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A tale of two soldiers, or 'Why I oppose Japan's new security-related legislation'

A tale of two soldiers, or 'Why I oppose Japan's new security-related legislation'

The Revd Professor Dr Renta Nishihara

21 July 2015 9:59AM

New legislation, the International Peace Support Bill and the Peace and Security Legislation Consolidation Bill, has been submitted to Japan’s Diet which may result in the country’s military fighting overseas. This would mean a significant change of policy - since the end of World War Two, Japan's constitution has only allowed the military to use force for self defence.The Revd Professor Dr Renta Nishihara tells why he opposes this change.

On May 27, 2010, an email arrived out of the blue from the USA. It was from a clergyman called Steven Kaehr, who lived in Wisconsin:

Dear Professor Nishihara,

I am a clergyman serving in the Wisconsin Annual Conference (U.S.A.) of the United Methodist Church. I live in the city of Oshkosh, Wisconsin where I presently serve as the pastor of First United Methodist Church. My next door neighbor, Earl Zwicky, died this past September 1st, 2009 at the age of 85. As a young man of about 18 years of age, Mr. Zwicky served as a Sergeant in the United States Army in the Pacific theater of operations during World War II.

During the course of fighting between American and Japanese forces, Mr. Zwicky and another U.S. soldier engaged in a running firefight with Japanese soldiers. One of those Japanese soldiers was killed in combat by a U.S. soldier under Sergeant Zwicky's command. Regrettably, Mr. Zwicky removed what in this country is referred to as a Japanese "good luck flag" [“hinomaru yosegaki”*] from the uniform pocket of the Japanese soldier and kept it as a war souvenir for the duration of his earthly life. Close to a year before his death, Mr. Zwicky expressed curiosity about what the Japanese writing on the flag meant. I promised Mr. Zwicky that I would try to find out what was written on the flag.

I took the flag to the University of Wisconsin campus here in Oshkosh, where one of my parish members, Miss Heidi Weinert, has a contact with a professor, Dr.Yoko Mogi-Hein. Dr. Mogi-Hein met with Heidi and me and translated the writing on the flag. In the course of the translation process, we learned a good deal about the Japanese soldier who carried this flag, not the least of which was that the young soldier in question was, in fact, an active student at Rikkyo University at the time he entered military service. Based on clues from the flag, we were able to ascertain that this student, whose family name was Watanabe was a member of the Kendo club as well as a mountain climbing fraternity, both of which I am made to understand are still in existence at Rikkyo University today.

I had made a promise to my neighbor, Mr. Zwicky, that I would find out the meaning of the writing on the flag. Earl Zwicky was only short days from his own death and lying in a hospital bed dying of cancer when I asked him to tell me the story about what had happened the day he acquired this flag. It was emotionally painful for Earl to speak about the details. He shared with me that he hadn't spoken of the events of that day since the war, but he told me how this former Rikkyo student had died. Mr. Zwicky told me the story and was then silent for some time. He finally looked up at me and asked, "Did this flag have a name on it?" I told him that, in fact, the flag did bear the family name of the Japanese soldier, as well as words of good luck and support from many of the soldier's family and friends.

Mr. Zwicky fell silent again for several minutes after I told him the name of the Japanese soldier and what we had learned about him and his family from the Yosegaki greetings written on the flag. I explained to Earl that those who had written on Mr. Watanabe's flag encouraged him to do his best to win, and to fight with honor. I believe that learning what was on that flag after all those years brought some measure of peace and closure to a spiritual wound that Earl Zwicky had carried for nearly seventy years.

Both Earl Zwicky and Mr. Watanabe were two young men, perhaps even two Christian young men, caught on opposite sides of a war. The mutual pain and suffering experienced by two nations at war is a well documented fact of history. What was lost to history and posterity was the story of this young Japanese soldier and how he died honorably in battle. When war is an abstraction and fought with anonymity it is somewhat easier to bear, but it becomes more complicated when one realizes that your "enemy" is a young man with a family who has hopes and dreams of his own. Earl Zwicky lived his entire life with the memory of one day of war hidden just beneath the surface of his consciousness. I believe that learning something about his former enemy gave Earl a measure of closure to a painful memory he had carried his whole life.

Mr. Zwicky's widow, Audrey, recently gave me Mr. Watanabe's "Good Luck" flag. My mission now is to see if any of Mr. Watanabe's family survived the war and are still alive. Based on the writing on the flag, Dr. Mogi-Hein believes that two of Mr. Watanabe's sisters signed his good luck flag; I can't help but think that if they are still alive they would want their brother's flag back. I often wonder to myself, did they ever know what had happened to their brother? Did they ever know that he had died honorably in battle? Did they live their lives thinking that he was simply missing in action?

If any of Mr. Watanabe's family still survive, I would like them to have an opportunity to have this part of his life back. If there are no surviving family, I wondered if Rikkyo University would like to have this flag, with yosegaki, perhaps to display with a small plaque to honor this former student. Rev. Nishihara, there is a lot of pain and suffering in our world. If by returning this flag I can bring about some measure of healing, peace and reconciliation in the life of the University, or in the lives of any surviving family of Mr. Watanabe, I would like to do so. If they have survived, and if you feel that it would be appropriate, I would like the chance to meet with the surviving family members or with representatives of the University. Perhaps the student records of the University survived the war and this student's family could be located.

Sadly, there are many of these so called "Good Luck Flags" for sale on the internet as war souvenirs. What the sellers of these flags don't recognize is that each flag represented a life that was lost. Had it been a family member of mine, I would want that flag back. As an act of reconciliation, I would like to see this flag be returned to this man's family or to the University. If this isn't possible or desirable, then the flag will likely end up being put on display at a World War II museum being built here in the city of Oshkosh. I would make sure that the museum curator knew the story that Mr. Zwicky and Mr. Watanabe shared in common. I feel a personal and pastoral calling to complete this journey, or to at least make an effort to bring some measure of healing back to a family in an attempt to heal a small part of the wounded heart of the world. Dr. Mogi-Hein has offered us her assistance, as she has family living near Rikkyo University.

Any help, advice or comments that you could offer would be received with gratitude.

Peace be with you,

Rev. Steven A. Kaehr

In consultation with Rikkyo University, President Yoshioka of Rikkyo University, and Mr Itoigawa, the Chairperson of the Rikkyo Gakuin, we traced the record of a student called Watanabe. The flag did not bear the name of the student himself, but we were able to clearly read the names of his school fellows, his parents, his older sister and his younger sister. However, these were the only clues. I thought that we might never get to the bottom of it.

However, all became clear afterwards as a result of searching and following slender leads. The name of the individual was Taihei Watanabe - an undergraduate student of the College of Economics. He was mobilized to the battle front and killed in Cebu in the Philippines in April 1945.

Miraculously, we were able to contact a niece of Taihei, Ms. Toshiko Yokoo, who was a graduate of the Department of Christianity at Rikkyo University. Yokoo’s mother (Taihei’s elder sister) died in December 2009. She spoke of the younger brother she had loved until she died. Yokoo brought us letters and photographs of Taihei that had been sent from the battle front. It’s impossible to read the letters without tears.

War is not at all an abstract thing. It is written in history that the United States Armed Forces fought against the Japanese military, but it is an absolute reality that two young men, Taihei Watanabe and Earl Zwicky, had to face each other with intentions that were not their own.

We at Rikkyo University can never forget that we were responsible for sending our precious students to the battle front. I showed the email from Rev. Kaehr to my seminar students. They all wept when they heard it. As I looked at their faces, I was at a loss for words. We must never send our precious students to war again. This is a responsibility of Rikkyo University.

On October 27, 2010, one flag relating to this Rikkyo student was miraculously returned to the university after 65 years. We embraced this important evidence as a mark of our determination to never again send our students to the battle front and to never tolerate war.

Therefore, I oppose the International Peace Support Bill and the omnibus Peace and Security Legislation Consolidation Bill which has submitted to the Diet, violating Article 9 of the Constitution. These bills would provide for Japan’s Self-Defence Forces to cooperate actively with US and other foreign military operations overseas.

The Revd Professor Dr Renta Nishihara is Dean of the College of Arts and Vice Chancellor of Rikkyo University in Tokyo.He has served as a member of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations and the Anglican – Lutheran International Commission.

*The Good Luck Flag, known as hinomaru yosegaki (日の丸寄せ書き?) in the Japanese language, was a traditional gift for Japanese servicemen deployed during the military campaigns of the Empire of Japan, most notably during World War II. The flag given to a soldier was a national flag signed by friends and family, often with short messages wishing the soldier victory, safety, and good luck. (Source: Wikipedia)