Nancy, Albert, Patti and Jeanie. Backwards the first letters of our names spell Japan. Growing up, my siblings and I always knew that our father was a child survivor of a Japanese concentration camp on Java, Dutch East Indies during World War II and that our grandfather died a POW outside Tokyo in 1943. I knew my Opa Straub only as a photograph above my father’s bed in our home growing up in Boulder, Colorado.
I can still see my mother now in the 1970s, standing in the kitchen of one of the first suburban homes in Boulder County, telling me that if we hadn’t dropped two atomic bombs on Japan to end the war, I may not have ever been born.
My father would’ve died in the camps if the war dragged on, she insisted. My Uncle Charlie who fought in the Pacific might have died. “The Japanese were killing themselves as kamikazis!” my mother screamed. “We saved them from themselves! They thought their emperor was God!”
Flash forward to me living in Japan on the 35th floor of a Shinmachi apartment in Osaka, a place heavily firebombed by American forces.
To live in a land that was the enemy of my family and the cause of all their suffering and sorrow, and mine. Although my father was forgiving, he was definitely damaged by his trauma of indefinite detention as a child and separated from his mother and sisters to survive alone for two years — Damage done during his fragile adolescence. Damage that was passed on to us children.
It was ironic to live in Japan at a time that the United States has remilitarized Japan and that President Donald Trump is now the aggressor as it creates a new enemy of China. Considering Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo’s grandfather was a war criminal for his crimes in China and has nationalistic plans for Japan, artillery fired after “Banzai” cried during the new emperor’s enthronement unnerved me. Yet, I do believe that it is a new era, the Reiwa era of peace and harmony shall reign.
Because the real Japan, that my mother nor schooling in the US taught me, is that Japan is also it’s also the land of peace and nature, the Kumano Kodo, dark path, of deep sacred mystery and spirituality.
The power of ancient rocks, waterfalls and rivers, eternally recreated anew every 20 years, moon gazing and poetry, mindful arts of shodo and ikebana, meditation, healing waters of onsen, create beauty, quiet and stillness, harmony and peace.
This beautiful side of Japan and it’s loving, peaceful people I have come to know and love. It is where I have found my Faith in Nature. Where I found myself at a time after a huge change of life and left transformed on the other side wiser and happier. Reconciled with the past, and able to cope with the future. I owe it to my work with the beautiful people of Japan who work for peace and helped me heal.
Involvement with the POW Research Network Japan let me make new friends, befriending the enemy and learning that stories I was told that wasn’t necessarily true. Or that there is more to the story, like it wasn’t necessary to drop the bomb for many reasons, I learned through my own research. A lot more. Yes, Japan committed horrible atrocities, and the U.S. did too with the atomic bombings. But that’s what war does to innocent young men and women swept up in the insanity of its politicians.
I too, help heal my friends, by recognizing and apologizing for my country’s terrible influence in Japan, a country that was becoming a peaceful and prosperous society had U.S. Commodore Perry not forced Japan open in the 19th century with his black ships at Yokohoma Bay, nor the U.S. selling it weapons of mass destruction to start colonizing Korea, Taiwan and China.
Scrutinizing these mythologies taught me so much more about myself and how to cope with life in better ways. It taught me to live a peaceful life in harmony with nature that is deeper and richer than any capitalist system of organizing lives around money that creates “no-lifes” could promote.
I think it’s just fate and karma that all this would happen to me – my family’s past, living in Japan and working for peace, and now finding myself back in the US in time for the economic collapse I expected my whole life and wanted to flee from. My American friends can’t handle what I tell and warn them about, I have noticed because they have never gone through anything like it. But my European and Argentine friends do because they lived it too.
But Japan and Zen taught me there is nowhere to go. There is nothing to do. I have learned about life, death and mushin, which helps me to let go and be courageous. I know I am here in Florida to help people, to serve them because I am not scared: I am prepared and prepared to serve them.
Naturally, I am human and I do get freaked out sometimes in the early morning with the daily onslaught of Trump insanity, but my Volusia Buddhist Fellowship Sensei sent an email yesterday with verses from the Dhammapada, one of the best-known books in the Buddhist Canon. They sum up returning my mind back to normal each morning with sitting meditation:
Verse 42. A thief may harm a thief; an enemy may harm an enemy; but a wrongly directed mind can do oneself far greater harm.
Verse 43: Not a mother, nor a father, nor any other relative can do more for the well-being of one than a rightly-directed mind can.
I also now understand and have compassion for my mother, for she was just graduating high school when the bombs were dropped, ending a difficult time in U.S. History.
She was just as traumatized by the Great Depression and war. She was a part of her culture and was just doing what she thought was right. As a poet and journalist, she was forever in search of peace in her own way. She did think that atomic bombs should never be used again.
So I keep working for peace. I hope you do too.
Here are a few more of my mother’s writings and clippings.
My mother had interviewed Dr. Arthur Holly Compton who developed the bomb when she was in high school and writing for the student newspaper.
My mother would get on panels in my home town of Boulder, Colorado and get in the newspapers about defending the dropping of the bomb in when there were candlelight vigils held in this progressive, university town that questioned the bombings and prayed for the victims.
She’d get in the Boulder, Daily Camera newspaper, write letters to the editor in defense of the bomb.
My father was very damaged from his war experienced, but he was more forgiving and less angry toward his former captors, as his religion and death experience in the camp taught him to be compassionate.
I remember when I was a child, my father, who was an electrical engineer, bought a Mitsubishi TV and said, “Why would I buy a TV from the company that murdered my father?” He asked me. “Because it’s the best!”
My mother wrote articles to educate Americans about Japanese crimes committed during WWII. Indeed, in middle school, we watched films on Nazi Germany, but Japan was omitted.
When I told my teacher about my father, she looked at me puzzled and said, “Is your father Jewish?” No, I shook my head. ” Was he Japanese?” she said referring to the Amache Japanese internment camp in Colorado. Our family was in the wrong concentration camp.
As a child, no one understood my experience. My Dutch immigrant father, suffering PTSD, and my friends not understanding and the country was still reeling from the Viet Nam war. This child whose father was a refugee of former colonists displaced by the war didn’t connect with the cowboy and sports culture of Colorado. I grew up on opera, ballet, rock and stamp collecting, hiking, healthy food, spicy Indonesian food my father would cook as well as high tech with radio tubes and electronics all over the house. Because of his death experience in the camp, my father also told me stories of the afterlife and occult world, yoga, meditation, astral flight and the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ was our Bible.
“There is no death,” he said, as the number one thing to know. That’s what the Japanese know too. We are one.
My blog posts on this site from the category Work For Peace, that summarizes my time in Japan. I am so grateful.
Work for peace! No nukes!
In memory of all U.S. veterans who served, including my first husband’s father in law and my husband’s father, and those died serving their country. In memory of all who die in war. In memory of all who suffered because of the atomic bombings of Japan.