My father and the War

Shoji Mita

  Nothing is more disturbing to me than to hear someone say " anything is possible in a war." Especially when these words came from the older generation who had gone through the war,I am overwhelmed with anger because I feel that they are trying to justify whatever they had done during the war. They made me think that the emotional quality of Japanese is hard and flat at the core. In essence, pathology of the Japanese people has been unchanged since the end of the war.

  My father, almost 93 year-old , was in his death bed. He was about to finish his lonely journey of life on which the war was forced .

  Toward the end of May, when he was still able to walk, he suddenly got up at night and put on a jacket over his shoulders and staggered out in the darkness, murmuring "I have to see the captain".  He was wearing long white underpants , carrying a vinyl bag attached to a catheter with a vinyl tube in his hand. To him, it must have been a canteen.  Alarmed by the sound, the 89-year-old mother went over to her daughter's house next door to tell her that her father had gone out.

  Before long, they found the father standing erect and stiff saluting the invisible captain in the neighbor's garden where he was holding onto the drum can.

  A story of a senile man behaving like a soldier would be a laughing matter. But this is a story of my own father and it had a great impact on me.

  My father landed on Shanghai in the fall of 1937 as a member of the Automobile Unit of the Japanese army . His unit named Qiang Nan Operation moved straight forward to Namjing with full load of soldiers, ammunitions and other war materials. He had a memo where names of towns and villages on the way were jotted down. On December 12, 1937, the unit reached Qingshui He, a few hours' drive away from Namjing. During three and half years after that, my father ran wild, killing, burning, looting in Hangzhou, Xuzhou, Wuhan, Chongqing along the river of Chang Jiang. He became a homicidal maniac , a looter-killer, and a arsonist.

  Severe stress of war action caused him incurable neurotic diarrhea and he was ordered to go home. He was literally all skin and bones when he stepped out of the train at the station of his hometown alone. Nevertheless , women from the neighbourhood association crowde dthe station to welcome him. My cousin was also there and saw all those people. He told me that he thought there must be a general's homecoming judging from the big crowd.

 I wished that my father had never killed a Chinese. But I knew my wish was impossible. He talked very little about the war. Too many stories remained untold. I regret my intolerance, my narrow mindedness, and my reluctance to look into the truth of the war . I did not want to share his experience. My rejection drove him into isolation.

  He did tell two of his stories. Separated from the unit, my father was chased by the Chinese soldiers and he wandered into a cemetery where he spent a cold , fearful night.  He also testified that in a small village in a rural district, he shot and killed 19 Chinese villagers to follow the order that the village must be wiped out. When he aimed the gun at the 20th villager, he found it to be an old woman. She turned around and glared at him with disheveled white hair. Her hatred, anger and fear in her face was so intense that he got stunned and walked away without shooting her. It is painful for me to imagine what kind of fear the old woman had at the gun point. And I wonder what compelled my father to give up killing the old woman.

  For the past month or so, I visited my father at his death bed , moving back and forth between Tokyo and my hometown. I did my part of responsibility for the 24 -hour care of my father. He could not speak, nor eat. His life depended on intravenous drip infusion. He remained fairly quiet during the day. But when the evening and night came, he started to howl, cry and shout loudly,< waaah, waaah,waaah, > making everybody around sleepless.

It seemed that my father tried to call attention to his predicament. I held his hand firmly to calm him down. Momentarily he stopped howling, but his hands were shaking as if he were frightened of something terrible. Just as everybody else did, I hoped that my father would pass away without too much pain. But his hell of wartime experience was wide open and fell upon him in his death bed. He was made to leave the hospital because of his howling. 

My sister who devoted most of her time caring my father collapsed under the stress.

My older brother told me that he secretly brought a few cans of beer into the sickroom when his turn came to attend the father. He simply could not stand the father's howling without alcohol. My younger brother visited the sickroom in the morning before he goes to work and in the evening after the work and slept in the sickroom at the weekend. Everyone of my family heard the terrible cry of their father.

  To some extent I had expected accumulation of war experiences buried in his mind. But it was far beyond my imagination. His scream and cry resounded in every corner of the sick ward during the night. No closed door could stop the noise from coming in. I had to cover his mouth with my hands all night to suppress the noise because I did not want o disturb the other patients' sleep. Despite that, the hospital decided to remove him from the sickroom.

 Fortunately we found another doctor who had enough understanding and compassion to accept him in his private hospital. But his conditions remained all the same at night, nevertheless.

  I didn't want to consider the death of my father as an ordinary end of life for an individual. I tried to see the message of the times and the society in his death.

Being a rebellious child all my life, I whispered to my father saying "Tell me, Father! Did you or did you not kill Chinese women, children, old men and old women, surrendered soldiers during the war in China? " My father had lost most of his senses except for hearing by then . He understood what I said. He shook his head. He looked as if he were joining the company of dead war-comrades because his hands and feet were losing the color of blood. I wondered if he was denying the allegation or if he was begging me not to ask questions like that. I repeated the same questions several times and every time, he shook his head. My sister looked at me sternly as if to say "It is too late for that anyway".

I believe that my father decided to keep the truth to himself. So, crimes and atrocities of the war he had agonized over in his late years were about to disappear into the darkness as he died.

 I keep saying "My father's life ended when he went to the war, but his war experience has not ended yet". Whenever I asked him about the war, he would say "If I don't kill them, they would kill me" and never touched the subject again. And this is why I asked my father about the killings in China at his death bed. 

  One day, his doctor said to me on his round, " The nurse told me that your father was making terrible noise all night. Was he having a nightmare?"

  In place of my father who could no longer speak, I explained to him ;

"My father is haunted by the memory of his gruesome experiences of the war. I understand that, as a man grew older and weaker, PTSD would appear from the deeper layer of his unconsciousness. They call it trauma, which , I believe , is my father's case. My father would not die easily and he would have to suffer a lot before he goes." Then, I picked up a newsletter of at the side of his pillow and showed it to him.、"Look ! Doctor, this figure of 300,000 is the number of Chinese victims during the war. My father must have killed some tens of them, but he never admitted his crimes nor did he ever show any sign of repentance."

The doctor forced a smile at me and without a word, he walked out . Later, I was embarrassed to learn that he was a noted specialist of neurology, graduated from two medical schools.

In the same afternoon, I told my sister that I would not attend the funeral of my father overwhelmed by my anger over the father's denial. However, there is one consolation to me , that is, he never made discriminative remarks about Chinese people. Time and time again since my childhood, he told me that Chinese were all broad-minded and kindhearted people.

I once heard him murmuring to himself, "that war, what an absurd thing!.." These are the only words close to repentance. What was on his mind, I wonder.

I remember the time when he organized a party for his former war-comrades of Jiangnan Operation at a hotel located right across the residence of Mr. Yoshio Tsuchiya, a famous pacifist. Some thirty members of them gathered. I saw the group picture of them with nervous and tense look on their faces. To them, lens of the camera must have looked like a gun aimed at them.

His howling and shouting continued over a month. It must have been the cry of fear from Chinese victims he murdered during the war. The memory came back from his past and replayed in public to remind him what he did.

 Note:. Mr. Mita's father died on July 28th. May he rest in peace.


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