When I was a kid a new Japanese American boy named Bobby moved into my neighborhood and lived with his cousins, a well established family in the area, for about a year. We became fast friends, and after he moved away I missed him greatly. To this day I still wonder what happened to him after he moved.
One of the things I remember well when playing with him was the number of kids whose parents didn't like them playing with us when we were together. Many of the kids who couldn't play with us had fathers who fought in the Pacific in World War II and they just didn't care much for people of Japanese descent, even though the war had been over nearly 20 years. I sometimes found myself defending Bob from other friends who called him names and made fun of him. I couldn't understand why they would pick on someone who had nothing to do with the war in any way and who was born seven years after its end to second generation American citizens.
Our group of playmates also included one Italian kid and one kid from German descent. We all spent time palling around with each other and one day I asked the kids who were tough on my Japanese friend because of his country of ancestors actions, why they didn't do the same thing to Andy (the kid of German descent) and Paul (the kid of Italian descent).
"What's the difference?" I asked. "The countries their parents are descended from were also on the opposite side of the war? Why are they different?"
The other kids couldn't answer that; all they knew is that Bobby was different from them. Yet in behavior he was every bit as much one of them as any of us were. I never did get good answers to those questions. I knew I could never understand how those that fought in the dirty, stinking jungles of the south Pacific could feel. They faced the unimaginable to me, a well nourished, safe, baby boomer who had only faced the barrel of a toy gun when we were playing Army in my dads orchard. Still, in my life, I have often wondered how someone can carry a feeling about an individual, based on experience faced in the worst of circumstances halfway around the world in connection with a whole group of other people.
That feeling of wonder about what people are thinking came over me again the other day when I was looking at some internet comment posts concerning an article in a metro daily newspaper from Salt Lake that discussed the July 24 holiday
The posts began saying that July 24 is a "religious" holiday and not a state holiday. The posters were making fun of Mormon Boy Scout Troops posting American flags on ward members lawns, saying that originally when the pioneers came to Utah they didn't even want to be part of the United States so why should they fly the flag now. Some suggested Utah flags might make more sense, while others were much ruder suggesting Mormons should fly their "magic underwear" on the flagpoles on the 24th. The comments only got worse as I went down the list. It made me sick.
Most of the people who posted obviously considered themselves good standing citizens, from various religious backgrounds and I am sure they think of themselves as intelligent as well. I found myself entering into the fray, because I hate it when someone slanders someone or some group with the wide brush of bigoted opinion.
I pointed out that many of the posts were written in a rude, intolerant manner. I pointed out that the state holiday was for everyone, and being a native Utahn, and a non-Mormon, I was offended by much of what they wrote about our state and its predominant church. The comment I wrote had nothing to do with defending the Mormon church necessarily; I have had my differences with them over the years myself. But to demean a whole group of people, who were exercising their right to a celebration of freedom, somehow seemed very wrong to me.
Of course I was blasted at first and then ignored as the posts rolled in. One person called me a "Mormon in hiding" (as if that would really hurt me) and another said that I had been brainwashed to believe this is the only good place in the world to live.
Well neither is true. I am not a Mormon in hiding. And I have traveled extensively over the years, have lived in southern California, have worked all over the nation, sometimes weeks at a time and have wide ranging experiences outside Utah. I also know that there are dozens of places in this country I would love to live, but I have chosen to live here for various reasons.
I got off the board and never looked at that comment string again. It upsets me that people of normal and above normal intelligence have to pick on others just to have something to do. On the darker side there is obviously a lot of hatred out there concerning almost everything anyone does. Name a story, even a story about someone doing something nice, and there will be someone that will come up with a way to make it nasty or wrong.
Have we as Americans lost the art of fairness and balance? If we have an opinion is that the only one that matters and are people who hold different ones the enemy, someone to be hated? Have we substituted emotion for logic in almost everything we do and say? And if that is true, how can we run a Democracy (or Republic, you choose the word since it has become such a big sticking point) without two (or more) sides having respect for each other?
In retrospect, it makes the incidents concerning my old friend Bobby seem simple now.