The Savage Innocent Ch. 02byAdrian Leverkuhn©
Act I, Part II
The Korean Conflict remains but a footnote to America's long Cold-War policy of containing Soviet expansion; few people today care about or know of the war that took place during the first three years of the 1950s, fewer still have heard of the two week battle around Chosin Reservoir. I think as well that perhaps very few people now living in America know that after the Japanese Army liberated the Korean peninsula from Chinese forces in 1895 they annexed that land and its people were subjugated to a most brutal existence for decades. When Japanese imperial ambition spread to mainland Asia and her vast resources during the Great Depression, Korea was stripped bare, her men enslaved, her women forced to provide comfort to the men of the Emperor's armies. When World War II concluded, the Korean peninsula -- like Germany and Vietnam -- was partitioned; communists were ceded control of the north while American forces occupied those lands south of the 38th parallel. The bastard creation was doomed to fail from the start, though this peculiar death struggle rages even to this day. This happens when people forget the lessons history struggles vainly to teach us.
The major communist entities of that era, we know them today as Russia and China, seemed intent on exporting their economic revolution to Western Europe and the Americas. A group of Yalies in Washington collectively known as The Wise Men counseled haberdasher-turned-president Harry Truman that the best way to confront communist expansion was to simply push back wherever and whenever they tried to expand into new territory; this policy was known as Containment and became, after a document called NSC-38 was enshrined in the pantheon of America's own imperial ambition, official U.S. policy. Containment was resisted in Washington by those who simply wanted to exploit America's temporary strategic superiority and wipe the Soviet Union off the map. These men and women wrested control of vast segments of America's industrial capacity and dedicated their tremendous resources to expanding America's capacity to wage war all around the world. The nascent spiritual leader of these uber-Capitalists was a slight Soviet refugee, a woman by the name of Ayn Rand; their Bible a ponderous tome mirthfully titled 'Atlas Shrugged'.
I will not dwell on her relationship to the story herein told. It is simply not relevant. Not all Rands, it seems, are created equal.
In mid-summer of 1950 the communists pushed, and pushed hard, into South Korea; the first armed test of the Policy of Containment was underway. American and United Nations forces pushed back against the "North Koreans". Hard; they pushed back hard. Proxy forces supporting North Korea were initially repulsed, pushed back all the way to the Yalu River and the Chinese border by the time winter's first snows fell that year, and this first communist advance appeared well and truly contained. And they in fact had been, at least until the full weight of the Chinese Army was turned-loose to counter-attack American and U.N. forces. The first thunderous collision between these two massive ideologies occurred around a frozen lake in North Korea. The Japanese had some many decades before named this lake Chosin, an ironic name, as we will see.
I don't want to dwell on the obvious, but wars change the people who fight in them, and often in very unpredictable ways. It is precisely this change I want to talk about because without an understanding of this simple fact I could never help you come to terms with what happened to Rand and I in the spring of 1970. And, well, you might never come to understand the nature of the beast that was Tom Shipman, and that would be a shame.
He lived on campus, in one of the little bungalows that lined the perimeter of a drill field we marched on with monotonous regularity; Shipman lived there with his wife. She was, if you recall, the Japanese woman I'd seen him with that night when I had dinner alone with my mother at the inn. Her name was Tetsuko, which translates, roughly, as Lady of Steel. We rarely saw her which, in hindsight, was a good thing; she was, you may remember from my brief observation that night, a simply stunning woman. Willowy and fragile looking from a distance, I believe now she had been named with no small amount of prescience. Though she couldn't have been more than fifty years old when I first laid eyes on her you might have mistaken her for a woman half that age but for the blinding white purity of her hair, and yet she was always dressed in deepest black. Not a penitential black, nor a reflective black, she always wore the black of limitless space; when you saw her face it was as if you were looking upon an island of stark serenity framed by the infinite. As a result she seemed as distant and remote as space itself. I was given to believe at one time she had been a Buddhist nun.
Shipman met her during a brief interlude when he was stationed in southern Japan after World War II. And therein lies a tale.
At twenty years of age he had come to the Pacific war in time for the initial invasion of Okinawa on 1 April, 1945; he fought there for 51 days as a combat corpsman with the 7th Infantry division, then was summarily transported to Korea where his unit fought the scattered remnants of Japanese forces still holding-out in the mountains. After the surrender the 7th was garrisoned in Japan as part of the primary occupation force. He was among those tasked to help re-establish political order and render medical assistance near the shattered remains of Hiroshima.
Tetsuko Shibata had always been a studious, even a self-righteous girl. She was a dedicated student in a land where studious women were still something of an oddity, but like America, the war had changed all that. She had wanted to study medicine but by the end of July, 1945, worked as a nurse at a hospital in Hiroshima; she was visiting her grandmother outside of the city one day when she saw a lone silver bird flying towards the city. The explosion, even from ten miles away, had knocked her off her feet; within days of the bombing she had shaved her head and joined the novitiate. She never told me why.
Her once black hair had turned pure white within days of the bomb's detonation over Hiroshima. No one understood the effects of radiation in those days, and people were affected proportionately to their distance from the fireball. Some people's hair simply fell out; more still, burned and bleeding from their mouths and rectums, died agonizingly, and she had worked tirelessly without rest or supplies until the helplessness of their situation became overwhelming. She turned from the living late one afternoon, she turned away from life and disappeared into the hills, into what she must have hoped would be an end to the suffering of life.
But the sick and the dying followed her, followed the stream of misery that ran from the charred ruins of the city in search of solace and, perhaps, an end to the struggles of this life. She had been gratefully accepted into a tattered monastery, but as a nurse; she accepted this as she came to accept the very idea of karma. Still without supplies she cared for the dying until one night she saw herself from outside her own body, until she saw, she told me one day, rocks growing under her feet. She had fought it all until the pointlessness and futility of existence had rendered all life meaningless, and on the very next day she saw a column of American trucks coming up the battered track toward the monastery. She met Tom Shipman later that day. He had been among those bringing medical and relief supplies, and was one of a handful of corpsmen assigned to help the nuns care for both the living and the dying in the weeks ahead.
I don't know the details. Shipman never told us some parts of this story, but I can guess what happened. Maybe you can too. They were married a few years later. And they never had children. Perhaps that was as a result of radiation but again, I'll leave that to you to consider. Perhaps that's why they chose to live at a school; that Tetsuko came to live on the campus of an American military school is an irony that I will leave you to ponder.
My feelings still get in the way.
I always believed Shipman would have made a great physician. He chose instead to carry a carbine along with his medical supplies; again, an irony I feel inadequate to discuss. In the late fall of 1950 Shipman found himself attached to the 7th RCT31, a 3,000 man composite Regimental Combat Team then dug-in on the eastern shore of the Chosin Reservior. Sometime during the second day of the initial massive Chinese counterattack the 7th was cut-off from the main body of American forces arrayed around the frozen lake by an entire division of Chinese regulars. Unbeknownst to Shipman and his comrades another Chinese division was gathering in the twilight to help mount an all out effort to demolish the splintered 7th. In effect, there were 30,000 plus Chinese regulars against 3,000 American troops. Sometime during that long night Shipman stopped being a corpsman and became an infantryman. He was among the handful of survivors and rumor was he had killed over three hundred men that night. He told one class years later the number was probably twice that.
Wars change people. And change them again and again and again.
He returned to Japan with severe frostbite in January, 1952.
He converted to Buddhism a few weeks after his return. He was awarded the Medal of Honor later that spring.
It is a mark of immense cultural nobility that Shipman's superiors not merely tolerated his conversion -- most understood and accepted the man without question by that time -- but he thought it fair to tell us years later that the men in his division accepted his conversion without hesitation or malice. Many were curious but most respected his choice, even the chaplains he had known over the years nodded knowingly at reverence of his conversion. I suppose that was why he remained in the military, why he dedicated his life to preserving that honor which has as its highest calling the power to preserve. He could see no greater duty to life itself, and I believe he made the right choice, the best choice.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
One fine winter day early in 1970, a most seductive notice was posted outside the dining hall; said broadsheet stated that flying lessons would be optionally available to students with high enough grade-point-averages beginning March. Rand was, of course, a straight-A+ student; I had managed to right myself a little and the magic number was just-within-reach provided my mid-term scores showed just the slightest improvement.
The race was, so to speak, on.
Before long we were traipsing through knee-deep snow to the library to leaf-through flying magazines; Rand started looking at recruiting posters for college ROTC programs about that time, then at admissions guidelines for Annapolis and Colorado Springs. He wanted to fly. Hell, so did I. He wrote to his dad, I to my grandparents, to secure the necessary funds for lessons and when March came round we were among the first dozen to begin flight training. It was just ground school -- the academic nuts and bolts of theory and regulations -- those first few weeks, and was limited to Saturdays at that, but it was heaven nonetheless. Plus, we got out of Saturday morning drill. We started flying in April, and that was more than a little bit like heaven.
I bring this up not to entertain you with tales of inverted flight and of buzzing startled cattle on lazy afternoons -- as entertaining as those stories might be they too would be irrelevant. No, I bring up flying and Annapolis and the dreams of teenage boys to paint a picture for you, a picture of the hazy dreams of children giving way to a more concrete dimension. Context. I want to give you a fair picture of the context of life in Room 21.
21. Twenty one is seven times three, right? Seven? Why is it that people give special powers to that number? Lucky seven? The seven levels of Hell? A Tibetan Buddhist prayer ring? Seven levels. But room 21? Seven times three? Were there three of us in that little room?
Yes, well, there were. Rand and myself, of course, but Madeleine too resided in that corner room. Her letters, you see, came to us daily and their presence hung in the air apparent to everyone who came in that toasty little cave. We could not have escaped them - even had we wanted to. She was so much a part of our lives that year, so integral to what lay ahead. Rand wrote her daily as well, sometimes several letters a day, but theirs was a secret wartime correspondence. I think the letters that passed less frequently but no less importantly between Maddie and myself were focused more on peace and reconciliation. I wonder today if ever there might have been a middle ground, some soft, common ground, where time might have passed us by more gently, but that was not to be.
No, not to be. I've always wondered what inferences the number seven held for our lives then. Some nights I think about the lookouts perched above the foredeck of the Titanic that last doomed night, too, as they steamed ahead into the unknown. I wonder of the seven men who rotated through that posting night after night why those two were up there in the cold and the darkness. The stars overhead, their breath frosty and tired, I wonder why they never saw that iceberg looming until it was all but too late to avoid certain catastrophe.
Madeleine enrolled at UC Berkeley following our return to Indiana after Christmas; let the record state, Your Honor, that she was still a very fragile girl with a tenacious but perilously weak hold on life in those, the first few weeks of her new life. The rumbling force of the 60s was alive then, and those days were as indifferently malicious. The epicenter of that seismic world was The University of California at Berkeley, and it's hard to look at the place today and remember just how different our world really was. Head-shops lined her streets, girls in patchouli-scented batik walked before day-glow images of Hendrix and wilting peace signs that filled shop windows everywhere you looked. "Radicals" were everywhere, too -- and nowhere. National Guardsmen came and went, rocks were thrown, campus buildings occupied: it was a grand convulsion and it was all happening in and around UC Berkeley, and as it turned out, around a fragile young woman named Madeleine.
On the second day of May a telegram came and Rand was pale with grief when he slowly, quietly put the folded yellow paper away in his desk. The message had come not from Madeleine but his father, and he related with the last vestiges of his own tortured humanity that his ex-wife, Rand's mother, had committed suicide earlier that day. Of course those of you paying attention will have of course noted that the second of May is 5/2, or five plus two, and that equals seven, but let's put these musings aside for a moment while we consider what would happen to America in just few days time.
For you see, it is my opinion that America herself very nearly committed suicide two days later. In the echoes of that wasted attempt lives all over the country splintered; splintered and fell into the sea as we each came upon questions that like looming icebergs did not quite drift away unseen into the night. No, a vast collision was at hand. Women and children first, please.
Richard Nixon announced to the nation on the night of the 30th of April, 1970, that American forces had entered Cambodia; for all intents and purposes America entered her second civil war over the next few days. Though shorter lived the conflict was a violent one, a deadly one, but for the most part violence was confined to colleges and universities around the country. The first bodies to fall in this war did so a little after noon on the 4th day of May, in Kent, Ohio. If you are unfamiliar with these events you might take the time one day to look them up; I will forgo the history lesson as in any event those deaths are important to this story, but -- perhaps -- only just marginally so.
The effect the Kent State Massacre had on the students at UC Berkeley was instantaneous and galvanizing. In short order her students were organizing a student strike that would, eventually, directly impact hundreds of campuses and tens of thousands of students across the country and, indeed, around the world. Riots began just blocks from the White House, the President was discreetly moved to Camp David, advisors to the president proclaimed that the country had entered a state of civil war and began drafting plans to curtail civil liberties on a vast scale.
Madeleine was particularly susceptible to claims people made of being victimized by paternal authority; she could muster such a withering display of righteous indignation that, well, she could have put any Baptist preacher of the fire and brimstone variety to downright shame. Her anger came from deep inside and did not seep out slowly. Her anger was explosive, dangerously so. When she lost control of herself she did so completely; her attachment to reality became, well, questionable would be a benevolent description. Actually, for some reason Krakatau springs to mind.
And, well, unfortunately she had a driver's license, and for some odd reason God had seen fit to make sure she had an automobile. Indeed, giving her a car was perhaps the most stupid thing my grandfather ever did in his life. The man had more money than sense; it sure seemed that way as he soldiered on into his 80s.
He called my mother when he learned Madeleine was dashing cross country to join more protests in Ohio in her shiny new Porsche. My mother fumed and fretted, then called the only man in the world she knew to be absolutely trustworthy.
She called Tom Shipman.
A mother in her grief, her mindless son manic with fear. Wild-eyed youth full of panic, all just barely contained by a Medal of Honor winner and a Lady of Steel. A sky-blue Porsche speeding cross country, the savage innocent loosed upon an uncertain world in a mad quest to perform unbinding, righteous deeds. Or perhaps all she ever really wanted to do was paint the White House a lighter shade of pale.
Icebergs towered overhead in the night.
I remember one night in the dining hall, it was right after the homecoming game so call it a half year before Kent State and looming icebergs and all the rest, and Eddie Crist was rambling on about the basic goodness of humanity when Shipman stopped eating and looked up from his food. Crist was from some cosmopolitan mecca like East Bumfuck, Alabama -- frankly I don't remember where, but I do remember the kid took his religion seriously. Hell, when you get down to brass tacks a kid with a name like Crist was just destined to become a Baptist. I just weren't his fault, you know? Anyway, I think the statement -- that humans are basically good and decent -- got stuck in Shipman's throat like a fishbone. Shipman seemed to gag a bit on hearing that particular piece of news and turned a little red in the face while the implications washed over him; true to form he kept his mouth shut and let Crist bluster on a while longer -- while he let his blood pressure fall back to normal levels, I feel sure -- but he just picked at his food for the rest of the meal like someone who had witnessed a murder. He carried his tray up to the dishwasher's window when we were dismissed and disappeared into the night and I didn't think anymore of it -- until the next day when I went to his class.