Before heading out Iwo Jima to commemorate the annual “Reunion of Honor” between former enemies of different ethnic groups, religions, cultures and beliefs but now good friends, for the 72nd anniversary of the World War II battle that killed 6,821 Americans, wounded another 19,000 and killed about 21,000 Japanese, I want to respond to the comments I received about a recent Voices column: “Remedy for gangs that can’t shoot straight?”
Somebody asked me if I was serious about putting gang members—or anybody who can’t hit their intended target and instead kill children and other innocent people—in the military and teaching them to shoot straight, to learn discipline and to fight with enemies who shoot back with equal skill. See http://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2017-03-05/ray-elliottvoices-remedy-gangs-cant-shoot-straight.html for the specifics.
Well yes, I was serious. But then no, I wasn’t serious because I know it’d never happen. Would it have an effect? Of course, it would. When Japan and Germany surrendered at the end of WWII after both sides had attacked each other without mercy, the United States and the Allied countries helped rebuild the economies of their former enemies and established a lasting friendship that has continued for more than 70 years.
The people killing innocent children and others here in Champaign-Urbana and Chicago and around the United States are not all gang members and are mostly all citizens of this country, not members of a foreign country with which we are at war. These people are at war with each other, with many of the same ethnic groups, religions, cultures and beliefs or family members who resort to senseless violence that take the lives of innocent people and their own as well.
But to the reactions I received to my proposal of putting these people who can’t shoot straight into the military to teach them how to shoot, drill them with well-trained forces of men and women and then send them to trouble spots around the world where our military is deployed and let them shoot at people who shoot back to help remedy the situation.
The first response I got was from a man I consider to be one of the wisest, most reasonable and considerate in the area. “You have an interesting concept in today’s News-Gazette,” he said.
While I wasn’t sure of his meaning, others followed with similarly ambiguous points of view. Which sort of surprised me, initially. I’d tried to make the column a satire but didn’t manage. My thoughts were along the lines of some words in a Kris Kristofferson song: “partly truth and partly fiction.” Partly truth and partly satire, I guess.
Then I received an email from Arnold Shapiro, the Oscar- and Emmy-winning director and producer of the effective Scared Straight series that took juvenile offenders into maximum-security prison to meet with hardcore inmates who gave the youths a sample of what they could expect if they came to prison—a sort of Marine Corps boot camp with the inmates to help the youths go straight as the drill instructors did with recruits to make Marines out of them.
Shapiro, who wrote the words for the “Reunion of Honor” monument on Iwo Jima, raised the money for it and produced three documentaries about the battle—the last (From Combat to Comrades) which aired on the PBS last fall—emailed, “A very thoughtful, interesting and substantive article that should be discussed with those who make laws and deal with wayward youth.”
The words Shapiro wrote for the Iwo Jima monument that was dedicated on the 40th anniversary of the battle in 1985 gives the hope of peace between those who were once enemies:
“On the 40th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, American and Japanese veterans meet again on these same sands, this time in peace and friendship. We commemorate our comrades, living and dead, who fought here with bravery and honor, and we pray together that our sacrifices on Iwo Jima will always be remembered and never be repeated.”
These few words are inscribed on both sides of the monument just above the landing beaches, one in each language; the English side faces the ocean where the Americans landed, the Japanese side faces inland.
Of course, it’s not that simple. But if it’s possible for enemies who take the lives of many more innocent people and combatants in our wars through the centuries to join together in peace and friendship, maybe it’s not such a stretch to believe that it’s possible to stop all the killing by these “wayward youths” by teaching them discipline and how to shoot straight.