Every year around this time of August I think wistfully back to the day in 1998 when, over at my cousins’ house in Palo Alto one summer’s afternoon, they announced they were going to walk over to the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple for the Obon Festival. I had no idea there was a Buddhist Temple within walking distance, never mind an Obon Festival, but we went, ate teriyaki, one of my cousin’s friends won a stuffed animal and gave it to me, and I bought a tshirt I lovingly retired from sleeping in a few years ago because I didn’t want to see it ruined.

So what’re the chances:

Slate – Obon Jour<br/> What a Japanese community festival tells us about America’s gift for reconciliation, by Christopher Hitchens

This time every summer I begin to suspect myself of going soft and becoming optimistic and sentimental. The mood passes, I need hardly add, but while it is upon me, it amounts to a real thing. On the first weekend of every August, in Palo Alto, Calif., the Japanese community opens the doors of its temple and school in order to invite guests and outsiders to celebrate the Obon Festival.

Btw, I’ve never been back. I keep trying to go again, but you know how lunar calendars can be…

Right, so, enough of my misty-eyed reminiscences, and onto his point:

In the United States, and especially in California, the war against Japanese imperialism was also accompanied by collective punishment of Japanese-Americans and the sequestration of their persons and property. When I first came to the Bay Area in 1970, I was introduced by Carey MacWilliams, a great historian of the state, to Lou Goldblatt of the longshoremen’s union, one of the very few public figures to have opposed the indiscriminate internment. It was a crime committed largely by liberals like Earl Warren, as many people prefer to forget, and was even supported at the time by the Communist Party. (Actually, why do I say even? Communists by then were getting pretty used to supporting mass roundups and deportations.)

Hatred and fear and bigotry were probably never more general or more strongly felt than against Japanese people in America in the period between Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima/Nagasaki, and Hollywood and the comic book industry kept the feeling alive for some years afterward. …

And my point? Well, my point is that under the azure blue skies that prevailed all of last weekend, you would not have known that any of the bitterness and misery had ever taken place.

This is the thing that drove/drives me batty about the hearts and minds business in Iraq and Afghanistan. As if our relationship with nations we’re at war with depends utterly on our ability to be friends with them while we’re at war with them. I keep wanting to say, “We nuked Japan and look at us now!”