BRIDGE TO THE SUN
by GWEN TERASAKI
Two things greater than all things are,
The first is Love, and the second War.
And since we know not how War may prove,
Heart of my heart, let us talk of Love!
I started writing Bridge to the Sun shortly after we returned from Japan. Writing it helped me overcome the deep sadness I had felt when we landed at San Francisco to journey across the continent, leaving the Pacific and the Japanese islands so very far behind.
Three years later, our daughter, Mariko, was married and the new member of the family read what I had written. Thus it was that a certain continuity with the past was evolved, for my son-in-law, Mayne Miller, believed in the story and felt that it should be published. He furnished the impetus and the necessary work on the revision and completion of the manuscript. My husband was proud of Mariko for carrying on “what I meant to do” in this country; it would be a great happiness to him that he is so well understood by the son-in-law he never knew.
Johnson City, Tennessee
December 10, 1956
Mariko Terasaki Miller with Cole Miller
August 4, 2015
Mariko Terasaki Miller is the first woman appointed Honorary Consul-General of Japan. She is the daughter of Hidenari Terasaki, a Japanese diplomat, and Gwen Harold Terasaki, a native of Johnson City, who met at the Japanese Embassy in Washington and were married in 1931.
I AM A CHILD OF TWO EMPIRES, the Japanese and the American. My mother was born among the famed rolling hills of east Tennessee in the small town of Johnson City. Her great-grandfather had roamed the hills as an itinerant fire-and-brimstone preacher. My father was born in Tokyo, more than 6,000 miles away, the son of a prosperous merchant of the samurai class, and educated at the elite Ichiko prep school and Tokyo Imperial University. It’s hard to imagine two more culturally remote beginnings. They met at the Japanese embassy in Washington, DC, in 1930, and the remarkable union sparked by that chance encounter eventually led to the creation of a book, Bridge to the Sun, a memoir of love and war. And, of course, to my birth, which occurred, again quite by chance, as a typhoon scattered smaller ships to sea, breached the levies in Shanghai, and lifted enormous ocean liners onto coastal thoroughfares. My own beginnings had a touch of Fellini.
On December 7, 1941, my father, Hidenari Terasaki, was first secretary at the Japanese embassy in Washington, DC. As my mother recounts in her book, he opened an unauthorized back channel to President Roosevelt just a few days before the Pearl Harbor attack. Everyone knew war was imminent, and the only speck of hope left to avert war rested on a direct appeal from the president to the emperor. As a result of that initiative, Roosevelt sent a cablegram to Hirohito on December 6, 1941. The cablegram was held up for 10 hours by Japanese military authorities, and the last-ditch effort failed. My parent’s youthful dream of building bridges between their two countries came to an end.
We were interned at Greenbriar Hotel and repatriated to Japan in the summer of 1942, where we remained for the duration of the war. The stress for my father was immense: he knew that if military authorities and theKempeitai, Japan’s secret police, ever learned of his role in the cablegram, punishment would be swift. He would be executed, and my mother and I would probably be killed as well. After Pearl Harbor, my mother noticed a slight quiver in his little finger that she’d never seen before.
I am still amazed when I think about the predicament my parents faced. TheWashington Times Herald edition that publicized their wedding also reported on the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, an event viewed by many as the first step on the long path to the Pacific War. Fear that their two countries might go to war plagued them throughout the ’30s, when we were stationed in Shanghai, Havana, and Peking.
My father knew Japan did not stand a chance in a war against the United States. He had too much knowledge of America’s immense material resources to imagine otherwise. War against the US would inevitably lead to Japan’s destruction and unimaginable suffering for her people. But the embargo caused economic strangulation, giving militarists the upper hand, and that most dangerous of viruses, nationalism, swept the land. I would live to see many outbreaks of this virus during my lifetime, including the virulent and potentially terminal one that has plagued my mother’s country for more than decade.
The poverty, injustice, and human misery I witnessed in China as a child has remained with me throughout my life. We lived luxuriously cocooned inside the international section of Shanghai, with a dozen servants taking care of our needs and whims, while every night untold numbers of Chinese died of starvation on the streets of Shanghai. Carts scoured parts of the city in the early morning hours, picking up corpses. That daily harvest persisted for decades, while the imperial powers that dominated China reaped other harvests. Western imperial powers had been feeding on China for generations; the Japanese were relative newcomers to the feast.
In the spring of 1936, we prepared to leave Shanghai for Havana, where my father had been posted as Charges d’Affaires. Among the workmen who arrived to help pack and transport our possessions to the ship was a young man whose hands were raw and blistered. He was not yet accustomed to heavy work. We learned he was a scholar whose personal and family fortunes had been ruined by war. He had been reduced to destitution, and the odds of his survival in war-ravaged China were not good.
When lunchtime came the other workers left, but he lingered alone in the hallway, waiting for them to return. He didn’t have money to buy his lunch. Our cook had prepared our lunch, and my father invited him to join us. His raw hands trembled as he ate. Though half starved, my father took note that he forced himself to eat slowly.
Some nine years later I would be reminded of what we had for lunch that day.
When we finished, my mother casually remarked that she liked a ring the workman wore. It was a silver puzzle ring made of four separate bands adorned with silver flowers. She regretted the compliment, because he promptly took it off and gave it to her. She tried to refuse, but he insisted. “I want you to remember me,” he said.
In 1941 we visited Tokyo on our way to the United States from Shanghai. I was eight years old. I remember enormous crowds waving little Japanese flags. Japanese had been steeped from early childhood in their nation’s founding myths and taught obedience to authority. I imagine many readers have vivid recollections of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public school. Patriotic indoctrination begins when we are tiny children. It continues throughout our lives, often with lethal consequences. These crowds of well-meaning people cheered and waved little flags as Japanese militarists plunged them into a war that would kill millions and leave their country in ruins.
Today, most have forgotten the rage against the military that swept Japan after the war. A new generation of nationalist militarists led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is undermining Article Nine of Japan’s Peace Constitution. As we mark the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the drums of militarism are resounding once again in Japan. And the United States, which has garrisoned the globe with bases and undertakes military operations in countries on virtually every continent, is encouraging this awful development. There is strong opposition among the people of Japan. I support it wholeheartedly.
I was nine years old when the Pacific War began, a spoiled child accustomed to a posh existence as the daughter of a rising Japanese diplomat. The outbreak of war between my mother’s country and Japan was a terrible personal defeat for my father, one from which he never really recovered. It also marked the end of my idyllic childhood. By the time the war was over, I was a jaded adolescent who had seen enough human suffering and iniquity to last a dozen lifetimes.
By the summer of 1945, during the massive carpet-bombing of Japanese cities, we were clinging to survival on a mountainside near the remote village of Tateshina in the Japanese Alps. We had never before experienced hunger. Now every day was a struggle to get enough calories to keep ourselves alive. Famine stalked Japan, and unless something changed, we knew we would starve to death. Memories of starving people in China came back to me in sharper focus.
My father suffered from severe hypertension, the illness that would eventually kill him. His blood pressure was in the stratosphere, and there were no medications to control it. My mother’s fingernails were cracked and bleeding, and she was often too weak to get out of bed. In desperation, my father and I tried our hands at farming. We cleared a little garden plot near our cabin. He couldn’t bend over to pick up the stones because it would increase his blood pressure, so we went about clearing the rocky turf as a team. He would pry rocks loose with a shovel, and I would pick them up and put them in a burlap sack.
One day he stopped and gazed off at the mountains. He knew we were engaged in a hopeless task. Anguish and amusement played upon his features like the patterns of light and shadow drifting across the pines. He asked me whether I remembered the distinguished young man who had moved our furniture in Shanghai.
“Yes, I remember him. I wonder what happened to him,” I said.
“Do you remember what we ate for lunch?”
I drew a complete blank.
“No,” I replied.
“We had two salads, one western and one Japanese,” he said. “And warm bread, creamed vegetable soup, tomato aspic, poached salmon, rice, tea, and lemonade.” We smiled at each other, aching from the sensations his words evoked.
Japan was suing for peace, but during the second week of August my father received word that a mysterious new bomb had destroyed two Japanese cities. Japan had been immaculately defeated before the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That was obvious to me as a 13-year-old child. One of my jobs was to gather wood. I loved to climb trees, and from my perches I could sometimes see silver birds flying in perfect formation. These gleaming silver birds flying over our cabin were stark visual proof that Japan was finished. They were American B-29 bombers, and they flew in perfect formation because they encountered no resistance of any kind. Japan’s undefended wood-and-paper cities were in flames. At night the horizon radiated a hellish crimson light. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which ushered in the age of nuclear terror, were carried out against defenseless civilians. My uncle Taira Terasaki, a surgeon stationed at Kure naval base, led the first medical team to reach Hiroshima some three hours after the bomb struck. What he witnessed beggars description. He saw infants fused to their mothers. He saw people walking with flesh dripping off their bodies like candle wax. The atomic attacks on those two defenseless cities were unforgivably cruel and, despite notions cultivated by decades of propaganda in the United States, entirely superfluous.
As I said, I am a child of two empires, the Japanese and the American. The Japanese experiment in Western style imperialism ended in near-total destruction. I demonstrated against the Vietnam war. I supported the solidarity movement against US-sponsored death squads in Central America during the Reagan years. America is addicted to war and militarism, and today we terrify children with our drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq. The devastation we impose on other people is a disgrace, and simply cannot be tolerated.
I first heard Roosevelt’s famous day that will live in infamy speech while sitting on the steps of the circular staircase at the old Japanese embassy in Washington. I was nine years old. I would encounter those words again in March 2003 in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece written by the esteemed establishment historian Arthur Schlesinger, who served in President John F. Kennedy’s cabinet. Schlesinger wrote, “Franklin Roosevelt was right, but today it is we Americans who live in infamy.” The occasion was the American invasion of Iraq, which initiated a war of choice against a country that posed no threat to the United States. The United Nations declared the invasion illegal. Secretary General Kofi Anan stated: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.” The UN Charter was forged to create a bulwark against aggression “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” We have committed terrible crimes — aggression, torture, detention without trial, the use of chemical weapons and depleted uranium against civilians, continuous drone terror — yet no one has gone to jail and there are few signs that our rampage will end any time soon.
We’re now in late summer. The year is 2015. I’ll soon be 83 years old. My memories of the distant past grow ever sharper and more distinct, while finding my glasses is one of the day’s pressing challenges. Much as I would like to believe otherwise, the portents for those I must soon leave behind are not promising. Our “leaders” have again turned a blind eye to the dangers we face. Nuclear war continues to threaten our survival. Fukushima continues to bleed nuclear waste into the ocean. Japan was able to rebuild after the war, but we are fast approaching ecological and climate-tipping points from which our best scientists warn there will be no return. Vast resources are wasted on the “military industrial congressional complex,” to use President Eisenhower’s phrase, while the imperatives of empire and the corporate state threaten the liberties our massive armaments are theoretically intended to defend. War and aggression remain constants in international relations.
If left unchallenged, the institutional logic of the corporate state will destroy human liberty and our fragile planet. There is no magic leader who will step in to save the day. We must build people’s movements to confront these menaces to human survival. There are encouraging developments in Japan and the United States, and I hope that environmental and peace organizations in both countries will reach out to each other and join forces. Such bridges would be worth building.
Japanese and Americans are remarkably obedient to authority. “Go along to get along” is the standard American phrase; “the nail that stands up gets pounded down” is the graphic Japanese equivalent. Obedience to authority is a weakness we can no longer indulge given the dangers we face. We must overcome this weakness, or it may prove to be a death sentence for the human species. Only informed and determined public resistance to our destructive systems of power and exploitation can change our present self-destructive course. Time is running out.
When I turned 21, my mother gave me a precious gift: the puzzle ring that the Chinese scholar had given her in 1936. I have worn it at least once a week for more than 60 years, and every time I put it on I think of that scholar. My mother never forgot him, and I will carry his memory into my grave. I see acts of generosity and human solidarity every day. They give me hope. And so does the story contained within my mother’s book, Bridge to the Sun. She chose to return to my father’s country knowing that her own far more powerful country was poised to destroy it. She had every expectation that the three of us would die together in Japan. My father tried to persuade her to stay in the United States, but she refused to let the family be divided by war. Love triumphed over fear. That decision revealed her fierce devotion to the human bonds that make life meaningful. These bonds transcend the divisions of nationality, race, and creed that leaders exploit to divide the human family into warring factions. These bonds will continue to make life meaningful in the dark times ahead. I think this is what gives Bridge to the Sun lasting value. It is a celebration of love.
BRIDGE TO THE SUN
SUNDAY, the seventh of December, 1941, began as an ordinary holiday. Mother was visiting us-my husband, Terry, our nine-year-old daughter, Mariko, and me-in our Woodley Park Towers apartment in Washington. We arose late and had coffee while Mariko read the comics. Since it was a mild day, I suggested we take our Sunday dinner out. It would be a pleasant drive if we went out to Collingwood, an excellent restaurant several miles from the city. Living in diplomatic circles in Washington, one does not get much simple American food, and I looked forward to the fried chicken and sweet potatoes I knew were on the menu at Collingwood: the kind of Sunday dinner I had been accustomed to at home in Tennessee before I had met and married Hidenari Terasaki of the Japanese Foreign Office.
Terry had been working too hard, eighteen to twenty hours a day, for the past several weeks. I was glad he could be away from the Embassy for a while and enjoy the relaxation of a holiday. He drove fast as always and made sport of the trip to the restaurant, all the while extolling the prowess of his new convertible Buick to his daughter in the front seat. If Mother was frightened by the way he drove, she did not show it. We were happy and animated that pleasant December day.
When we arrived at the restaurant, Terry went in to alert the headwaiter that we were waiting our turn for a table. There were several people ahead of us and the suggestion was made that we stroll through the gardens until our table was ready. While we were visiting the gardens, Terry’s manner changed. He left off bantering with us and walked to the far corner of the garden while Mother and I engaged in guessing the name of a certain shrub that had caught our attention. I feared Terry would lapse again into the preoccupation which had made him somewhat remote in recent months. But he returned to us in a minute or so and we soon went in to have dinner.
Afterward we drove leisurely along the Potomac. Terry wished to drop in at the Embassy to look over the late dispatches, so Mother, Mako, and I decided to go to the Uptown Theater to see a movie. Terry dropped us off there and waved goodbye.
It was ten days before I saw him again.
We entered the theater and found the movie mildly enjoyable. It seems a trivial thing to remember, but it was “Unfinished Business,” with Robert Montgomery and Irene Dunne. When the movie was over and we had consumed two boxes of popcorn, we left the theater and strolled to the apartment, only a few blocks away. We entered the lobby of the Woodley Park Towers.
The groups of people standing around were speaking in hushed tones. There was a strange tenseness in the air. Instantly I felt something was wrong. When I went to the desk to get my key, the telephone operator informed me, “Madame Terasaki, Mr. Terasaki has called you many times from the Embassy and asked me to have you ring him up as soon as you came in.” She added, “I think he’s very worried about you.”
Alarmed and puzzled, we went up immediately to our apartment amid the curious stares of the people around, stares that were not unfriendly, just blank and wondering. I was uneasy and rushed to the telephone at once. At first I could not get connected with the Embassy but finally got through to my husband’s secretary.
“Mrs. Terasaki, Mr. Terasaki is so worried about you. He’s busy now and can’t come to the telephone. He’ll call you again in a few minutes.”
I asked quickly, “What’s wrong?”
The answer came back, “Don’t you know? Turn on your radio!”
I hung up and dashed to the radio. All I can remember of that hour of horror, grief, and tears, there with my mother and my frightened little Mako, was my concentration upon comforting Mako. She was crying over leaving her school. Thinking of her sorrow at having to leave it gave me something commonplace and natural to hold on to. I saw rows of school desks, lines of American boys and girls, and could almost hear them saying, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…” Anything to wipe out the sound of the newscaster and thoughts of the fearful unknown future.
Mother suggested coffee, as she is prone to do in any emergency. I remember a favorite expression of hers, “There’s no crisis in life that a cup of coffee won’t help.”
At last the telephone rang and I heard Terry’s voice, fuzzy with fatigue and emotion.
“Oh, it’s terrible! Why did they do such a terrible thing? Japan is doomed. I won’t be able to call you again because the telephones are to be disconnected. Be strong, darling, and say goodbye to your mother for me. I’m sure I can’t see her again.”
That night my telephone rang constantly. Old friends called up to express their sorrow. Knowing he had worked hard for peace and that the war was a personal defeat for him, they were especially solicitous about Terry. They pledged their love and friendship regardless of the War between America and Japan.
© Mariko Terasaki Miller