"As I scan the news reports about the US occupation of Iraq, I find myself flashing back on scenes from the end of WWII. Not that I was alive at the time. But I have vivid memories of the occupation as experienced by my mother, my uncles, and grandmother: my grandfather dying of tuberculosis before the surrender, my disillusioned uncle leaving Japan for the US stunned by the depth of the Japanese wartime propaganda machine, the Occupation land reform stripping our family of our status as provincial landlord, our family katana being taken away by Occupation forces, and my mother savoring the taste of chocolate and chewing gum distributed by American GIs. From all the scenes, one image is indelibly clear. This is the story through the eyes of my mother, just a child at the time, peeking out from the gaps in the fusuma to our genkan in our home in Northern Japan.
"The Americans had arrived in our hometown. We had gotten word that they were going to use our home, the largest house in the area, as their local headquarters. Our household gathered, kneeling, at our genkan, steeled to face the occupiers. My great grandmother, nearly blind at the time, was the head of the household, and her daughter and two sons flanked her, the grandchildren shooed off to hidden rooms. As the soldiers entered our home, they started to step up from the genkan into the home. My great grandmother, a battle-scarred early feminist, hissed, "Get your filthy barbarian shoes off of my floor!" The interpreter refused to interpret. The soldier insisted. Upon hearing the translation from the red-faced interpreter, the soldier sat on the floor and removed his boots, instructing his men to do the same. He apologized to my great grandmother. Now it was her turn to be surprised.
I've always considered this moment to be a pivotal one in the chanponization of our family, the first glimmerings of mutual respect for a radically different society that was so recently the enemy. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if the GI that came to my home had been a different sort of man, pushing aside a frail matriarch in a rush to survey his most recent conquest. I don't think resentment of the occupation disappeared after that encounter, and acceptance of the barbarisms of the West was slow in coming. But by my mother's generation, the majority of my family had moved to the US, or at least spent significant amounts of time abroad. This transnational shift is what makes me remember this moment as more true and defining in our postwar family history than the grumblings about lost swords and lost land.
I find myself wondering, like so many of us in the US are, how Iraqis are viewing the occupying Anglo-American forces. At the same time, I realize that this understanding is necessarily beyond my grasp. Every encounter will be a site of conflict and ambivalence, and maybe even, at times, resolution. My personal hope lies with the integrity of the troops on the ground. I nurture a faith that they will proceed with a humility and respect towards difference that has been absent among much of their leadership."
Mizuko Ito: "Remembering the Occupation"