I had just driven on one of my many lengthy drives either to or from Grande Prairie to Fraser Lake, I can’t remember which one it was, and I had been listening to a War History podcast regarding an American man who had once been an exchange student in Japan and fell in love with the country. After graduating from university with a degree in Japanese culture and language, he returned to the country and began working for Toyota, later met his now wife and had children. He had become fully immersed in the culture when be began to meet many elderly individuals who would speak about the world war and more particularly about Pearl Harbour. He became fascinated with their stories and began the process in documenting them which has now been published in a book.
I will search out the book and the podcast and post their source at a later date.
This man later went on to explain that during the process of listening to the elders stories and learning the history that had been indoctrinated in the Japanese people prior to Pearl Harbour, he realized that the men who had enlisted during the world war, in particular as Kamikaze pilots, were given false information. They didn’t know who the Americans were. They had no idea. They didn’t know what they had done or didn’t do. All they had known was what the Japanese government had told them and that their life was threatened. So they enlisted, plus it was a way to make some money for their family.
As it turns out, according to the man in the podcast, many Kamikaze pilots returned home and had many stories to share in their experience. The man in the interview was originally mocked when he told these stories back home in the USA as it’s assumed that all Kamikaze pilots died, but has since gained an audience for his work which was why I was listening to him on this podcast. We’ve all seen the movies, right? The movie’s ALWAS portray the story complete in context and historically accurate right? It’s complicated and biased. mostly towards the money factor. But so many of us use the altered reality of Hollywood and the media that feeds it, as our gauge on realities of this world. There were many reasons why a Kamikaze pilot would live to tell their experience, such as arriving at their destination only to find there was nothing there, the target had moved on. Another reasons would be due to a shortage of fuel, the planes were filled with a low-grade fuel somehow extracted from rice, and therefor would end up not making it to the target and/or crashing before it could reach it’s destination. Some even chickened out….In any case the man being interviewed had listed a number of reasons as to why there were living kamikaze pilots in which he wanted to tell their stories.
One story in particular, was about a woman whose brother had died attempting to save his country from the Americans as a kamikaze pilot. I couldn’t tell you if he was involved in the Pearl Harbour attack or not, I would have to listen to the podcast again. Pictures of her brother and memorabilia adorned her walls as she was so proud of what he had done for their country fighting against the “evil” across the sea. Then came the day, the man in the podcast, had interviewed her wanting to know more about her brother’s story. He had brought along some of his fellow American friends which were helping him create the documentary and gather information. They had sat down together for a meal and gave out gifts of appreciation, and in doing so, found themselves in the presence of the woman crying out in deep anguish.
They were so confused and wanted to know why she was upset. So he asked her to explain.
She had said that for so many years since the war she believed her brother to be a war hero. He had served the greatest honour in dying for their country. He was a man who fought against the evil of the west. A man who died with honour. She didn’t know any Americans before, and didn’t know what they had done, but the government had said they were the enemy and they wanted to kill the Japanese. So when the government asked the men to give up their lives, like her brother, they proudly chose the path of a kamikaze pilot.
And there she sat, in that moment, with Americans, eating a meal together, and being given gifts showing kindness.
She broke into tears in the realization that a good portion of everything she knew to be true, was a lie. His death was in vain, and she felt as though the honour she felt had now turned into feelings of shame.
This included the honour behind her brothers death. She was mourning the death of her brother once again, but now with new “eyes” and a new “heart.” With “heart eyes” that see with knowledge and understanding.
I had heard this story and was fascinated with it and brought it up in conversation with Mahdi not that long ago.
“I know that moment” he said quietly. His voice soft with a tone of understanding lingered heavily in the air.
“I can remember the first time I realized that everything I was taught to be true about who the enemy was, was a lie. I mean, I kind of knew it before hand, or I knew that my people didn’t know the whole truth but I never really identified it until something happened which made me see with new “eyes.” After that, I knew it was all a lie and I wanted nothing to do with it.”
He then told me the story.
But first I’ll set up the background story.
Mahdi had lived the first half of his life in Iran as a child of refugees who fled the Soviet Afghan war. His parents, along with his 9 month older brother, had fled Herat City in the dead of the winter, crossing the freezing cold waters of the river on horseback for 120 km to the Iranian border where vehicles were waiting for them. The Mujahideen had blown the bridge to keep the soviets from passing into the city. Growing up in Mashhad, and the Iranian school system, Mahdi was taught how the Americans were godless people who killed and started war in the name of greed. They destroyed countries. They lacked morals and honour. They were infidels. He was also beat by the Iranians because he was a refugee. So his loyalty to that ideology was already fractured. He didn’t trust a word they said. In fact, when we were in India, all who were different nationalities from that area agreed that Iranians often thought of themselves as “Gods gift” – not all but most.
When he was 14 his family moved back to Afghanistan, returning home to a war torn country. The Mujahideen had won the war and drove out the communist government and the Soviets with them, only to have an internal conflict resulting in a split into two parties, one of which became the Taliban, the ruling party.
When he was old enough to join the military, he and his two brothers joined together. It was not necessarily because he had some hero agenda, but rather it was a way to get away from the struggles of home and make some money. A year later, when the opportunity was given, he and his older brother Jawad, began the selection process for the Afghan Nation Army’s own elite Special Forces called Commando’s. All together he served 11 years as a Commando.
A couple of years later Mahdi had an opportunity to take an extensive 6 month english training course in an effort to better his life and better his circumstance. He had taken english in Iran during school so it wasn’t completely unfamiliar and with the support of his brother, he successfully graduated from this course and hired on with a contract company as a combat interpreter.
One day while on a mission in the mountains of northern Afghanistan, during the coldest part of the winter, a man from a nearby village had approached the base carrying a child in his hands desperate for help. He could hear on the radio that permission was granted for them to enter the base and one of the team members who was a medic had requested an interpreter. Mahdi wasn’t the interpreter that went as it was the middle of the night and it was his buddies turn to go, but he ended up watching the scene from a distance. He said it was like nothing he had seen before. He was stunned and shocked him to his core that these Americans would care about some random child’s life. These soldiers would act outside of what their mission was and care for his people. He watched as the medic worked on the child for 4-5 hours trying to save his life, who in the end became so distraught over the fact that the father waited this long to bring him that he was furious with the father. Mahdi said the medic was so overcome with grief he confronted the Dad physically in frustration for waiting too long to get help.
The child had died. The father was too late in bringing his son for help. The team, which included the medic was overcome with the unbearable grief that is felt when an innocent child dies.
But in a way, a life was saved.
You see something else happened. Compassion happened. People were watching. People were watching the medic try so hard to save the child’s life that it changed theirs. Mahdi was watching. Mahdi was watching these so-called “greedy American’s” grieve over the lose of one his people. What did they care? Why did they work so hard? Why even let them into the base? This child was not part of the mission. Go in, do the mission and get out. That’s all that mattered, right?
Mahdi watched the Medic and the team grieve over the child in such a way that he said he never had the same “eyes” again. He said it was “so sad.”
This was his moment of truth. His all ready fractured reality, shattered. His paradigm shift. His new understanding of life. And in a way, he mourned the death of his past, but grew with the hope of a future with these people.
Kindness and compassion can be demonstrated even in the midst of war. Kindness changes lives even to those who are just watching from the sidelines. Kindness and honour and respect are the qualities of character that demonstrates “loving your neighbour” even in the hard times of life and death situations.
So many people question me about Mahdi. So many people ask me if I’m still talking to him and they don’t understand the why. He’s so far away. So many people don’t ask about Mahdi. They stay silent. They say nothing even though they know. They avoid.
He’s in Afghanistan.
I see all of those things and none of those things.
I see a man who has the moral strength and character that few posses. I know a man who discusses life and it’s realities from a humbled view. In all manner’s he attempts to do what is right with what he knows how to do it. He is learning and he is patient because he has hope. His delivery might be “off” sometimes because of culture and miscommunications and assumptions, but only to those who don’t know him. I heard him. I listened to his stories. I’ve met him.
I KNOW his heart.
He desires to be known. He desires to be heard. He desires a changed world. Peace.
He’s the child at the gate.