War Never Ends, Global Province Letter, 23 January 2013

"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that, one way or another." -J. Robert Oppenheimer, the creator of the atomic bomb

Oppenheimer. J. Robert Oppenheimer led the team in Los Alamos which put the atomic bomb together in time to win the War in the Pacific (World War II) with the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For sure the devastation wrought in Japan ended the war and saved the lives of countless Americans who were staged in the Philippines and elsewhere for the invasion of the Land of the Rising Sun. A torrent of academics and kibitzers have agonized ever since over this use of the ultimate weapon, though few of the carpers had near relatives in the U.S. Armed Forces who faced certain death in the Japanese isles if they were to land there.

In years to come Oppenheimer himself agonized over what he had wrought. Because he later opposed the development of the H-Bomb under Edward Teller, he was cashiered by the Government, and his security clearance was taken away. But the bomb he created was a powerful symbol that World War II had changed America forever. It, as much as anything, made clear that the United States had established suzerainty across the globe, a dominance that was to last for the rest of the 20th century. Moreover, it was the war, in the final analysis, that finally pulled the United States out of the Great Depression, creating prosperity domestically and putting the American industrial colossus at the helm of the world economy.

The Literature of World War II. World War is deeply rooted in our national consciousness. There can be no better proof of this than the gusher of fascinating books published in the 21st century that hone in on aspects of the war not well explicated in the histories published in the decades just after 1945. They make eminently clear how this great war affected every crevice of the nation and how its scent has lingered for more than 50 years.

Jennet Conant's Tuxedo Park (2002) tells the remarkable story of Alfred Lee Loomis. This immensely talented man made a fortune in public finance in the first third of the 20th century and was smart enough to be in cash when the Depression arrived. Meanwhile, on his estate in Tuxedo Park, he built a world class scientific laboratory which the great scientists of the Western World delighted in visiting, because its resources were ample and because they knew other great scientific talent would be there. After retiring from the Street, Loomis himself turned entirely to science and got behind many of the great electronic innovations and other developments from radar to the bomb that helped the Allies win the war. With his money and his contacts he accelerated inventions that otherwise might not have seen the light of day. The U.S. science machine, which he helped weave together, thereafter achieved a size and dominance that was unrivalled for decades, long after he had given up the scientific podium. We could argue that without this curious, terribly energetic man the World War would have lasted many years more. And our technology wizards would not have been half as prolific during the 20th century.

Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Sea Biscuit, is remarkable herself, somehow overcoming her chronic fatigue syndrome malady to turn out truly compelling reads. Her theme in general is how horse or man can overcome truly incredible odds to achieve greatness, something she knows about from personal experience. In Unbroken (2010), she tells of Louis Silvie Zamperini, a wild kid born in 1917, who stole anything movable as a youth in Torrance, California but miraculously went on to become a championship runner who even appeared at the 1936 Olympics and acquitted himself admirably. Enlisting in the Air Force early in World War II, he is shot down in the Pacific, survives a grueling test at sea, but then lands in Japanese prison camp for the duration. For us the book really begins here. The Japanese treated their prisoners in an outrageously barbaric manner, and Ms. Hillenbrand captures this well. As importantly, she then describes his life on his return from the war. On the one hand, he was saluted often as a hero. On the other, he was badly damaged goods, who drank too much, barely survived economically, and relived his prison camp experiences every night in his dreams. Badgered by his loving wife, he attended two meetings led by the evangelist Billy Graham which prompted him to put aside his demons and to help others lead the good life.

Given the torturous practices of the Japanese military in the war, we find it extraordinary that many Americans have forged civil relationships with the Japanese in the aftermath, though some understandably cannot forgive or forget. Fascinating in this regard is the Japanese scholar and translator Donald Keene whose whole career is testimony to his love of the Japanese and of the Orient. He is personally familiar with virtually all the great contemporary Japanese writers and literary scholars. Remarkably, he even has done creative works himself in Japanese, and has written columns for the Japanese newspapers. Even though he served in World War II, Keene from youth had been a pacifist, making it even astounding that he could establish such closeness with the very militant Japanese. Keene's eminently readable Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan (2008) nicely portrays how interwoven he became with literary Japan. Most recently, incidentally, he has taken up Japanese citizenship, a further sign of his love of Japan.

Somehow, he reminds us of Charlie Tuttle who went into Japan as part of the Occupation, bought valuable Tokyo real estate, and founded a publishing company in Tokyo that broadcast the beauties of Asian culture to the West. An eccentric, renowned for his love of drink, Tuttle, too, achieved a special place amongst the Japanese. We ourselves met him for breakfast in July 1976 after one of his nights on the town. Those in the American military, such as Tuttle, who participated in one or more aspects of intelligence work during the war often seemed to become fixtures in Tokyo during the rebuilding of Japan.

World War II and Wars in General. Wars take us places we might never expect to be. Intellectually, physically, and spiritually World War II changed this nation by putting people together in places they never dreamed they would see.

In fact, the U.S. has been engaged in a stream of wars, perhaps the unhappy fate of a powerful nation, since World War II. We have not done a good job at assessing what war has done for and to us. As Dwight Eisenhower feared, war has sustained a huge and economically draining military–industrial complex. The armed forces, particularly the Army, have been rather good educators of masses of people, dealing out practical wisdom in a manner that large numbers can absorb, such that several people have learned their trade in the military and gone on to productive lives when they exit the service. The part the military has played in the nation's education has never been properly remarked upon.

But we can wonder if too much war has not done something to our spirit. If you fight long and often enough, does it make you fractious? Does some of the polarity we see in politics and sense in society result from too much war? At any rate, we have yet to assess a nation at war for a half century. It is hard to be a nation at peace at home when so much energy is devoted to conflict around the globe.

P.S. Three sectors drain the American economy. Defense and healthcare are the two ever-growing whoppers that eat up our federal tax dollars. Finally, an overblown and parasitic financial sector is a gorge that chews up huge amounts of labor and financial resources. Neither of our major parties has really attempted to get control of these 3 parasites.

P.P.S. In several places we have studied how ideas and information get spread about and acted upon across the globe. Most recently we are beginning to look at the various commons (i.e., property, digital, etc.) as a means of spreading knowledge. Curiously, war itself is an information and idea spreader, sometimes overcoming the inertia of society and the barriers provincial managers erect when national security is at stake.

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