Suggested Reading for Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, and this book and the men it discusses are in the back of my mind. In the USA, we like to herald our veterans as heroes at sports venues and during commercial breaks, put nice bumper stickers on our cars, and pat ourselves on the back on our social media accounts, but too often veterans come back from war traumatized, conflicted, and bereft. I don't have a slew of friends who are veterans, but one of the few I did know killed himself earlier this year. I can't help feeling that his death might have been prevented if the system weren't so dysfunctional.

In Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of WWII in the Pacific, Gavin Daws doesn't just discuss the nightmares that came true for many POWs during WWII, but details the failure of the US government to help returning soldiers. Men came back and were told to suck it up and move on with their lives. Sure, it was the middle of the 20th Century. We like to excuse ourselves from that time period, saying psychology was poorly understood, but it's a well known fact that PTSD is stigmatized in the armed services even now. In other words, we are doing the same damn thing to our soldiers today.

Furthermore, after WWII,  the US had little interest in making Japanese perpetrators of war crimes pay, adding insult to injury in a very literal sense. Some were executed, but many were put in jails for around 10 years and then released. Many of the Japanese generals responsible for pervasive brutalities (widespread rape of civilians, beheadings, beatings, torture, starvation, slave labor, prisoners burned alive, medical experimentation, etc.) went on to become successful politicians. Modern Japanese textbooks do not discuss these things. Many people still deny that they occurred, as if thousands upon thousands of men and women just sort of vanished, I suppose. The emperor of Japan, who declared war on the US, was pardoned. Imagine if Hitler hadn't killed himself and the US decided to make him a trading partner.

I realize some of this might feel hyperbolic out of context. So all I can do is suggest that you do some research. Read this book and others like it. Pay attention to the injustices and stop getting caught up in right wing vs. left wing nonsense. Governments don't care about their people unless the people make them, regardless of party affiliations. The same goes for a country's servicemen and servicewomen.

We have a terrible track record of giving our vets the support they need. I don't know how to go about solving the problems other than to keep them alive through language. The more you understand military history--or history in general--the more you see the same mistakes repeated again and again. The only way to stop the cycle is by being conscious of it and holding our leaders responsible.