What is it like? Nagel’s “Life as a Bat”

We are shaped by our own individual realities, which are based on our singular relative perspectives. Every person faces a struggle and it is impossible to know the struggle of anyone else. Even if they were to tell you about their struggle you would have no way of understanding what it feels like to be “in their shoes”. In Thomas Nagel’s essay about what it is to be a bat he pokes fun at the concept of ever being able to understand someone or something. Socrates once said “I know that I know nothing”. Essentially Nagel is saying the same thing but about human understanding of alternate realities.

Nagel is pointing out that all things that make an individual behave a certain way is their past experiences and instincts. Just as it would be impossible for me to think like a bat, it would also be impossible for me to think in Chinese. Although I can become fluent in Mandarin I would still think in my mother tongue of English. I would be forced to cross reference any of my new found Mandarin vocabulary with my known English definitions. Just as there are cultural practices and traditions that I would never be able to fully comprehend. The moon festival of Tet in Vietnam is as foreign to me as Halloween would be to a Nepalese man.

Recently it has become easier to gain insight into others through the use of social networks. These networks create the illusion of understanding. New technologies along with globalization has increased the awareness of alternate perspectives. It is easy to see other’s likes, dislikes and comments. However, you are still only seeing what they want you to see or choose to share.

The conscious mind is formed from experiences and memories. If I were to touch a hot stove as a child my conscious mind would recall that memory and tell me to “be careful”. As human beings we are all capable of learning and growth. The ability to learn along with sentience makes us unique within the animal kingdom. Humans are aware of their own existence and have a fundamental need to be unique. The renaissance ideals of virtue and willpower are alive and well today. Humans want their lives to matter and want to affect history in some way. One of the most frightening thoughts for us is dying and not leaving any mark on this world. The human condition reminds us that our lives are finite but somehow tricks us into believing that we matter. People search all of their lives looking for some divine calling or purpose. Some of us have kids and tell ourselves that those kids will somehow matter.

Nagel writes that “Facts about what it is like to be an X are very peculiar, so peculiar that some may be inclined to doubt their own reality, or the significance of claims about them.” (Nagel pg. 437 of What Is It Like To Be A Bat?)

These claims further the argument that it is impossible to know what it is to be anything else other than what you were born as. Nagel even states that the act of being is “so peculiar” that we can’t even comprehend being ourselves. Furthermore, Nagel writes even if he were to become a bat “nothing in my present constitution enables me to imagine what the experiences of such a future stage of myself thus metamorphosed would be like” (Nagel pg. 439 of What Is It Like To Be A Bat?). So even if we could walk in the shoes of someone else it would be impossible to ever fully become them. As a man it is impossible to know what it is like to be born a woman even if that man becomes one. Again proving the point that all perspectives are relative and unique. Nagel uses the example that “The subjunctive character of the experience of a person deaf and blind from birth is not accessible to me” (Nagel pg. 440 of What Is It Like To Be A Bat?). Given all of this reasoning I concur with Nagel that it is indeed impossible to understand the life of any other person, place or thing. Although it is possible to feel empathy and compassion it is impossible to know exactly how another creature feels unless that particular experience is replicated from the time of conception.

Religious Relativism

I have spent many Ramadan’s in Dubai. When I was 15 my parents took me on a trip to Egypt and part of the tour we visited Coptic Cairo. We visited a church and a synagogue near each other. The church contained a basement where Jesus, Joseph and Mary reportedly stayed during their escape to Egypt. I was amazed to see the diversity of Christianity and how certain sects have even designated new popes as the heads of their churches. I believe by understanding the differences in these sects including the Shia and Sunni sects of Islam are fundamental in achieving peace in the Middle East.

I consider myself agnostic and somewhat of a religious relativist. I believe that the earth is so diverse and that different societies have such different belief systems that a benevolent god wouldn’t punish someone simply because they were born into a different religion. In other words, I understand that if I was born Tibetan I would most likely have been Buddhist and not somehow miraculously find my current Christian God. Despite this realization, I still find myself turning back to the teaching of the Methodist Church. I like to express my gratitude to God for certain things fate has given me. So along with being a “religious relativist” and “agnostic” I also consider myself a Christian because I believe Jesus is the Messiah sent to die for my sins. I understand that these ideas seem to be relatively contradictory and I am still trying to figure them all out myself. By better understanding the historical and cultural foundations of Christianity I hope to better understand my own believe system.

The Longest Summer

   Yuki and I had just wrapped up our sophomore year at St. Edwards university in Texas and along with that her two years of studying abroad in Texas was coming to an end. I had chosen to come to St. Edwards University from the American School of Dubai because of a special program called the Dual Degree Program which allows students to get two separate degrees from two separate universities in two very different countries. The Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) in Japan has a partnership with St. Edwards and sends over Japanese students to live and study in the states. On the first day, the professor that oversees the program introduced me to Yuki, a fellow dual degree student and our friendship took off. After taking her around Austin and out for jogging several times a romance bloomed and the rest is history. Me and Yuki’s study abroad times happened to work out perfectly. She spent her first two years of college in Austin at St. Edwards with me and then I would go to APU with her and we would study there for two years. Now that you know a little bit about our relationship I’ll get back to the story.

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  Yuki and I had separate summer breaks because of the difference in APU’s start and end times, Yuki had to rush back to finish the Spring semester at APU right away when school at St. Edwards was ending. Meanwhile, I would have the longest summer of my life because school would not start for me until October in Japan. I still had not been formally accepted and the visa process for Japan was long and drawn out. To add to my problems, I had no family in Texas and had to deliver my car to my uncle in Indiana for safekeeping while I was abroad. I also had nowhere to live in the states because the dorms closed in the summer and my family lives in Dubai. I had managed to score an Internship at Emirates Airlines in Dubai for July so knew I had to be there by then.

   As I drove Yuki to the Airport in Austin many thoughts raced through my mind. What if I didn’t get accepted to APU? What if I can’t get a visa from Dubai? How long would it be before I saw her again? We had just finished saying goodbye to St. Edwards and both said a prayer in the grotto where I prayed for my safety on my cross-country trip to Indiana from Texas and continued success in University. I also prayed that I would see Yuki again as soon as possible. We embraced each other at the airport and I told her I’d be there soon. We also promised to talk a lot on the phone and wait for each other over the long summer. I had no doubts in my mind that we would be reunited but I knew that there would be obstacles for me to get through to enter Japan let alone APU. We kissed each other goodbye and I started my drive to Houston with all my earthly possessions in my car. My eyes teared up a bit and I already missed her.

 

First Stop Houston

   I had contacted one of my best friends since childhood and asked if I could crash at his place. My friend Jake and I were opposites in a lot of ways his father was a truck driver and he had lived in the same comfortable house in Jersey Village a suburb of Houston his whole life. We had grown up together and we had been to pretty much every one of each other’s birthday parties up until I moved away. I remember playing with squirt guns in his backyard and bouncing on his trampoline. I’m one year older than Jake and we sort of have a brotherly relationship. I would often amuse him with my stories about the world and try to teach him about foreign cultures. He is always particularly interested in Dubai and the Arabian culture. My ability to travel and fly around the world seemed unimaginable to Jake as he had never even been on a plane before. I respect him a lot and I know he will do great things if he sets his mind to it. I often wonder what my life would have been like If I never got the chance to travel to Dubai and leave Houston. I often put myself in Jakes shoes and become immensely grateful for the opportunities my circumstances have afforded me. Much like Jake I had grown up in an upper middle class neighborhood and had a pool in my backyard. Most of the people my family associated with had pretty much the same social standing and culture as WASPS (white Anglo Saxon protestants). Luckily for me my mother had gained a job in at an expat boarding school made up of mostly Asian and Sub-Continental kids along with a few folks from just about everywhere, called the Village school and enrolled me in it. I gained a much more diverse friend group and was able to see and understand divergent perspectives that were far different than mine. The long and the short of it is that I’m glad things worked out the way that they did and after living in Dubai in a culture alien to mine I gained a bravery and lust for adventure that I cannot emphasize enough.

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Second Stop Mississippi

   After waking up on jakes couch with his cat Maggie sitting on my face I was ready to begin the long drive to my next stop. My plan was to drive East to Mississippi then North up to Indianapolis. My good Friend Ruairi O’Connor whom I had spent freshmen year with in Dubai and then visited him in Singapore, was living with his grandmother in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Ruairi and I had a lot in common we were both gingers and both from the Southern part of the States. We both behaved like cowboys and both had struggled to fit in our new environments. Ruairi is extremely active and never really did well academically in high school. We both lived on the Palm Jumeriah in Dubai and would kayak to each other’s houses after school. I lived in an apartment on the trunk of the Palm and Ruairi lived on Frond C it was about a thirty-minute row. I also accredit Ruairi with getting me into running. He would show up unannounced at my apartment every night with his dog, an adopted desert saluki named Bronte and we would all go for 30 minute runs. I also consider Ruairi a brother except in this case he is the older one.

   I figured I would use the mandatory road trip to my advantage and see as many as my friends as possible. It was also a perfect way to see the beauty of America and bid the states goodbye for a while. Another plus was that I could avoid paying for hotels. Ruairi had flunked out of college and was working for a lumber company and waiting on his acceptance to the U.S. Coast Guard. I always pictured Ruairi in the military because of his patriotism and love of all things mechanical. I was happy that he had a plan for his future and wanted to see him before he left for boot camp. I drove through the wet swamps and marshes on the border of Texas and Louisiana. I flicked through the radio stations until I found a good ole’ Cajun station blasting some zydeco. I thought about how random it was to have French speaking cowboys in the middle of a swampy marsh. I also wondered if I was in KKK territory and pondered on what they would think of me and Yuki’s relationship. After driving all day, I had finally gotten to Ocean Springs and parked my grey Mazda in Ruairi’s Grandmother’s driveway. I wasn’t expecting Ocean Springs to be as pretty it was, the old oak trees hung on every street with their mossy leaves. I also dug the Cajun feel and the French look of the architecture. Ruairi showed me his sail boat that he had purchased and we both joked and chatted about the progress of our lives. We then hopped in Ruairi’s pick-up truck and headed to a sketchy Mexican restaurant. I used Ruairi’s I.D. because we look so similar and joined him in having a couple margaritas. We then went back to his grandma’s trailer and played some Call of Duty. Ruairi’s family are staunch Catholics and his uncle is a priest at a beautiful church in Biloxi. The next morning happened to be Sunday so we drove through Ocean Springs over the causeway that had been devastated several years ago by hurricane Katrina. We ended up listening to a nice sermon about Mother’s Day. I savored the sermon and church experience knowing that I probably wouldn’t go to Church again for a while in Dubai or Japan. Later that afternoon Ruairi and I went to the Biloxi beach and soaked up some rays.

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Alabama, Tennessee and Pennsyltucky  

   I rolled of the couch at six o’clock bid Ruairi farewell and wished him the best of luck in the Coast Guard. I drove hard that day and listened to some Paul Simon and Johnny Cash. I also learned that Hank Williams was from Alabama. During the summer there was a viral video of a boy yodeling a Hank Williams song in a Walmart, so I thought that was a funny coincidence. As I drove North through Birmingham, I thought of Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. I recalled how Dr. King had eloquently dismantled the Vatican’s stance on Civil Rights in the U.S. He outlined how it was ironic that the Christianity had started as the religion of the oppressed and how it had become a tool of oppression (in the case of civil rights). He compared the plight of African Americans to the plight of early Christians in Rome. I also turned on my radio and heard a Black reverend talking about an incident that had happened at a church he was familiar with in Birmingham. Apparently, a predominantly African American church had put up a sign saying that white people were not welcome in the congregation. I believe that the church had decided to do this after a series of instances of police brutality. The reverend was talking about how Dr. King would have been ashamed at the sign and that the community in Birmingham was taking steps backward, according to the Reverend “we are all God’s children” and that segregation is a worldly concept. I agreed with the Reverend and thought about how in Heaven there would be no divisions. It’s truly amazing how much you can learn about a city or state by listening to the local radio. That night after nine hours of driving I had finally hit Tennessee and crashed at some random Holiday Inn.

 

   Once I had finally arrived with my uncle Phil in Indiana I was happy to stay in his comfortable apartment for a bit. My uncle having a master’s in History from St. Andrews in Scotland he also happens to have a near photographic memory, so he loves teaching me about things and I love listening. He told me about how the Air Force headquarters in Dayton, Ohio only a two-hour drive from Indianapolis. We hopped in his car and headed over the state border. I also learned that the Wright Brothers were born in Indiana so there are many aviation themed restaurants and shops around the border with Ohio. Luckily for use it also happened to be Veteran’s Day so the National Air Force Museum was having a special event. People were dressed up as soldiers and were recreating a WWII military camp. People were displaying military jeeps, rifles, uniforms, and radio equipment. My uncle and I are military nerds so we were both thoroughly impressed by all this. The museum itself is split into several sections between massive aircraft hangers including WWI, WWII, Cold War, and the Space Age. One particularly interesting exhibit is the Boxcar which is the plane that dropped the “Fat Man” nuke on Nagasaki. I remarked to my uncle that it would be interesting seeing the plane and then visiting the peace memorial in Nagasaki itself. My uncle and me then split up because he moves very, very slowly through museums. It was a very interesting and American experience that I am very fond of considering that I am strongly considering joining a branch of the military as my post graduate possibility’s.

My uncle and I                                    The Boxcar                    Rest Stop in Kentucky

 

Indianapolis                                                               The Wright Brothers Birthplace

Wilkes Barre Penn

   After we returned to Indianapolis my father contacted me telling me about how my grandmother had become gravely ill and that he was returning to Pennsylvania from Dubai to visit her. He asked me to come along as well and visit her. My grandmother on my father’s side had had a history of mental illness and I had heard stories about her from my father’s siblings. At young age my parents made the executive decision to keep me away from her. My father describes her as a manic depressive with bipolar tendencies. She had indeed been hospitalized against her will at a psychological institution. I was somewhat frightened to see her and of what she might say to me. I felt a little guilty about never seeing her as much as my grandparents on my mom’s side. My dad told me it meant a lot to him that I come so I bought a plane ticket and flew to meet him from Indianapolis to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.

   After I got off the plane my father and I headed over to Wilkes Barre General Hospital to visit my grandma Gretchen. When we walked into the room she lit up in excitement and seemed overjoyed to see us. I smiled and hugged her she couldn’t really speak properly because she was on a lot of pain medication. She asked me “Why I had shave my beautiful red hair?” I replied by explaining to her I was going bald. Me and my father grabbed her hand and sat with her a bit. I told her that my dad turned out to be a great man and a fun father and that she should be proud of him. She seemed really happy and I was glad that I was able to see her. My uncle Bill had also drove up from Ohio to see my grandmother and visit with me. She didn’t seem so sick to us and my dad had faith that she would recover. My dad said that his mother had been healthy her whole life and didn’t think that this was her time to go. After the visit my father took the opportunity to show me where he went to elementary school and his childhood school.

   My uncle Bill is also an avid hiker and naturalist and he wanted to take us out to one of his favorite hiking spots. Wilkes Barre has an abundance of natural beauty me and my father even saw a black bear while driving on the highway. The next day my uncle Bill took us to a beautiful hiking spot called Ricketts Glen. My grandfather Joe who passed five years prior used to take them there as kids. I could tell that being back in Pennsylvania and being with his brother Bill stirred many memories within my father. As we hiked up several waterfalls Bill educated me about the various flora and fauna in the region. The whole trip seemed surreal to me and the fact that I had ended up in Pennsylvania visiting my estranged grandmother was crazy to me. It was a mere fifteen days earlier that I was telling Yuki goodbye at the Austin Airport. I certainly hadn’t expected for my dad to come all the way back from Dubai and give me a tour of his childhood home.

   The next day my dad visited my grandmother again for several hours. We said goodbye and he told me he would see me again soon in Dubai. The very next week my grandmother passed from her illness, so it turns out that the trip was worthwhile, and I am thankful to have the memory and to have said goodbye.

 

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My father and his family Grandmother Gretchen in the middle

 

England:

   Finally, after two jam packed months in America I made it to my parents’ house in Dubai. But as soon as I arrived my parents decided they needed to get out Dubai which can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius in the summer. In my opinion Dubai is literally synonymous with hot as hell in the summer. The air is thick with moisture, sand and who knows what else which makes me feel like I can’t breathe in the sweltering heat. So, I was pretty much on board for going anywhere else to kill some time before my internship started at Emirates Airlines. My mom has family in England who needed us to house sit so we took over their house for a bit. We saw my British family whom I hadn’t seen in ages. A Lot of my family members are veterans of the British military and have very interesting antiques in there house. My uncle Roger is a very posh and lovely old man. His wife is named Ingrid and they met while he was stationed in Dusseldorf Germany. Ingrid is famous for making us tea and cakes everytime we visit, her motto is “you vill eat it and you vill like it!”. She consistently reminded us that life is too short not to eat cake. My family from Luton also came up to visit us. My cousin Steven happens to be a champion clay shooter so he took me and my dad out to shoot some clays. We had a fantastic time and also toured around much of Thetford and Norwich. I was surprised by how quickly people rush past us on tiny narrow roads. I’ll go into specifics on the sights that we visited in future posts.

Dubai & Emirates Airlines  

   I can’t really go into too much detail about this, as I had to sign non disclosure agreement but I will say what I can! I was working at the Dubai international airport at the Emirates security offices there. I had managed to score this internship thanks to some lucky nepotism and my interest in international security/relations. As I went in I was assigned to Maya a Lebanese woman who would oversee my tasks at the internship. I was given a lovely seat with a window view of the Dubai international airport runway. I also got to see several of the security systems that are in place to ensure the safe transport of valuables and prevent any dangerous goods from entering the country. My task included finding suitable speakers, venues and topics for an aviation security symposium called AVSEC. I had to compile a list of speakers who had undergone security situations. One of my most interesting finds was an Ethiopian Pilot who had been hijacked 3 times and hit in the head with an axe but survived the crash landing. I also contacted several cyber security experts. The internship was good fun and lasted about a month. I was the only American there so people were quite interested in me. I had several lovely conversations and interactions with people I can’t say the names of due to security. I was also given food vouchers for the Indian curry restaurant downstairs. I had butter chicken curry and mutton roganjosh almost everyday and boy was it good. My days would consist of waking up at 5 a.m. driving to the airport then going home and working out with my friend Trishul. Trushil was the only other person I had met close to my age and was the Nepalese gym attendant at my parents apartment. Most people get out of Dubai in the summer if they can and all of my friends I went to High School with are at universities in the U.S. We ended up having long conversations everyday after the internship and he taught me new workouts. The internship was good because it gave me some work experience and helped me pass the time in extreme dusty heat of the Dubai summer. I would also call Yuki for at least an hour everyday once I got home, I was so ready to see her in person.

my lunch break and Emirates and me hanging out in the Dubai desert with Trishul
Oman

We went to Oman for a week after I finished the internship I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

Hiking in Wadi Shab

4 Countries and 10 states later…

   Within a span of six months I had traveled from the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama,Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois to the countries of  the U.K., Oman, the United Arab Emirates and finally to Japan. Yuki and I had planned to drop my suitcases at Yuki’s apartment in Beppu then go on a vacation to Okinawa and celebrate our successful reunion. I was so happy to see her again the 70’s song “ain’t no mountain high enough” rang in my head when I finally saw her waiting for me at the airport in Fukuoka. I knew that being together with her in Beppu would be the start of a beautiful new chapter in our lives.

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Reunited at last in Beppu

 

   When I think of my life I often think of the Beatles song “In My Life” the lyrics about constantly changing people and places really speak to my story. The song also happens to be a love song and when I think of the summer and my reunion with Yuki I picture the lyrics “and none compare to you” please have a listen and get your own meaning from this wonderful song…     In My life- Beatles

Please feel free to follow me on instagram @ redheadkid for more cool pictures of travels around the world. As always thanks for reading my story!

Media in War

The importance of Media in War

Media and the public perception of wars is what allows societies to determine whether a war is virtuous or unjustified. In the twentieth century, Western countries had fought wars that easily portrayed them as the “good guys”. When the United States went over to Europe it was in the name of stopping the tyranny and fascism of the Third Reich. When the U.S. dropped the horrible power of atomic bombs in Japan, they did it to stop the advancement of a barbaric imperialist system that swallowed up smaller countries and enslaved its peoples. These wars were easily displayed as necessary and justified. One could even say that there were a clear goals in mind and adequate illustrations of how the war would come to an end. However, in the period following WWII the reasons for going to war would become increasingly muddled. The German military theorist Karl von Clausewitz stated that the ultimate goal of war is the subjugation of the enemy and “bending them to your will”. For the concept of old physical warfare the idea is brawn over brains but in new wars that are fought between superpowers and small countries media and perception is key.

The Cold War

The proxy wars of the Cold War era were no longer as easily justified as the goal of stopping Fascism or Imperialism but instead enlisted the flawed domino theory. The domino theory was used to justify the Vietnam and Korean conflicts by stating that if one country falls to communism surrounding nations will follow. It added a justification as to why a nation such as the United States could interfere in civil conflicts within countries such as Vietnam. Presidents such as Kennedy and Johnson would reiterate the idea that by keeping communism out of Vietnam or Korea the United States was in effect protecting all of its Asian Allies along with itself. At the beginning of the war in Vietnam victory seemed assured for the United States. Surely the United States had the resources, power, money and advanced technologies to take over a poor unindustrialized country like Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese knew very well that they were outmatched so changed the Strategy from all previous wars that came before. They focused on psychological manipulation and the influence of people rather than physical warfare. They wanted to make the war impossible for the U.S. to justify and prolong the conflict as long as possible. Once the U.S. started the draft they had already lost in the hearts and minds of its people. Vietnam was in a far-flung part of Asia that most people hadn’t heard of until the war started. The fact that the power of Vietnam did not pose an existential threat to the U.S. increased the difficulty of how to justify a proxy war to the public.

 

The Gulf War

“The Gulf War Did Not Take Place” as written by Jean Baudrillard expressed how important perceptions of war have actually become. Baudrillard described how the U.S. and other Western countries were fed pictures and news reels of slick tomahawk missiles and advanced fighter jets gracefully striking their targets. Western audiences were sparred gruesome images from the effect of these bombing but instead saw inhuman infer red images of Iraqi soldiers being struck by “smart” bombs. The U.S. knew that the public was still reeling from the experience of the Vietnam war and needed convincing propaganda to send people into feelings of war fervor. One such now infamous event was the “weapons of mass destruction” campaign launched in the U.S. to portray Saddam Hussein as being in possession of WMD’s. While whether WMD’s were present or not, intelligence agencies have admitted that evidence was not conclusive. Another lessor known event was when a fake news story spread about premature babies being removed from incubators in Kuwait by Iraqi invaders. It is clear that on the hierarchy of victim’s premature babies are by far the most defenseless. The Events of the Gulf War display how the U.S. had learned from its mistakes in Vietnam and made sure to make the war palette-able for the American public. America accomplishes this through concepts of “risk free” warfare, war fervor propaganda, and intense reiteration of justification for the war. Risk Free warfare refers to the images of soldiers safely piloting unmanned weapons in locations relatively far away from the battlefield. In effect the Gulf War was sanitized for the consumption of Western audiences.

If I have learned anything in University it is to question all media sources including the ones you trust. The Military industrial complex is real and every source of media is biased. Everything is said a certain way… to make you think a certain way.

The purpose of this post was just to write down some of my thoughts from my War and Media class. I hope you found my thoughts about the correlation between war and media usage interesting.

The Japanese Navy Caves

Okinawa is littered with vast cave systems that were created underneath the island. During the Battle of Okinawa Japanese soldiers and Okinawan civilians caught in the crossfire took refuge from the constant artillery bombardment in these caves.  Okinawans call these caves “gama” and they have become infamous as the places where many people committed suicide during the war. In the heart of Naha there is one such cave system situated directly under a large hill. When the Japanese military learned of the imminent American invasion of Okinawa they attempted to convert this cave system into a bunker that would act as the Imperial Navy Headquarters. They quickly amassed a troop of Okinawan laborers to excavate this cave and reinforce the roof with steel and concrete. As the situation became increasingly desperate more civilians and soldiers became clumped together in this cramped and soggy cave. The Imperial Navy Headquarters museum in Naha attempts to tell the tragic stories of those in the cave as the inevitable Japanese defeat loomed and the battle waged on.

This Museum as with all museums in Japan that focus on the topic of WWII, emphasize the importance of peace and how war is catastrophic to all those involved. I have noticed that war is always handled very delicately in all Japanese museums and they are careful in their wording never to demonize either side. This is directly opposite of my experiences in Vietnam where museums are very biased and occasionally reflect hatred that is still perceived at the “enemy”. Museums in Japan are not meant to display any sort of propaganda but instead memorialize the victims and factually display the atrocities of war committed by all sides. Every time I visit a “peace museum” I am increasingly impressed with the care and attention that goes into the wording and overall feeling of the exhibits. I always leave a peace museum with the solemn reminder that “war is hell”.

 

*The following information contains historical details of war that may not be suitable for all readers (Contains gruesome details collected within the museum)

My Experience:

Yuki, her brother Shintaro and myself climbed the seemingly beautiful mountain on a bright summers day to the entrance of the museum. As we entered we were shown a small exhibit that explained the chronology of the Battle of Okinawa and some personal stories of the navy officers in the cave. We saw several artifacts such as rifles and canteens that had been recovered from the cave. There is also information regarding how the caves were built and how soldiers and civilians survived on rats while hiding in the cave. Once we finished reading the brief information we entered the dark stuffy tunnel with stairs that led us deeper into the cave. Once you’re in there you can easily imagine the horror of those trapped in this cave while bombs were dropping off directly above. They must have been terrified that the cave would collapse upon them and kill them instantly, but perhaps that would have been a more humane end than their actual deaths.

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Shintaro entering the Navy Caves

As you proceed the cave becomes a maze of corridors and antechambers. At various locations, there are markers that explain what the room was such as “medical chamber” or “officers quarter”. In some particularly important rooms markers show illustrations of how life was during the war. One room that particularly left an impression on me is one in which faded stains and chipped concrete from shrapnel covers the walls. On a nearby plaque Yuki read to me that several officers had used grenades to blow themselves up to avoid surrendering. The Commander of the base Minoru Ōta had commanded all 175 soldiers to commit suicide rather than surrender he himself died via seppuku. We also learned that civilians were also sometimes “forced to commit suicide” and in turn murdered by the soldiers that were meant to be protecting them. All of these facts lead me to the conclusion that the Japanese soldiers often had sentiments of extremist nationalism and would rather have died than surrender. It also displays how the propaganda of the time had so successfully brainwashed the soldiers. Above all it is a testament to how horrific and brutal this war had become in it’s final stages.

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The room where General Ujishima and Navy  Commander Ota committed seppuku

Towards the end of the battle American troops stormed the caves and killed or imprisoned the remaining soldiers. I’m sure they were astonished by the gruesome scenes that awaited them deeper within. This site is an important testament to the human costs of any conflict and remains one of the most visceral experiences I have ever had in a museum. As I have said before it is an absolute miracle that me and my Okinawan girlfriend can visit these memorials together a mere seventy years after these horrible events. It was at this sight that I also realized that almost every part of Okinawa had at one point been a battle ground where people brutally died. While a vacation to Okinawa is certainly fun and enjoyable I think it also important to recognize the tragic history of the island. It is truly amazing that the Okinawans were able to rebuild after such devastation and is a testament to the resilience of the Okinawan people.

Other information contained at the museum:

 

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map of the caves

We learned how U.S. troops would often lob grenades into caves with the intention of clearing out soldiers but civilians were often killed because they were too afraid to come out.

This is the location where General Ushijima died and has biographical information about him.

Minoru_Ota.jpg image from Wikipedia

Minoru Ōta was the last commander of Imperial navy who committed seppuku alongside Ushijima. He wrote a telegram to the emperor asking that special considerations be given in the future to the prefecture of Okinawa because of the Okinawans staunch defense and loyalty the “the Motherland”.

“Born as a man, nothing fulfills my life more than to die in the name of the Emperor.” Ōta’s death poem

If you’re interested in learning more about Okinawa please see my other posts about Okinawa

 

History of Okinawa

In order to understand Okinawa you must first understand this islands fascinating and sometimes tragic history. I’ll start from when Okinawa  was called the Kingdom of Ryukyu and functioned as a powerful trading kingdom that traded with both Japan, China, and later the West. On the other islands in the Okinawan archipelago such as the Miyako islands and Yaeyama island chain one can find varied dialects and alternate cultures. One very interesting cultural practice occurs during rice harvest festivals Miruku the god of bountiful harvest is venerated and given rice wine in hopes of a bountiful harvest. Many of the islands have separate and unique gods. My personal favorite is Oh Ho Ho a god with “European features” that is depicted as a dancing man with a long beard and pointy nose. During one ritual Oh Ho Ho proceeds steal the local native women away from their husbands. The locals must throw money at Oh Ho Ho to appease this greedy god. I personally think this practice may have been developed based on past experiences with European traders in the medieval period but there is no conclusive evidence to back up my claim.

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Painting depicting Shuri Castle the home of the Ryukyu Kings

Becoming Japanese 

Okinawa used to be called the Kingdom of Ryukyu and due to it’s convenient geography of being nestled directly between Taiwan and Japan it became a wealthy trade hub. During the medieval period the Satsuma clan of Southern Kyushu occupied and conquered the islands of Ryukyu and united them in the name of the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Thus the Kingdom of Ryukyu become the Japanese province of Okinawa. Okinawa literally means “off coast rope” in Japanese and is still sometimes seen as the “Japanese Hawaii”. Indeed Okinawans may speak Japanese but they have their own unique culture, customs and heritage. In fact, the reason why the Okinawan dialects have become nearly extinct is because during the Meji period (Pre war 1900’s) Japan had enforced hardline assimilation policies on the Okinawans and punished students for not speaking Japanese in schools. During WorldWarII  these practices became even more harsh and Okinawans caught speaking their native dialects were often accused of being spies and executed.

World War II

After years of increasingly aggressive nationalist policies Japan had succeeded in colonizing Okinawa’s neighbor Taiwan and many other Southeast Asian countries. Any non Japanese sentiments were brutally crushed and Okinawans began to forget they had not always been Japanese. After the brutal fighting on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima and raising of the flag over mount suribachi the U.S. fleet set it’s sights on Okinawa. Japan knew that it had to prevent the forces from landing on Honshu and prolong the battle of Okinawa as long as possible. Japan also knew that it was fighting a loosing war but hoped to create as much battle fatigue in the U.S. soldiers and public as possible. They hoped to hold off a full scale invasion of the homeland and have more favorable peace talks. The sheer brutality of the Battle in Okinawa is often considered as the catalyst for the Truman’s decision to drop the Atomic bombs. Japan had throughly spread propaganda warning and scarring Okinawans out of  surrendering to American troops. Propaganda stated that the American troops would kill civilians immediately and even eat the bodies. The Imperial Japanese army also armed civilians with bamboo spears and sent out a national wide order to “fight to the death!”. Before the Americans landed they spent two weeks bombarding Okinawa with naval artillery fire to weaken Japanese defenses. This bombardment became know as the “typhoon of steel” and turned the battlefield into a muddy and bloody mess. Of course this bombardment also indiscriminately killed countless civilians. During the invasion itself American troops landed in the middle of the island and pushed southward towards the main city of Naha. The north of the island was relatively peaceful compared to the hell that the South had become. There are countless stories of horrible tragedies that took place during this desperate battle. Many Okinawans and Japanese chose to commit suicide rather than surrender. Japanese soldiers even distributed hand grenades to children and told them they were “gifts from the Emperor”.  The soldiers told civilians it was better to die than give themselves up to the Americans. Many people who didn’t have hand grenades threw themselves of the “suicide cliffs”. The tragic battle ended up being the last battle of the pacific before the surrender of Japan. The United states ended up occupying Okinawa until returning the island to the Japanese in the 70’s after mounting unrest broke out across the island. I have heard stories about the celebrations that occurred when suddenly the currency was changed to yen from dollars and cars drove on the Japanese sides of the road. U.S. bases on the island were used heavily as staging grounds during the Vietnam and Korean conflicts and continues to be a controversial issue.

“Green grass dies in the islands without waiting for fall,
But it will be reborn verdant in the springtime of the homeland.
Weapons exhausted, our blood will bathe the earth, but the spirit will survive;
Our spirits will return to protect the motherland.”- General Mitsu Ushijima suicide letter before committing seppuku

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The Room in the Japanese Navy Caves where General Ushijima committed seppuku

 

 

I suggest watching “Hacksaw Ridge” and the Okinawa episode of the HBO series “The Pacific”

I hope this post helped you gain a brief understanding of the History of Okinawa I will go into specifics of historical locations and my travel experiences in future posts. It is ironic how a place that is so unimaginably beautiful was also home to such a degree of pain and suffering. When I am in Okinawa enjoying the beach or strolling through a luxurious mall I often find my mind drifting to the stories of those who died so savagely here in the 1940’s. I don’t usually believe in ghosts but when your out in the darkness of night at Okinawa you can defiantly feel the spirits. Americans and Okinawans have become connected through history and as an american I feel a connection to this place. Perhaps I feel it even more because my girlfriend is Okinawan and I find it abhorrent to imagine her going through the brutality of that time. I also find it miraculous that a mere 70 years later I am able to walk freely down the streets of Okinawa with her as a couple, where our ancestors had once tried to desperately kill each other. This very fact gives me hope that deep seated hatreds can be left behind and nations that once so brutally clashed can achieve peace and amity between one another.

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A photo I took of the Suicide Cliffs from the Okinawa Peace memorial observation deck
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An english textbook hand printed in the Taisho period during the American Occupation

Takasakiyama Mountain Monkeys!

Monkey parks are always good fun especially a monkey park with scheduled feedings that cause all the monkeys to congregate in one spot. Lets get this straight I’ve been to a bunch of monkey parks so I guess you can call me somewhat of a monkey mountain connoisseur. I’ve been to a monkey temples in Bali and the Swanbu temple in Nepal and several others in Thailand. Both of the other ones were free to enter and allowed you to feed and interact with the monkeys. Takasakiyama has a six dollar entrance fee and you can pay two dollars extra for a cable car ride that takes you up the mountain. You can easily convert dollars to yen by adding two 0’s after the figure for example 6 dollars is 600 yen. Once you go up the mountain there are literally monkeys everywhere. As usual when around monkeys WATCH YOUR VALUABLES. Those little rascals like to grab whatever they can with their adorably evil little demonic foothands and handfeet. The other monkey temples I’ve been to were more cultural and less of an actual zoo (keyword temple). In Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries it’s easy to purchase bananas and feed the monkeys but the zookeepers don’t allow that at Takasakiyama. The closest you will get to a monkey is one passing between your legs which is supposedly “goodluck”. Due to the zookeepers mindfulness and overall cleanliness this place is great for 1st time monkey mountain viewers. It’s also a must do when in Beppu, Oita along with the Umi Tamago (water egg) Aquarium and Tsurumidake Ropeway. There are tons of cute baby monkey that slide down little swing sets along with a grizzly looking alpha male who never gets up from a particular stump. The zookeepers are happy to inform guests about the dynamics of the monkey group however they only speak Japanese. It was a great and memorable experience and I plan on going back next year.

One more tip monkeys are pretty unpredictable we saw a monkey suddenly screech and lunge at a woman who got a little to close when taking a picture. I also have a friend from High School who was bit by a monkey while we were running a cross country race in New Dehli, India. The race attendants told us not to make eye contact with the monkeys as it causes them to feel threatened. Charlie now has a mouth shaped scar on his back shoulder which is sorta badass.

Note: The monkeys have currently disappeared into the forest. This was an update I saw on the local Oita news. Locals are pretty nervous because it is a pretty big tourist attraction around here. Many monkey experts speculate the monkey will return in the winter season once food in the forest becomes less scarce.

 

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I found it so satisfying when the monkey posed for me as a monkey!

 

As you can see the le alpha mountain monkey on le alpha mountain monkey tree stump.