A year ago I attended my fiftieth class reunion, Billings Central Catholic High School, Billings, Montana. If you are anywhere close, or even if thirty years away, my advice would be don’t bother. Two things were upsetting … the general level of intelligence is not indicative of fifty years of forward movement, and … I’ll be be delicate here, I won’t be cruel or crude … so many of the women and quite a few of the men too … have gotten really fat. A couple of girls I dated were there, and all I could think was “Phew! Dodged a bullet!”
But that is all cosmetic. It goes deeper. People and attitudes do not change. I was an outsider in high school, and fifty years later, I was still an outsider. That’s a two-edged sword: I would not belong to a club that would have me as a member, but I wanted, like everyone, to be accepted and admired. In high school I did not like being an outsider and took no pride in my status. That mindset, however, inability to blend into the group, has molded me into the person I am, gave me self-employment and a happy life. Two-edged sword indeed.
Jerry Seinfeld quit high school in his senior year, saying “I knew I was never going to change anyone’s mind about me.” I wish I had been so wise. I should have at least skipped the reunion, and the thing is, even though they are talking about a 55th, it won’t happen so I won’t be able not to go.
The quarterback of our football team was a dick. It might be a manifestation of mental illness, maybe just abrasive narcissism, but he refused to shake hands, never smiled, and has been extremely rude to people on Facebook. He spent his career working for Microsoft, and that is important, to him.
Our football team was not very good, but our coach, Don Christensen, was a stern and stalwart disciplinarian. When we lined up to run an offensive play, the quarterback, Jerry V, would yell out “Set! Go!” There was, by design, no attempt to fool the defense. That is “Coach Chris” in a nutshell … we had to play above trickery, and win on discipline, hard work, and determination. Once, late in the football season, we begged him, please! Let us do a double “Go!.” He conceded, one time only. Jerry V yelled out “Set! Go!” and we all held still, and the entire defense jumped offside. The referees were chuckling as they marked off our first down. Coach Chris must have died a little inside, using trickery like that.
I asked Jerry V one time if it would have killed him to do a double “Go!” more often, just so that defense wasn’t down our throats on every play. He said that was all Chris, and anyway, he was all this and all that and got awards and all of that … Geez. What a dick. I “unfriended” him just to be away from the arrogance.
What brought this on? The Battle of Iwo Jima. WhaaaaTF, you ask?
It’s more than that, but one of our classmates knew Mark Lacy’s mother. If you remember, Mark Lacy was the Lt. Col. at the Mandolay Bay Hotel mass shooting, a fake event. He is said to have rescued wounded people by tearing down a fence and using it in place of stretchers. I had argued with this classmate about such events, but it fell inside bounds of politeness. When I suggested that LV was a hoax, his wheels fell off. “I know Mark Lacy’s Mom! He was a student here! He would not lie!”
It was a line in the sand, and of course, I cannot abide by such tactics, and so he said merely stay off the subject, as he believes. It’s OK, as I don’t much care for him anyway, just another classmate and a Facebook “friend.”
His father, it turns out, was in the Marine Corp in WWII and was part of the landing force on Iwo Jima. He was wounded. We both agreed that the famous flag-raising photo was staged. After all, Clint Eastwood made a movie, and that is good-as-gold truth. But I wondered about the battle, having never studied it, how much of it was real, how much of it was victor’s history. He blew his top. I should not dare question that battle. His father was there! He was wounded! Don’t talk to me again!
Fine. Choose your friends wisely, but choose your enemies as well, and I am just as happy having him as an enemy. But I did take time to read the Wikipedia account of Iwo Jima, and was intrigued and not at all disappointed. Something fishy is up there.
“After the heavy losses incurred in the battle, the strategic value of the island became controversial. It was useless to the U.S. Army as a staging base and useless to the U.S. Navy as a fleet base. However, Navy Seabees rebuilt the landing strips, which were used as emergency landing strips for USAAF B-29s.”
Do you mean to tell me that a battle that allegedly comprised some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the Pacific War was fought without a clear strategic objective? Don’t say FUBAR. The military is not that stupid, would not spend lives in that manner unless the stakes were very high, and they were not. (OK, maybe they would.)
Iwo Jima was fought late in the war, at a time when the Japanese Navy and Air Force were in tatters. It was understood they would lose the battle, so that the General in charge on that side, Tadamichi Kuribayashi, adopted a strategy of attempting to make the battle as costly as possible for the Americans. Japanese troops and armaments were dug in deep, with tunnels and caves concealing everything. Routing them out involved dangerous patrols and sometimes even hand-to-hand combat. But the outcome was inevitable … of the 21,000 Japanese troops, 216 were taken prisoner, and the rest were either known dead or unaccounted for. Americans lost 6,800 men, with another 19,000 wounded, which would include my former friend’s father.
The battle ended on March 26 (=11), 1945, if that tells you anything. In fact, spook numbers abound in the article, which is 21 pages of text and nine more of footnotes. The battle actually went on for days and weeks after, as so many Japanese were dug in. So the date 3/26 is arbitrary, it appears.
I used to watch, years ago, a TV show called “House”, which, even as I enjoyed it, I knew to be absurd in its premise. One doctor had an entire department of beautiful people whose sole job it was to deal with unusual and difficult cases, often people without insurance. Good grief! I mention this because there was some piercing of the veil in that show, when Dr. Gregory House would talk directly to the audience about what was going on. Once he was walking with a colleague down a hallway with a camera on him, and said to us, the viewers, “Walking and talking this way moves the plot forward.”
The Pacific War was a series of battles after the Pearl Harbor attack, with the Japanese having the early advantage and the tide slowly turning. We all know about General MacArthur and the Philippines, “I shall return,” and along the way familiar names like Wake, Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima. Since I know my friend’s father was really a Marine who really landed and who was really wounded at Iwo Jima, and that he witnessed the deaths and injuries of colleagues, I am prepared to say that it was a real battle.
But that is all. All of the numbers, the massive human cost … maybe. Maybe in those days they did war for real. But one thing I told my former friend, much to his eternal acidic outlook about me, was that two things are true of all soldiers: They are indoctrinated, and compartmentalized. His father, a well-liked man in my home town, would have been trained to believe that Japanese soldiers were torturers and baby killers. It is essential to demonize the other side to produce an effective fighting force, so brainwashing is part of the work of Boot Camp. As the old saying goes … “give a dog a bad name, then you can beat him.”
His father, also, would not be aware of anything about Iwo Jima other than to stick with his brother soldiers and follow orders. He knew nothing of the larger picture, by design. This reminds me of another high school football event. In practice we ran a play, and I as a tight end deviated from my route hoping to be open for a pass. Another Coach, Tom Rowe, ran up to me and yelled in my face. I said “But Coach, I thought …” He snapped back “Mark, we don’t want thinking ends. We want ends who do what they are told!” I was compartmentalized.
My wife and I, when we lived in Bozeman, were fond of our neighbor’s dog, a black lab named Murphy, and would walk her when we got a chance. At a certain point on the walk was another dog inside an almost fenced-yard. Murphy and that dog would run up and down the fence snarling and growling viciously at one another, teeth bared. Then, when they got to the point where the fence ended, all hostilities ceased, they touched noses, and our walk continued.
I threw that in because this is a rambling post anyway, and because I know that after the war the U.S. and Japan became allies, and after the war Japan became, with our support, an advanced first world country that makes amazing automobiles and trucks, among many other things. It seems that Iwo Jima was the end of the fence for the U.S. and Japan. The island never had any strategic importance. (The Japanese had radar on Iwo Jima, and used it to warn the homeland of incoming B29 raids, but that was also done from the nearby island of Rota, which was never invaded. So that aspect was unimpeded by the battle.)
It all makes me wonder, without further research, if the Pacific War was scripted. Many who come here suspect (though we cannot know) that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were evacuated prior to the bombs going off, and that the bombs were not nukes. I read that stuff too, and it gives me pause. But that war was so big that it would take a dedicated lifetime to unpack all of the events, real and fake, that were part of it. I am too old for that undertaking.
So with that, I offer two conclusions:
- Iwo Jima was staged, but fighting was real. The father of my former friend was not a liar. I do not know how much of it was real, how much written after the fact, but he suffered and fought bravely. The raising of the flag on Mr. Suribachi is acknowledged to be a staged event. Secretary of Defense James Forrestal wanted the original flag as a souvenir, and was even on the beach below, and so obviously was not in any danger. Iwo Jima could have been part of a series of staged battles, real enough in terms of damage to hardware and men, but merely plot devices used to move the script forward, a way of walking and talking out the story.
- And, finally, most importantly, if you are on a football team and your coach does not believe in trying to deceive the defense, quit. Immediately.