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J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
27
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death and
V-E Day). We “saw” reports only in
the black-and-white newsreels before
the Saturday afternoon movies. Bells
rang out for V-J Day.
Because of that friendly Japanese
soldier who liked children, I had trou-
ble accepting the ubiquitous propaganda caricatures of
“buck-teethed, slant-eyed Japs” shown in the “support our
troops to defeat the enemy” posters.
But later, as I grew up, I got to know friends and col-
leagues, or their parents, who had witnessed the Rape of
Nanjing, suffered internment in camps in the Philippines
and China, endured the awfulness of the Bataan Death
March — or hid out in the jungle for the duration. For a
long time after that, I made real friends with Japanese peo-
ple slowly and with difficulty because I had to overcome
that dark shadow.
Later, back in Northern Virginia, we had a dear, Cali-
fornia-born, Japanese-American neighbor who had spent
much of the war in a camp, interned by our own govern-
ment, which further complicated my deep sense of un-
certainty about who did what to whom during that period.
Reconciling Contradictions
The life lesson of balancing uncomfortable contradic-
tions that began for me with Pearl Harbor is ongoing. As
an adult, I have lived and worked in very different coun-
tries and cultures around theMuslimworld. Foreign Serv-
ice friends were hostages in Tehran from 1979 to 1981.
Our reaction to the 1998 bombing of the embassies in
Nairobi and Dar es Salaam was visceral. Most recently, I
was actively involved in post-tsunami rehabilitation in
Aceh, Indonesia, witnessing the resilience of the human
spirit and tenacity grounded in deep Islamic faith.
My early childhood experience with a friendly “enemy”
and the horrible actions that come with war, and then liv-
ing closely among and making deep friendships with many
Muslims, led me to appreciate the complexities of judging
individuals, and groups, and the impossibility of valid gen-
eralizations.
I still grapple with the critical distinction between ab-
horring evil acts and casually lumping together all of a par-
ticular group of people as embodying that evil. And I am
profoundly troubled for my own country when some
among us incite hatred against the spectrum of other in-
dividuals, and their widely differing communities and be-
liefs, as a single “bad guy” entity.
For those of us who recall it, Pearl
Harbor — like 9/11 — remains piv-
otal, defining who we are and fram-
ing our lives. Collectively and
individually, we experienced fear and
vulnerability as well as resolve and
shared sacrifice. We knew bravery and loss.
World War II was the most widespread conflict in his-
tory. More than 100 million military personnel —about 13
million of them American —mobilized around the world
as fighting engulfed Europe and the Pacific. The United
States was on high alert (although we didn’t call it that).
Entire economic, industrial and scientific capabilities
served the war effort, erasing the distinction between civil-
ian and military resources. The war altered the political
alignment and social structure of the world, laying the
groundwork for greater racial and social equality. We
emerged stronger because of all that.
As I write, I recall — as I always will — that sparkling
September morning 10 years ago: The smell of my cup of
fresh-brewed coffee. The clear view of Washington from
our Virginia 16th-floor balcony. The concussion that shook
the building even before the blast reached us. The black
smoke suddenly billowing skyward from what turned out
to be the Pentagon a few miles north. Then, when we
turned on the TV, the fearful images from Ground Zero.
The hollow feeling that filled me during the surreally glo-
rious blue days that followed.
I grieve and ponder. And I am carried back to that un-
forgettable, sepia-toned Sunday afternoon in my grand-
mother’s living room.
F
OCUS
World War II was
the most widespread
conflict in history.
Margaret Sullivan, standing, talks with students in a classroom
in Banda Aceh in 2005.