Hi readers. Thanks for coming by for a read.
Driving to Kerrville yesterday my mind wandered to the uncle of my ex-wife. Uncle Ed. Interesting man.
He was on the staff of Douglas MacArthur during WWII and was one of the first group of people into Japan after they agreed to stop fighting. Stood on the USS Missouri while the documents were being signed by all the parties and served on MacArthur’s staff for a while when MacArthur was Supreme Commander of Allied Pacific Forces.
Uncle Ed had a lot to say about all that when he could find someone to listen. I listened a good bit.
Ed thought there were a lot of serious flaws in the Japanese surrender speeches and documents by the Emperor and the other high-ranking Japanese officials. Fact is, neither the Emperor, nor the high-underlings ever mentioned the word, surrender. Nothing in any of it contained anything suggestingJapanese Imperial behavior toward the conquered lands was reprehensible, no mention was made of the treatment of prisoners, the tortures, the slaughters.
In fact, the ‘surrender amounted to a Japanese admission they’d tried to do what they thought was best for Asia and Japan, and lacked the moxey to pull it off. The Emperor confirmed this as his view in a presentation to the Diet four days after the arrival of MacArthur onto Japanese soil. Immediately following the speech by the Emperor his uncle, Prince somebody-or-other went further and proclaimed Japanese behavior was no different from the behavior of other strong, modern nations. He pointed out they didn’t take Indochina from the Indochinese, but from the French, didn’t take Malaya from the Malayans, but from the British. And so on.
Maybe it’s actually no surprise the Mayor of Osaka made his statements recently that the ‘comfort girls’ they forced to serve their troops were just a necessary evil to keep up the morale.
Carolyn’s uncle Ed recalled the Japanese aristocracy was egalitarian in this regard. He smiled that within five days of the arrival of US troops in Yokohama they’d brought in hundreds of peasant girls to serve in brothels to keep up the morale of occupying US troops. The money from those whore houses, the supposed, was the first significant US currency to circulate in Japan after the war. A few hundred thousand GIs need a lot of comforting.
I don’t suppose there’s actually any reason the Japanese today should feel any shame and remorse for the actions of their grandfathers. Any acknowledgement. The fact is, Asia remembers for them, even though the US has forgotten. Of all the countries in the world in danger of flexing their military muscles, probably there’s not one with as many willing hands on whatever it would take to stop them among their potential adversaries.
Digression: Aside from the deck of the USS Missouri and the whore houses, one of Ed’s most vivid recollections of immediate post-War Japan was that every civilian vehicle he saw ran on charcoal. Charcoal! Imagine that!
[With the exception of Brighton Rock] I’ve never read a book by Graham Greene I didn’t consider worth tucking away for at least one future reading. I encountered The Heart of the Matter too late in life to feel any confidence I’ll live long enough to enjoy this one again, but that’s the result of the aging process, not the book. It will be there with the others still waiting if I kick before I get around to it again.
Set in an imaginary West African British colony early during WWII, The Heart of the Matter is vaguely reminiscent of Maugham’s Ashenden series in some ways, Of Human Bondage, in others, with a touch of Heart of Darkness thrown in for seasoning. Scobie, the aging, passed-over-for-promotion Deputy Commissioner of Police, is the primary character and the only European character in the book who loves Africa and wants nothing more than to remain there his entire life.
However, his wife, Louise, hates it, bludgeons him with his lack of upward mobility, harnesses his kindness and determination to avoid causing her pain even though there’s no love left between them, and tortures him with guilt. She frequently declares tearfully he doesn’t love her and draws his assurances, “Of course I love you.”
The native population loves his unique respect and fairness in the execution of his duties whenever the individuals are not involved in crime. When they are involved they despise him for identical reasons. The Indian and Syrian merchants and Neutral Nation Shipping and Smuggling concerns mostly just would rather he could be bribed or tricked into seeming to be vulnerable to bribes.
Through this tightening stricture of War, Colonial idiosyncracies, needy personal relationships, and intrigue Greene threads Scobie’s strait-jacketed life along a complex and interesting plot worthy of far more well-known and durable writers.
I’d suggest readers who’ve only been exposed to Brighton Rock might find themselves surprised to discover in The Heart of the Matter that Greene is a writer they want more of. Same as so many other of Greene’s works.
The father of a man I used to know had been a Hungarian tank commander on the Eastern front during WWII. (He bore a striking resemblance to an aging Robert Shaw in his role as a German tank commander in Battle of the Bulge). He was there for the Axis invasion of the USSR, all the way to the suburbs of Moscow.
He was captured by the Soviets early in the war before they began shooting their officer prisoners, then exchanged and sent back to Hungary to recuperate. But later as the casualties mounted and the Eastern Front meat grinder demanded more meat, he was sent back.
One of the battles late in the war provided him a ticket to a German Hospital facility and an injury sufficient to keep him there until the surrender. Surrender, by incredible luck, he vowed, to US forces. He was held in a camp while prisoners from USSR-held countries were sent back for mass executions. His membership in the NAZI party in Hungary would have made his demise a certainty.
Disguised as a woman, this man escaped the camp and journeyed to South America. That’s where my amigo was born. Afterward the family moved to Canada. I became friends with his son during the ’70s at the University of Texas where he was several years ‘all-but-dissertation’ for his PHD in Linguistics. His father’s status as a ‘wanted’ war criminal in Hungary remained in force throughout the old man’s entire life.
I asked him once about the Eastern Front experience, knowing he was unrepentant. I’d been carrying a nagging curiosity about it for years.
“Those were heady times,” he smiled, “Kind of fun, actually. Going up against infantry and squadrons of Soviet cavalry in an armored vehicle. Sometimes you might kill a hundred men before breakfast.“
He stopped and pondered a moment.
“Then they got the T-34. That took a lot of the fun out of it.”
I guess it did. The other side never really appreciated how much fun it was, though.
Panzerlied (Battle of the Bulge with english intro)