Diplomacy

Written by Lafcadio Hearn

It had been ordered that the execution should take place in the garden of the yashiki. So the man was taken there, and made to kneel down in a wide sanded space crossed by a line of tobi-ishi, or stepping stones, such as you may still see in Japanese landscape-gardens. His arms were bound behind him. Retainers brought water in buckets, and rice-bags filled with pebbles; and they packed the rice-bags round the kneeling man–so wedging him in that he could not move. The master came, and observed the arrangements. He found them satisfactory, and made no remarks.
Suddenly the condemned man cried out to him:
“Honored sir, the fault for which I have been doomed I did not wittingly commit. It was only my very great stupidity which caused the fault. Having been born stupid, by reason of my karma, I could not always help making mistakes. But to kill a man for being stupid is wrong–and that wrong will be repaid. So surely as you kill me, so surely shall I be avenged;–out of the resentment that you provoke will come the vengeance; and evil will be rendered for evil.”
If any person be killed while feeling strong resentment, the ghost of that person will be able to take vengeance upon the killer. This the samurai knew. He replied very gently–almost caressingly:
“We shall allow you to frighten us as much as you please–after you are dead. But it is difficult to believe that you mean what you say. Will you try to give us some sign of your great resentment–after your head has been cut off?”
“Assuredly I will,” answered the man.
“Very well,” said the samurai, drawing his long sword;–“I am now going to cut off your head. Directly in front of you there is a stepping-stone. After your head has been cut off, try to bite the stepping-stone. If your angry ghost can help you to do that, some of us may be frightened. . . . Will you try to bite the stone?”
“I will bite it!” cried the man, in great anger–“I will bite it!–I will bite–”
There was a flash, a swish, a crunching thud: the bound body bowed over the rice sacks–two long blood-jets pumping from the shorn neck;–and the head rolled upon the sand. Heavily toward the stepping-stone it rolled: then, suddenly bounding, it caught the upper edge of the stone between its teeth, clung desperately for a moment, and dropped inert.
None spoke; but the retainers stared in horror at their master. He seemed to be quite unconcerned. He merely held out his sword to the nearest attendant, who, with a wooden dipper, poured water over the blade from haft to point, and then carefully wiped the steel several times with sheets of soft paper. .. . And thus ended the ceremonial part of the incident.
For months thereafter, the retainers and the domestics lived in ceaseless fear of ghostly visitation. None of them doubted that the promised vengeance would come; and their constant terror caused them to hear and to see much that did not exist. They became afraid of the sound of the wind in the bamboos–afraid even of the stirring of shadows in the garden. At last, after taking counsel together, they decided to petition their master to have a Segaki-service performed on behalf of the vengeful spirit.
“Quite unnecessary,” the samurai said, when his chief retainer had uttered the general wish. . . . “I understand that the desire of a dying man for revenge may be a cause for fear. But in this case there is nothing to fear.”
The retainer looked at his master beseechingly, but hesitated to ask the reason of this alarming confidence.
“Oh, the reason is simple enough,” declared the samurai, divining the unspoken doubt. “Only the very last intention of that fellow could have been dangerous; and when I challenged him to give me the sign, I diverted his mind from the desire of revenge. He died with the set purpose of biting the stepping-stone; and that purpose he was able to accomplish, but nothing else. All the rest he must have forgotten. . . So you need not feel any further anxiety about the matter.”
And indeed the dead man gave no more trouble. Nothing at all happened.

1904, from Kwaidan (Japanese ghost stories)

My Dad Fought in World War Two

Let me tell you about my Dad. He’s 90 years old today, in frail health and living his days out in a hospice.


The girl he married in 1945 visits him every day.

He roots for his Red Sox and Patriots. His room is filled with pictures of his grandchildren and family.

My Dad served in the Third Infantry Division in World War Two. Yes, the same Division that drove into Iraq. He served in the North African Campaign when the Americans got their hat handed to them by the Germans. He invaded Anzio to liberate that country. As the landing craft approached the beach, Dad was concerned. Being all of Five foot Four he hoped they would get to the shallows. The cox wain of the boat said he’d get them so close Dad wouldn’t get his feet wet. When Dad went off the end of the LCI he dropped into six feet of water. Weighted down with his equipment, he started to drown. Shedding his gear,he fought to the surface and SWAM ashore. So much for Naval support he thought.

The Anzio landings were uncontested. There were no horrific scenes that you see in “Saving Private Ryan”. There was nothing. Silence. The day was filled with unseen heroics such as my Dad, fighting for his life.

The Third Division consolidated and strengthened their beach head and waited for the German counter attack. When it came it was ferocious.

Dad was leading a platoon that day. During the fighting, Dad was shot in the leg. A German medic saw him and started to work his way over to Dad. His squad laid down a barrage aimed at the medic. Dad shouted, “Cease Fire! Let the sonuvabitch live! He’s trying to help me.”

The German got to Dad and dressed his wounds. Saving Dad’s life. Dad then took him prisoner. Confiscating the German’s helmet, knife and pistol.

Dad was evacuated to North Africa. In a MASH they put pins in his leg. Pins that still give him hell on a cold day. During the surgery some Rear Area Echelon Mother Fucker stole the stuff he “liberated” from the German medic.

Dad loves to watch “MASH”. He says they are just as crazy (and worse) as they are in the show. He was hit in Korea too and woke up strapped to the skid of one of those helicopters. WHILE IT WAS IN THE AIR!

My Uncle Louis died in Italy. My Uncle Vincent was sleeping in his rack when a Japanese torpedo went through his compartment. He was never right again.

When I was a kid I rifled his underwear drawer looking for porn. What I found was a little black box. In it were two Purple hearts and a Silver Star. I know how he got the Purple Hearts, but he never talks about winning the Silver Star. The only thing he said when I asked was;

“I was too stupid not to fall back when everyone else did.”

I don’t know if he won it that day at Anzio. Maybe he won it in Korea. He’s quiet on that point. I know he cries almost every night and STILL has nightmares.

He’s 90 years old.

He and his fellow Vets are living out their lives in silence. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren never knowing of their quiet heroics. I know he was pissed over Vietnam. I knew he was horrified to send his son to Desert Storm. “Keep your head down. Don’t be a hero and come home soon.”, he said to me.

When I did come home the VFW had put a giant yellow ribbon all the way around Dad’s house. He took me to the VFW. Surrounded by the old Vets each one came up offered a beer and said just about the same thing. “Here, now you’re one of us.” I wasn’t regaled with stories of jumping from airplanes. No stories of tanks destroyed or beaches stormed. Just stories of how sweet Life is.

Postscript- My Dad died on August 16, 2006. Five days after his 91st birthday. If you have a relative or a friend who is a WWII vet, go talk to them today. They are America’s Greatest Generation and they are disappearing fast. Thank them before it’s too late.

NEW FOR 2012