by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
May 30, 2002
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Memorial Day has come and gone and left us filled with images. There was a stunning documentary about the Pacific battles of World War II on NBC, and another one on HBO about New York City on Sept. 11. Sunday's New York Times gave us a stunning narrative of what happened inside the World Trade Center between the plane strikes and the buildings' collapse.
My dreams for days have been filled with images of dead bodies, but in the middle of all the rage and death and insanity of war, my heart has been filled with awe for the enormous capacity of ordinary human beings to love.
"Price for Peace" is a collection of reminiscences from men and woman -- Japanese and American -- who served in World War II in the Pacific theater, intercut with battle footage in black-and-white and color. It was made for the National D-Day Museum's Pacific Wing.
I can't shake some of its stories.
The most unforgettable was told by an Okinawan man who believed the Japanese propaganda that when the Americans came, they would rape the women and kill everyone else. To protect their honor, young Okinawan women climbed to the high hills overlooking the sea and threw their children, and then themselves, down onto the rocks below. Although it is hard to believe, someone filmed this mass suicide.
The Okinawan then described how he and his brother, out of a desire to protect their mother, killed her by bashing in her head with a rock. Afterward, they killed other family members. But then the Americans landed, they were captured, and they have lived ever since with the knowledge of what they did out of love.
An American medical corpsman, who had saved lives during the nightmare storming of the beaches of Iwo Jima, went back there to exorcise images that had been haunting him for over 50 years. He stood on the empty beach, quietly remembering that awful day, and then he stooped to fill a plastic bag with the dark sand. Just as he looked up at the high dunes that he and his buddies had climbed under fire, a young Marine appeared out of nowhere. He slid gracefully down the dune and, with a friend, gently helped the older man climb up. Neither the two young Marines or the older corpsman said anything, but they all understood.
A Japanese fighter pilot said he believed the samurai ethos that if you find your enemy asleep, you wake him and you duel. For him, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a shameful and cowardly thing. So every year he goes to the Pearl Harbor memorial to apologize for what he did, while his friend, one of the Americans he bombed, plays taps.
A Japanese man described being in the blast of an atomic bomb. He put his hand to his face, and when he took it away, the skin of his face came away with it. He said he thinks about suicide three or four times a year, but always decides to live because he has dedicated his life to fighting against nuclear weapons.
This same kind of deeply felt humanity was very much in evidence in New York after the World Trade Center attacks.
In "In Memoriam: New York City, 9/11/01," former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, plus members of his staff, New York City firefighters and police, grieving families, journalists and bystanders contribute to a melange of photos, footage, and reminiscences.
The most touching story came from a Giuliani aide who was also the wife of a firefighter. She said she came out of City Hall, looked downtown at the flaming buildings, and knew her husband was inside. When the buildings fell, and downtown became covered in a white-gray ash, she bent down and scooped up some of it, hoping she was touching a part of her husband.
The Times story was put together from interviews with survivors and the message-machine tapes and emails that came from inside the building after the attacks. It contained almost too many images.
There were the people who held hands and jumped from the burning towers. The ones who stayed behind to help the more badly wounded. The man in the red bandanna who appeared out of nowhere and guided people to the stairwells.
The men and women who carried the wounded down the stairs. The ones who steeled themselves and pushed through smoke and fire to safety because they needed to see their families again. The people who phoned their families and friends and left them with final messages of love and connectedness. The workers who have remained at Ground Zero until every last body is recovered and buried, because they are driven to "make it right."
What is the common theme of these haunting stories? They are about the human spirit. They are about the capacity of ordinary human beings all over the world, in the face of the duplicity of their politicians, dictators, warlords, religious fundamentalists and governments, to love.
Although our leaders daily play chicken with our lives on their march to Armageddon, this Memorial Day left me feeling a great pride that I am a member of this very human race.
"When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won," said Mahatma Gandhi. "There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of this always."
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.