compared to 9/11 is Pearl Harbor. Both were surprise attacks with loss of life numbering in the thousands. On December 7, 1941, we entered World War II, surely a defining moment of the 20th Century.

A few weeks ago, I was going through family papers and came across a resume for my late father. A civil engineer, I noted that from October 1940 to December 1941 he worked in the "Survey Office, Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, T.H." as "Chief of party on surveys for channel soundings, buildings and pipe lines."

[Redding 1948]

The next month he changed jobs. From January 1942 to February 1943, he worked in the "U.S. Engineers' Office, Honolulu, T.H." as "Chief of party on surveys for runway construction and utilities, design and preliminary surveys for highways."

In the decades I knew my dad, he never once said he was at Pearl Harbor.

I knew he worked in Honolulu and had a vague idea he'd got a job there on the way back from a year of wanderlust that took him to New Zealand and Australia. Not hearing otherwise, I assumed he was there before or after Pearl Harbor.

Plus I never heard my dad say one negative thing about the Japanese. In fact, he was an avid gardener and a joy in his life was going to Japanese-American nurseries common in Southern California.

Still the question remains, Why didn't he mention being at Pearl Harbor? Some would say it's his generation: They didn't talk about war.

I think right speech--in this case, silence--might explain my dad's letting Pearl Harbor rest in the past. In the Analects of Confucius, the Master approaches the subject of war with circumspection and will not mistake the part(s) for the whole. If American involvement in WWII began with Pearl Harbor, it ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If a cold-hearted calculation concluded those who were to perish from two A-bombs were worth less than the contingent loss of life from a land invasion of Japan, then might one not prefer to leave the madness of war to silence?

Yes, I think my father's silence about Pearl Harbor was for the best: To let me grow up in a post-war world without the burden of easy racism. When I travelled to Japan a few years ago, I visited Nagoya-jo, the reconstructed castle in Nagoya. A plaque reads--with proper Confucian circumspection--"because of world hostilities, the earlier castle burned down in 1945." No naming names, no assignment of blame. The understated, laconic words would fit right in with my dad's about "surveys for runway construction"!


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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.



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