Wednesday, May 28, 2008
My grandfather was stationed on a big boat in the pacific for two years during the second world war. He only talked about it as a kind of joke. He would make these nudge-nudge wink-wink comments about being in exotic ports, meeting geishas. It all went over my head. I had no idea what a geisha was—I think, as a kid, I pictured women in grass skirts, hula dancing, palm trees – my only pictures of exotic foreign women came from cartoons. It annoyed my grandmother to no end to hear his innuendos, until she one day told me he’d never actually set foot in Japan. Most of those two years were spent boxed up on that giant ship – he went all the way across the world, but really all he saw of it was the inside of a boat.
I don’t really think he was really trying to convince me of anything. He was a bit of a joker. Very lively. I remember him hoofing it up in the kitchen – tap-dancing. He loved big band jazz, Cab Calloway – he went to see Cab Calloway with grandma, when they lived in New York.
I was extremely curious about what he’d experienced in the war – wondering if he’d ever killed anybody, wondering what that might be like. I don’t think I ever asked him outright about it – somehow the sense that it wasn’t permitted to ask got through to me. I was at least smart enough, a few years down the line, to bring up the subject of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to my grandma instead of my grandfather. I’d been genuinely spooked by the details of the bombings – the people vaporized into shadows left on walls, the patterns of kimonos burned into the skin of the women who were wearing them. Grandma seemed mad at me for bringing it up – she told me it was necessary, the bombings. If they hadn’t been bombed, Granddad would’ve never come home, would’ve died over there.
I got pretty obsessed with World War 2. I watched movies, documentaries, read comic books about it. It’s actually become a kind of genre in videogames. Horror games, adventure games, science fiction games, fantasy games – World War Two games. I know it’s weird – reliving the stuff that kept him up nights, as a way of killing time. You can play online – instead of playing against the computer, you’re playing against other people on the internet – you have no idea where they’re playing from. So you have South Koreans playing the Italians or whatnot, fighting the Americans, who might actually be played by some Japanese kids, or middle-aged French guys, or whatever. Who knows, maybe there’s some bored al-Qaeda guys online, in some sleeper cell in Hamburg or somewhere, they’re getting through their insomnia by playing the Nazi side, trying to make World War Two come out different. And I’m in America, re-fighting the war, fighting a little virtual skirmish in the war on terror.
Posted by Chris Lanier at 1:44 PM