The Cruel Waste of War

How awful! His mother must be so worried about him.""

By Daisaku Ikeda

Sixty years have passed since the end of World War II, which came to a close with Japan's surrender on August 15, 1945. Many of the young men of my generation were incited by Japan's militarist government to march proudly into battle and give their lives. War impressed itself on every aspect of our lives.

One incident from that time is still vivid in my mind. It happened in the spring of 1945, when I was seventeen. It was the dawn of a sleepless night taking cover from the air raids that were by then a regular occurrence. About a hundred B-29s were flying away, heading into the eastern horizon. I watched them until they were tiny dots in the sky.

Just then someone shouted, "Hey! What's that?" Something was falling from the sky. It was a parachute. A plane must have been hit, and now an American soldier was dropping towards us. He landed in a field some 200 or 300 meters away. From what I heard later, a group of people ran up to him and began hitting him with sticks. Beaten senseless, he was led away by the military police.

When I got back and told my mother what had happened, her response was: "How awful! His mother must be so worried about him."

My mother was a very ordinary woman, in many ways the product of the era in which she was born and raised. But looking back, I am struck by her ability, as a mother, to empathize with the sufferings of a fellow mother--an "enemy" mother separated by thousands of kilometers of physical distance and by the high walls of political ideology.

Women are, in my view, natural peacemakers. As givers and nurturers of life, through their focus on human relationships and their engagement with raising children and protecting family life, they develop a deep sense of empathy that cuts through to underlying human realities.

When the end of the war came, there was a widespread, if largely unvoiced, sense of relief. No one at the time could bring themselves to come out and say, "I'm glad Japan lost," but that was, I am sure, the sentiment in many hearts.

My mother had often expressed her disgust for the war. Her hopes now all focused on the safe return of her four sons, my elder brothers, all sent to the front in China and Southeast Asia. Over the next two years my brothers returned home, in their tattered uniforms. They were a pathetic sight.

All but my eldest brother, Kiichi. We hadn't heard a word from him since he reported having left China for Southeast Asia.

Eventually, on May 30, 1947, we received the news of Kiichi's death in the form of a letter brought by an elderly local official. My mother bowed politely and accepted the letter. She turned her back to us, shuddering with grief. One of my other brothers went to pick up Kiichi's cremated remains. The sight of my mother clasping the small white box that held all that was left of her eldest child was unbearable.

No era can rival the 20th century in terms of the number of mothers throughout the world forced to shed bitter tears of pain and sorrow. Women and mothers are the greatest victims of war--wars started virtually without exception by men.

All who know the brutal reality of war, who know how war strips people of their very humanity, must unite in a new global partnership for peace. Women can be particularly powerful protagonists in this effort. Their voices, concerns, wisdom and insights must be brought to the fore in all spheres of society.

By building solidarity rooted in an empathetic recognition of our shared humanity--the universal desire to protect ourselves and those we love from harm--I believe we can make the 21st century an era of genuine reverence for the sanctity of life. In such an era, the prayers for peace of all mothers--the yearning of all humankind--will be answered.

Daisaku Ikeda is president of the lay Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International and founder of Soka University, the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research and the Boston Research Center.

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2006

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2006, page 19. Some rights reserved.

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