I’m originally from the Washington DC area, so we visit family there at least once a year. But this spring, I realized that I’ve never taken my son all the way around the Tidal Basin. So when we were up there in March (before Cherry Blossom time), we walked around the entire Tidal Basin.
The Tidal Basin is mostly known for the Cherry Blossoms planted around it and hence the prime site for the Cherry Blossom festival nature watching and as a backdrop for the Jefferson Memorial. In more recent years, the Martin Luther King Memorial and the Franklin Delano Roosevelet Memorial have also been built along its perimeter. The picture above shows a Japanese pagoda installed along the Tidal Basin across from the National Mall, site of the Washington Memorial and most of the Smithsonian museums.
What does that have to do with peace? Well, first of all, especially in the midst of all the hustle and bustle and people and activity in a major city like Washington DC, it is great to find a quiet spot of nature that simply fills us with peace (I’ll be writing more about this next week). But what most people see in the Cherry Blossoms are the first 2,000 trees given to the American people by the Japanese people as a gift of friendship in 1912 during the time of President Taft.
However, the pagoda shown above was a later gift of friendship from the Japanese to the US in 1957 during the time of President Eisenhower.
What is remarkable to me about this is that this gift came only TWELVE (12) years after the US dropped nuclear bombs on Japan, when the current president, President Eisenhower, was the Supreme Commander of the military and presumably knew about and approved that terrible act (although he later wrote that the bombing had never stopped troubling him). It was a horrible offense against mostly civilian that US military and governmental officials justified for putting an end to the war and stopping onging deaths in military conflict. It is not something that I’ve researched enough to either defend or to condone, although I hate that our conflicts drove us to that point.
My point, however, is that contrary to almost our entire human history of military conflict, just over a decade later, Japan and the US relations were harmonious enough for Japan to send a symbol of friendship to the country that dropped an atomic war on its people. How can that be? It was because the US, the only major power that hadn’t had its infrastructure bombed into near-oblivion, poured millions and millions of dollars into rebuilding NOT only its allies, like England and France, but also its former enemies, like Germany and Japan. So now, about 70 years after World War II, almost no one in the US hates Germany or Japan for its role in our former conflict, nor, as far as I know, do those countries feel that way towards us. For example, one of my son’s best friends is a young man of Japanese descent. It would never even occur to my son to have an issue about his friend’s Japanese ancestry, even though my son’s grandfather fought in World War II.
And yet, in so many other places, how many people hold hate in their heart towards other countries that had fought with or perhaps conquered theirs hundreds of years ago? How many of our current conflicts are based on centuries of resentment from past wars?
To me, this is a symbol of hope. We may not have evolved beyond war yet, but we can evolve beyond a war that continues to be passed on from generation to generation. We have found a way to find a way to build bridges again after the worst of military conflicts.
So that is my advice to take to heart today. I hope we can embrace the belief that peace is possible. We couldn’t avoid war with German and Japan, but we found a way to build peace with them after the military conflict. May we do so with all the people we find ourselves in conflict with across the world…or even in our own country.
I think what worked with the post World War II plan was focusing on giving rather than getting…at least immediately. But personally, I believe what you give will come back to you. So to support that idea, I’m ending with this video, which I love, based on a song that I love. I love it so much I included it in my son’s high school graduation ceremony. So today’s practice is on giving. Please join in.
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