Saturday, October 25, 2008

America the Beautiful

WARNING: There is nothing about weaving in this post. Whatsoever. It's about my life, mostly in the 60's.

Connie Rose
sent me a link to this video, and I was reflecting on how long it's been since I listened to Dr Martin Luther King Jr with such an uplifting surge of emotion, and realized for far too long I've relegated the Civil Rights Movement to some kind of a freak 60's event.

The video, and this morning's act of defiance made me reflect on my childhood. I was 10 in 1968. My extended family on my mother's side was heavily involved in university education, so every day the dinner conversation centered on The Student Movement, with up to date report on what was going on at "our", whilst secretly I longed to join the ranks and demonstrate against Establishment. (Oh, yeah, I knew that work in English!) I idolized their uniform of plastic helmet with local affiliation painted, thin towels protecting them for tear gases (!!!) and the obligatory length of 4x4 pieces of wood. If memory serves me, this is when jeans became very popular in Japan.

The big issues were the Viet Nam War and the students' opposition to renewing the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, scheduled to be renewed in 1970, based on the 1951's San Francisco Peace Treaty. The Treaty prevented Japan for arming itself, but guaranteed US protection, in exchange for the US bases to continue to occupy Japan. We paid the US a certain percentage of the GDP to protect us, because we weren't allowed to arm ourselves, which wasn't exactly unpopular. Except when soldiers behaving badly became a serious social issue, and we couldn't prosecute them because the bases were US jurisdiction, and so American solders were deemed outside our law, even if the troubles took place outside the bases.

(This has changed some since the 80's where a few successful assault, rape and burglary cases were brought to trial, but then guilty soldiers get shipped home so I'm not sure if it's working. It's especially difficult with rape, where, in Japan, female victims are still often deemed even more guilty than male perpetrators, where the overwhelming majority of judges are male, and where they've been studying the jury system for the last hundred or more years, still with no conclusion.)

The students didn't want Japan to vicariously be part of the American action in Viet Nam.

The Treaty recognized the volatile relationship of the two countries as regards things "nuclear", so it said no nuclear weapons or nuclear-powered vessels will ever come to any of the bases in Japan, but again, we had no right to inspect or object, and our citizens taking photos of well-known nuclear-powered ships got arrested by Japanese authorities.

Anyway, "our" university became one of the campuses where the All-Japan Federation of Students' Self-Governing Associations was most active, (though there's not a lot of mention of it on the Internet, because it was small, private, and academically insignificant. My aunts would be relieved!) After the student takeover of Tokyo University's Yasuda Auditorium in June '68-Jan '69, Dad was astonished to hear a staggering majority majority of students arrested were from "our" university.

Police would regularly call Grandpa, (founder, president and chancellor) to warn there might be unwelcome guests to his house, and I recall student groups did appear, but Grandpa always had three or four pet German Shepherds, (predating student troubles by a few decades,) so there was never serious trouble. I know once they threw a Molotov cocktail into his garden, but it was "faulty" and just sat on the lawn until Dad went to pick it up. Twice, however, Grandma rang because the threads were dire, and Dad was one of the professors who argued with students and demand placards and banners be taken down. They were supposedly targeting our house half a block away as well. (We only had an old, frail Pomeranian that was scared of cats.)

I remember stuffing my teddy bear and my bible, (didn't want to because it was heavy, but HE'd know if I didn't, so it went in) in my backpack, and we turned all the lights off and held our breath for a few hours. It must have reminded of my parents of the bombings during the war. Nothing happened that night, though we kept our escape packs untouched for a few months. That might have been the time I decided I didn't want to be a demonstrator, though I still agreed with a lot of what the students were saying.

Fast forward and in 1970, we moved to a new house, which kind of put us smack in the middle of three different American bases I knew of. In Japan, all roadworks take place in the middle of the night at low traffic and our new house was off one of the main roads that connected two of the bases. From May 1970 to August 1974, when I left home for Minneapolis, every time they did road works, I couldn't sleep for weeks on end because I believed it was the sound of jeeps and tanks moving from one base to another, and I worried Soviets would bomb my stretch of the road to weaken the American forces in Viet Nam. It wasn't until years later, when I actually saw roadworks in the middle of the night, that I realized they weren't jeeps and tanks. I never thought to talk to my parents, because it might reminding them of the bombings and upset them.

My insomnia goes way back.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love comments. Thank you for taking the time!