Peace Garden rite shows better angels

Once sworn enemies, locals, Japanese praise now-peaceful relationship

They don’t make the evening news as much anymore, but our better angels could be found at the Japanese Peace Garden on Monday at the National Museum of the Pacific War.

The visitors from Japan were gracious in their compliments for our country and the garden itself. And our American heroes who spoke took the moment to recognize that a “peace garden” in a war museum is not unusual or undesired.

In his book, “The Road to Character,” David Brooks documented an episode of hearing an old radio broadcast of the Bing Crosby show as the end of World War II had just been declared. He talked of the tone of humility as opposed to chest thumping. Words were read from war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was killed months earlier: “We won this war because our men are brave and because of many things … I hope that in victory we are more grateful than proud.”

That feeling of gratitude, along with a deep respect for and from former enemies, was on display Monday at the rededication of the Japanese Peace Garden at the National Museum of the Pacific War.

Hometown hero Admiral Chester Nimitz had been friends with Admiral Togo since long before the war began and until his death in 1934. Being stationed in Japan, then Captain Nimitz and his men marched in Admiral Togo’s funeral.

World War II broke out and our two countries went from acquaintances to adversaries. Yet after four years of war, Admiral Nimitz made sure to save Togo’s prized Battleship Mikasa. Immediately after the war ended, Nimitz visited the Mikasa and placed some of his men at the warship so no one would loot it.

In 1961, the Japanese planted a laurel tree in honor of Admiral Nimitz at the Mikasa memorial site. And years later, the Japanese repaid his thoughtfulness with funds to put the peace garden in the U.S., and what better place than at the museum of the man who showed them respect after defeating them. The garden study is modeled after Togo’s own.

Those feelings of reconciliation were rewarding to see. Yet, we couldn’t help but see how different they were from our country’s own inner-turmoil, where political victory is valued above all else. There is little deference, little class and little desire to cooperate for a better state or a better country. There is constant noise on cable TV and social media as we yell at each other and air constant grievances.

Humility seems to have left the building. (We readily admit our own shortcomings in this arena.)

But on Monday, at the Japanese Peace Garden, the better angels hovered. It was a welcome respite, the way one feels walking into church on a Sunday or being alone in nature and tuning out the world’s noise. Let’s hope there is a continuing reconciliation in our own country as we witnessed on Monday at the Japanese Peace Garden.

The museum board and staff and the Admiral Nimitz Foundation, along with the Texas Historical Commission, continue to live out Chester Nimitz’s legacy of respectful leadership and diplomacy. — K.E.C.

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