A Personal View of War
Takashi Yogi, Santa Cruz Sentinel (2/2/03)
Our entire family was nearly killed by a war, but was saved by a lucky accident caused by me. It was February 15, 1945, and our family was scheduled to board a ship to Japan from Okinawa to escape the war. I was two years old and hungry, so I put my hand into a pot of boiling rice. I was burned badly and had to be taken to a doctor, and we missed the ship. We later learned that the ship was torpedoed by an American submarine. We tried to get on another ship, but it was reserved for the Japanese army and it was also sunk. There was a ship full of Okinawan schoolchildren sent by their parents to the apparent safety of mainland Japan; it was torpedoed. I have often pondered why I managed to survive when so many others died, people equally deserving of life. It was a lottery where my number somehow never got called.
There is a Peace Memorial in Okinawa that has endless rows of granite slabs with the names of all the people that died in the Battle of Okinawa, three months of the most intense fighting in all of World War II. My mother visited this memorial to place her fingers on the etched names of her son and father-in-law. Like the Vietnam War Memorial, this one reminds us of the personal cost of a war. There are the names of 14,005 American soldiers, 72,907 Japanese soldiers, and 147,110 Okinawan civilians. When I multiply by mother's grief by all these individuals, my mind is incapable of comprehending the enormity of the loss.
It is cruel irony that most of the dead were from a country that was historically peaceful. The Okinawans were colonized by Japan and had no part in the decision to go to war. They were deemed unfit to fight in the Japanese army, so almost all of the 450,000 Okinawans were civilians, trapped between opposing armies. Among them were my mother and father, four children aged nine months to eight years, and 83-year-old grandfather. We were forced to leave home and spent three months dodging the incessant bombs and artillery. My father kept a small diary, and I later correlated his notes with the US military record. On April 29, my father wrote, “We walked all night. The children were so tired they did not speak. We finally reached Kochinda, but could not find a cave or hiding place. We walked and walked and finally reached Tomoi by morning. The only cave we could find was filled with muddy water, so we had to stand there all day.” On June 19 he wrote, “We were so tired we could not dig any more [for food]. We could have only one meal every other day.” My mother said that at first I was constantly crying about being hungry, but that I later stopped because there was no food that she could give me.
After the war, when I was six, our family moved to Hawaii. As we got off the ship, I met an old man and asked him, “Sir, is there lots of rice here?” The man broke into tears and replied, “Yes, there is plenty of rice here.” My experience of war has forever colored my view of life. Should we go to war? For me that question is more than debates about weapons, politics and ideologies, which side is right, which side is wrong.
As a survivor of war, I cannot forget those that died. The noblest of causes cannot outweigh the lives of people who die in every war, especially the children, children whose innocence is inescapable, incontestable. War is usually associated with courage, honor, and vanquishing evil. We are told that war is nasty, but necessary. But when I contemplate the endless list of war dead, I must protest this slaughter because my experience tells me that war is an atrocity. It must end, there must be a better way, we must evolve out of this savagery. We have relied on war to bring peace, but war has perpetuated itself, feeding on itself, until it has grown into a nuclear monster that threatens all life.
Our vulnerability has increased in spite of our formidable defenses. What can we do? For me the answer is clear: I will chose life instead of death. I will work for peace and justice instead of war.