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The warrior in America


My dad was a warrior. He was a Lieutenant Commander on a destroyer in the Pacific in World War II. He's never talked much about the war, just an occasional hint or two, but today he told me about some action that occurred in the Philippines. His destroyer took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which saw the first use of kamikaze aircraft in the war. Dad says he watched a plane pass over him and miss its target by about 30 feet, piling into the water and exploding. Not yet realizing that the pilot's intent had been to fly into the ship, dad's thought was one of awed sympathy, "that guy never had a chance!" Later he said he saw two planes fly into the USS Mississippi. During this action in the Philippines, a shell from a shore battery hit a nearby ship and utterly destroyed everything from the mast forward. My dad took a whale boat into the wreckage and picked up 20-some-odd survivors. As he was offloading the men onto a mid-sized transport, the transport was hit and destroyed and he had to go pick up the survivors again. For this action he earned an award (a Bronze Star Medal?)

After the war, he gave up warrioring and became an engineer, a businessman, and a family man. But beneath these hats there was still a warrior. There was (is) some part of the warrior, noble and stern, dignified and proper, remaining in him.

But I didn't intend this as a simple tribute to my father. My father is an example of an extremely common nobility in America. Because of the relative youth of this country and the frequency of conflicts, America has bred warriors in every generation. I think you'd be hard pressed to find an American that is more than one or two generations removed from this warrior ethos represented by my father. This idea was somewhat hinted at in a quote by John Adams that I posted a few days ago;



I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

The idea being that despite our desire to believe that we have evolved into artists, poets, and philosophers, not only are we at most a couple of generations removed from the warrior, but we are indebted to him (or her).

About 120 years ago, Jigoro Kano saw this same thing happening in Japan. His country was emerging from feudalism into the modern era of industrialism and multinationalism and he saw that there would be no place for the professional warrior as he had previously existed in Japan. The next generation would be engineers and businessmen and the following generation would be artists (so he thought or hoped). Gichin Funakoshi in his autobiography, Karate-do My Way of Life, describes coming to the same realization when he had to get his topknot shorn in order to be admitted to a modern school. So, what did these guys do? They reorganized the martial traditions that they had access to in order to preserve the nobility inherent in the warrior ways. That's part of what we are doing in the martial arts - conserving the warrior spirit.
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You know, I think it's funny that my dad, the warrior fought the Japanese and it is Japanese martial arts that have allowed me to learn and preserve part of that warrior spirit.

4 comments:

  1. Very nice, and very thoughtful post Pat.
    Another thought I often have is how the warrior ethic is lacking in professional sports in recent times. (especially basketball).
    Why has the thug mentality surpassed being a leader and role model? This behaviour has completely turned me off of professional sports.
    D.R.

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  2. Beautiful post and tribute to your dad. We thank him for his courage and commitment, as do the men he saved, no doubt. DR's point is well taken, and is characteristic of the coarsening of our society due, I believe, to the severing of ties to our communities and parents, leading to a lack of shame. Are professional athletes ever held to account for their actions? Probably not, once their mentors and parents realize what they have on their hands. Good point.

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  3. My dad told me one time that back in the day when he was a kid, playing baseball was not a 'real job' the baseball players were bums and hoboes when they weren't playing baseball.

    I, like DojoRat, think it's a crying shame to see what pro sports have become. In the case of baseball, these guys have the coolest job in the world. They get paid exorbitant amounts to wear a uniform, play a game, and do some commercials. And then you see them misbehaving.

    Part of this is the glorification of sports stars as heroes. with glory comes power and power corrupts. on the other hand, the media loves to put an inordinate amount of emphasis on the misbehavior. Do you see a lot of media about the players that so use their power and fame to do something noble? Nope. As an example, check out my post of June 4, 2007 of the video of the Braves manager absolutely showing his ass. And he's not even a player...

    I also hate pro sports becaust hte players are too good. they don't have fun and they don't make mistakes because they are doing a job professionally instead of playing a game.

    That's why I personally love to see team owners bring in loads of scabs to bust a pro ball players strike (sorry, union guys). The scabs realize this is probably their only chance to have a job that cool and they play great and have fun.

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  4. Reading up on these boats I have come to the conclusion that My dad's memory of these events was foggy from the intervening 60 years. His destroyer (USS Picking) did take part in Leyte Gulf, but his rescue of survivors from the boat hit by shore battery fits the description of the destruction of USS Longshaw off Naha. He still did the deeds, but I think it was in Okinawa - not the Philippines.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Picking_(DD-685)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Longshaw_(DD-559)

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