Tuesday, May 31, 2011

WHAT MEMORIAL DAY MEANS TO ME/ The "Greatest" Generation?



    I was a war baby.  My dad was the chief interpreter at the war crimes trial for General Yamashita in 1945.  General Yamashita had not ordered the slaughter of innocents in the Philippines but he was held criminally responsible even though he opposed what his subordinates had done.  He was convicted by the war crimes court and hanged.  My father thought this was an unjust act and he had developed a great admiration and respect for General Yamashita during the trial.  Later he authored an article that appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette arguing against the legality of Yamashita's hanging that attracted more than a little attention.

    My dad was also a war hero.  He was attached to the First and Second Marine Corps Divisions' general staffs and was involved in the interrogation of prisoners of war.  These were not torture conditions.  During the war Japanese soldiers were taught the ethics of bushido, or fighting to the death, so there were very little prisoners to be taken especially in the early phases of the war.  My dad had to fight within the Marine Corps for the humane treatment of Japanese prisoners because many American soldiers were angry about what Japanese soldiers had done to their comrades.  He and other intellligence officers designed campaigns to inform not-yet-surrendered solders to surrender and promised them humane treatment and food.  My dad witnessed untold carnage as he was at Guadalcanal, Saipan, Tinian, the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.  He was awarded the Legion of Merit among other medals and eventually reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in the reserves.

    I was conceived shortly after his return from the trial and born in October 1946.  As a youngster we attended military parades on Memorial Day in my home town of Madison, Wisconsin.  But my parents had both had enough of war and violence.  They left the Congregational Church (where my grandfather had been a praise the lord and pass the ammunition kind of preacher during World War I).  They became Quakers, and so my long education as a Quaker and pacifist had a beginning. 

    During the Vietnam War, I chose to leave college rather than hide under a student deferment.  I became a conscientious objector and worked for nearly one nearly unbelievable, impossible year on a North Dakota Indian Reservation, then eventually left for Philadelphia where I started what would become a lifelong medical career.  I first worked in a psychiatric hospital, then transferred to a medical hospital.  I married a wonderful young woman who had recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania school of nursing.  I loved working in the hospital on a retired police and firemen's ward, but I clearly wanted to get back to college and become the writer that I thought I was destined to be, when a nursing supervisor asked me if I wanted to go the hospital's nursing school. 

    The thought knocked my socks off.  I'd never, ever considered a career in nursing, but here I was already working in an environment helping people, some as they were dying or already dead, and it affected my heart.  Life is indeed a precious commodity and I was doing my best to help.

    It took me 25 years to act on the supervisor's suggestion, because I had to have my writing career, but the seed had been planted deeply within me.  At age 45 I decided to go back to school and five years later at age 50, after much anguish and turmoil, I finally graduated as an R.N.  For the last nearly 15 years I worked in hospitals and now I work in Maryland prisons.

    In some ways I regret we no longer have a draft because its abolition has enabled many many people to avoid taking any responsibility for the wars that our nation gets engaged in.  I personally am thankful for what happened to me because it positively impacted my life.  National non-violent service can be a very good endeavor.  But I am also extremely distressed that so many in our country don't give a moment's thought about the adviseability of using violence.  This is wrong.  I grieve for what our country is doing, but I also realize that there are many good things that our country still does.

    As peace activists we need to rededicate ourselves to advocating for peace.  This is difficult and often discouraging.  But in my despair I remember what both Rev. M. L. King and Mohandas Ghandi did with their lives, and how much they accomplished.  That gives me hope that as beacons of peace and good will, we can still be effective. 


Krist Boardman 


The "Greatest" Generation?


My father’s record in combat spoke for itself.  I have here on display in my office his Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal with three bronze service stars, each awarded for “action against the enemy” at Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa, respectively.  Furthermore, when I was a young boy, his fellow warriors elected him to be the Commander of the local American Legion Post, a distinct honor as he saw it.  He brought along my mother, my sister, and me for the installation ceremony and dinner that night.            

My father had nothing good and nothing bad to say about the Japanese Imperial Army and its soldiers.  But it was obvious from his tone of voice that he considered them to be dangerous warriors who were prepared to fight to the death, as large numbers of them did at his hands.  He never expressed any regret about killing them.  Nevertheless, my father and mother never raised any of us eight children to be biased or prejudiced against the Japanese or any other people for that matter. 

My father was extremely proud of his combat service in the Marine Corps against the Japanese Empire that had attacked his country, and for the rest of his life continued to consider himself to be a Marine, as is true for all Marines.  But he never bragged about his combat experiences in the war to me or to anyone else that I was aware of.  He never said that he was a “hero” or that he had ever done anything “heroic.”  My father never said anything about being part of some “greatest generation.”  Indeed, he never told me there was anything “great” about having fought that war.  I never got the impression from my father that he believed fighting the Japanese Imperial Army had made him “great” in any way.  In fact, my father was just “grateful” to the Almighty that he had survived the war. 

As I learned from my father, there is nothing “great” about fighting a war. And fighting a war does not make you “great” either. All the rest is just pro-war propaganda.

Professor Francis  Anthony  Boyle, Junior.

Author, Protesting Power: War, Resistance and Law (Rowman & Littlefield)

Francis A. Boyle

Law Building

504 E. Pennsylvania Ave.

Champaign, IL 61820 USA

217-333-7954 (voice)

217-244-1478 (fax)

(personal comments only)


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