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    I was going to wait to post this until I get home from the office tonight. But the date has been 11 September here in Tokyo for 11 hours now, and something about the way all the folks back home in the States are getting ready for bed, the way they did on 10 September three years ago, makes me want to say it now.

    On 9/11, I came to Atsushi’s apartment to watch what was happening on CNN. The whole night, while I sat staring at the television, shaking in anger, he came out to keep making me tea. He had to wake up at 6:30 as always, but he must have gotten up six or seven times overnight to boil water and change the leaves and express relief that the attacks had stopped. Over the next few days, messages from friends kept coming to my cell phone: “So sorry to hear about what happened in America. I hope your friends in NY and family in PA are safe. You must be white-hot mad–here’s to a quick retaliation by your government.” And last year, when I took Atsushi to meet my parents, his mother (who was a child during the War and married into a family whose property and holdings were wiped out by the bombing of Tokyo) asked him to offer a flower at Ground Zero while we were in New York.

    Sixty years ago, Japan and America were in a war that made a disaster area of the Pacific Rim. By 2001, I could be an American man living in a gloriously rebuilt Tokyo, in a relationship with a Japanese man, with Japanese friends who expressed fellow-feeling with America when we were attacked. The Japanese Prime Minister has been one of our staunchest allies; the Japanese Self-Defense Forces have been sent on non-combat missions in Iraq. Japan’s relationship with America and the rest of the West will always be complicated, but it is undeniable.

    This is possible because our civilization is the real deal; the things we value are the things that are worth valuing. Our people are free. We feel a sense of control over our own destiny. We have hope and can-do resilience, which make it unnecessary to cling like death to grievances and turn them into inheritable grudges. Yes, America and Japan and the UK and the rest of the democracies sometimes do bad–seriously bad–things in our relations with the great wide world. We don’t always live up to our ideals. We have plenty of individual resenters in our midst, too. But resentment and destructiveness aren’t what characterize us. Indeed, we’re even nice when we’re vengeful: Since 9/11, we’ve spent our energy debating how to protect ourselves without having to be too hurtful to other people and peoples in the process. And we’re still getting on passenger jets and taking elevators up skyscrapers.

    I can’t think of what to say about those who died without feeling as if I were exploiting them for symbolism, so I will just say that they aren’t forgotten in the two languages I love, today those of allies rather than enemies:

    Rest in peace.


    Added at 23:00: Minutes after the moment of silence to mark the attack by the first plane, Atsushi sent me a cell-phone message: “CNNを見ていた?9・11から3年だね。悲劇を乗り越えるアメリカに敬服します。 [Were you watching CNN? 3 years since 9/11. I really admire America for so triumphing over tragedy.]” At the end of that sentence was a graphic of a star. I think I’m done crying now.

    4 Responses to “9/11”

    1. Sean Kinsell says:

      Two things I wanted to add that didn’t seem in keeping with the mood of the post:

    2. I know I complain about conformism in Japan, but it’s still true that the Japanese have choices in all the most meaningful ways. You don’t need to petition the village elders to be able to move to another city, you can travel abroad freely, and you can find the job and way of life that pleases you. Social pressure here is pervasive, and it would be nice if society made room for more types of people. Nevertheless, in world terms, Japanese citizens have and value the rule of law and the right of exit.
    3. Terrorists suck and the thought of them dead makes me feel good all over.
    4. Amritas says:

      As odd as it sounds, Japan is one of the freest societies in the world. No, really. Yes, the Japanese do have the power to choose, but I wish they would use it more – and were more tolerant of those who made different choices.
      As for the テロ野郎ども, I have only one word for them: 死ね!

    5. Amritas says:

      Argh, I wish I hadn’t said “I wish.” That makes me sound arrogant. The devil’s advocate in me tells me to say nothing, to let the status quo go uncriticized. But not all Japanese are the same, and it’s not fair to those who feel crushed by social pressure.

    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      That’s obviously a touchy subject for all of us who are Western and live with/deal with Asians a lot. But I don’t see what’s necessarily arrogant about pointing out that there’s something about the other culture that doesn’t work so hot. No society is perfect. I think people do stray into arrogance when they lecture Japan (or wherever) that it has to change the way it does things…just so that the speaker’s in-group will find it easier to deal with. As in, “For the good of its people, Japan will have to become open to outside investors [many of whom would just happen to come from my country].” That always cracks me up.