I received the message below the jump from George Schmidt, a fellow educational activist based in  Chicago, on the Assessment Reform network listserv yesterday.  When I read it, I knew it deserved broader distribution.  I emailed George (at Csubstance at aol dot com) to ask his permission to post it here and elsewhere because I thought it worthwhile and thought-provoking.  I offered to just describe the author generally.  George agreed, provided I fully list his name and email.  So I have.

One note – he was responding to something posted by another member of the list, the portion which I have placed in italics.  I have also begin the quote with the subject line (title) of the email in bold.  Otherwise, the email is as I received it.

Newsweek, Okinawa, Trauma, Official Reality, and multiple choice tests

Psychiatrists have been studying resilience for 25 years or so but have not, so far as I know, come up with anything definitive.


Hi All,

Resilience is also relative to time and distance. Post traumatic stress can be contained for a time, although it always lurks.

What follows is a huge sweeping digression from the general thrust of ARN, but one that I hope gets us back on track at the finish line. (If also could involve Jay Matthews for all I know)…

One of the things I keep over my desk here is a document headed “Headquarters Tenth Army… Surrender” dated “7 September 1945”. I was given to me by my mother, who received it as a member of the Tenth Army on Okinawa in September 1945. It is a copy of the official surrender document that ended the Battle of Okinawa. It is signed by Joseph Stillwell for the USA (his predecessor, Simon Bolivar Buckner, had become the highest ranking U.S. officer killed during the war; one of my journalistic idols, Ernie Pyle, was also killed during that battle…) and by three Japanese officers, two generals and an admiral. I’ll fax a copy to anyone who wants it for intelligent purposes. But since it was given to me by my mother and holds an honored place in our home, along with the flag we received when she died, let’s be careful about how we discuss it. I can talk about my Mama, but you can’t, etc., etc….

The question for my history classes always was: “When did Japan surrender ending World War II?” That’s simple enough for a multiple choice test. Trouble is, in my family we had my parents’ war souvenirs and memories. And now we have Newsweek doing something decent about history (albeit probably for all the wrong reasons) for a change.

Here is the context, and it may help explain why I have such a hard time with any system of leadership that tries to reduce highly complex human realities into oversimplified “bottom line” thinking or multiple choice versions of

Family lore had it that the reason the document is dated so “late” (not that it is three weeks after the official “end” or World War II in the Pacific) is that the Japanese officers who finally were rounded up to sign it were the only ones available.

According to our family, the other Japanese commanders had committed suicide one-by-one rather than abide by the Emperor’s wishes (which had been communicated by radio). For years, running in progressive circles, this part of my family history also led me into conflict at this time of year with most of my friends, because I was taught early and often that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (at least) was necessary to our family’s survival. And the reason why this particular lesson in history was so powerful in my family was that it was told to me by my mother, and because she was “there” — there being on the island of Okinawa the day that document was signed. From April to September 1945, her job was to serve as a nurse with the U.S. Army, and she just happened to draw one of the unluckiest straws at that late date, the one labeled “Okinawa.” While my father was moving across Germany towards Austria and the “end” of World War II, for nearly a million Americans at sea on finally on the island of Okinawa itself, the horrors were escalating, first with the kamikaze attacks on the fleet, and then with the intimacies of infantry combat yard by yard across that island until it became a metaphor for horror, but only in the minds of those who had been there (since official versions of reality, left to right, revised some things later so that children could know the right answer to the question about the end of World War II was the one that showed General MacArthur on the desk of a battleship in Tokyo Bay, etc., etc., etc.)…

My mother on September 7, 1945 was working as an Army nurse in a field hospital on Okinawa. For the past six months, she had been witnessing first hand every horror that the word “Okinawa” still brings to those who were there (American; Japanese; native Okinawan) during that battle. From the kamikaze attacks to the typhoon to the ground combat. And everyone in my family was taught to view the battle as a dress rehearsal for the invasion of the home islands. My father had completed his war in Austria by August 1945 and had been told that his division (the 44th Infantry, which had spent the most days “in the line” of any in the ETO) would be part of the invasion of the Japanese home islands.

Now how does this link to everything else we’re talking about here?

It doesn’t, really.

But some traumas (like that of my mother, who was part of a battle that saw horrors unlike even some of the worst of other peoples’ wars in a war that may have surpassed even the “worst” in defining horror) linger forever. My mother was haunted by Okinawa from the day she returned home in November 1945 (yes, it took months for all those traffic jams around the world to get untangled and for the people who had “served” to get home) until the day she died in 1985 40 years later. The “trauma” was never diagnosed properly, partly because women (especially little ones with big smiles) were not supposed to have been that close to combat for that long during those days.

And, of course, as time went on, much of the reality people were seeing first hand on the ground across the Pacific, but especially on Okinawa, was partly wiped out from the history books, although not from the minds of those who had experienced it all. and every year at this time, I have to explain to some friend that maybe the Emperor would  not have been allowed to surrender, given the realities, by the Army, which had organized for the homeland defense so completely that those children with their bamboo spears (a haunting story told in my home for years, but I’d only seen it once in print before this week) would have charged U.S. soldiers on the home islands, just as they did, organized by their teachers, one night during the battle of Okinawa itself. So that, I was told, the GIs had to machine gun those kids just as surely as they had to the adults who had organized them.

Every night at some point (I never made all the connections when there was time to ask, and the mind slowly disintegrated under the weight of those memories) between midnight and four a.m., my mother would get up and make herself a Nestle’s hot chocolate, scalding the milk in the saucepan, which I was never allowed to clean myself, even after I began doing chores as the eldest child. After I began waking up at 4:00 a.m. to deliver newspapers every morning, I’d sometimes run into her while she finished her nightly intermission.

Only later did I confirm the intermission was from a long running nightmare that, for all we know, is still going on in some soul lost in space.

Generally, I don’t like Newsweek’s version of the news. This week they brought together some realities about Okinawa that are appropriate for us to note.

And maybe someone has an explanation other than my family’s for why that “Headquarters Tenth Army” document is dated 7 September 1945 when everyone “knows” the war ended in Tokyo Bay three weeks before that. Imagine the kids in the forward foxholes and the field hospitals dealing with that contradiction? We got no problems.

Enough for one late night.

Happy anniversaries,

George Schmidt

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