On this anniversary of the signing of the Armistice ending the First World War my thoughts have gone to wars that never end and a peace that can’t be found.
The Armistice we commemorate was not a call for a German unconditional surrender. Instead it signaled a suspension of hostilities, a break in the fighting, a call for a negotiated settlement. It was neither decisive nor determinate and to many it was a half measure. General Omar Bradley offers his view, ”Armistice Day is a constant reminder we won the war and lost the peace.”
Indeed, by some views the war went on for another 27 years, concluding only with Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of all the armistices I signed with myself in my war with alcohol and how I’d see them vanish with one broken promise after another. For me there was to be no negotiated settlement with alcohol. My war finally ended on June 14, 1985 with my declaration of unconditional surrender. I reached the end of the road and had played out all my options. I was left with the choice of surrender or annihilation. I chose surrender.
I discovered an unfathomable treasure locked away in the heart of surrender: Victory — a victory granted to those humble enough, contrite enough, wise enough to ask for help from a source outside themselves.
Lincoln described the experience this way:
The picture of Lincoln on his knees in the darkest days of the American Civil War, praying prayers in anguish for divine intercession, perfectly illustrates the disposition of a victor.
It’s the same picture we get of the Japanese after their unconditional surrender: A beaten nation and a broken people embracing defeat and joining with the occupying forces to build a new nation. Japan’s victory was not that they surrendered but how they surrendered. They embraced defeat and in so doing the world witnessed the breathtaking transformation of a country reconstructed from the inside out.
They lost the war and won the peace!
To understand what transpired you must grasp the state of Japan at the end of the war. Not only was the country in ruins but so was the psyche of its people. The term used was kyodatsu, or complete exhaustion and despair.
When the war ended the entire population had been socialized for a final suicidal fight. The word was out that a hundred million civilians would die defending the sacred homeland, just as the young kamikaze pilots had been doing. It’s no exaggeration to say the entire country remained committed (or resigned) to a collective suicide right up to the moment at which unconditional surrender was announced.
In this all-consuming milieu, the immediate meaning of unconditional surrender was liberation, the liberation from death itself. But it is important to understand what was surrendered. It was their national identity and with it all in which they once believed:
- Japan was the center of the universe.
- The Japanese were a superior race.
- The Emperor was divine.
Unconditional surrender shattered the ancient Japanese identity and replaced it with a modern one permitting the country to thrive in the modern age. Unconditional surrender changed everything.
There seems to exist a symbiotic relationship between surrender and change. One begets the other and acceptance is the glue that binds them together.
If it’s true that pride cometh before a fall, then humility must cometh before victory, and the Japanese illustrate both these truths:
- How to fall in pride
- How to rise in humility
When I consider my own defeat in my own great war I find I identify with Japan. My victory came in recognizing I was just one more defeated person saved by grace.
Just a thought…
(Originally published November 17, 2018.)
Copyright © 2018 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.
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