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24th of August, 1945

The train I took today was full of soldiers being deployed or demobilized. They seem to be in excellent spirits; they wore brand-new uniforms, which many had stripped off because of the heat, and carried brand-new blankets and equipment. They also seemed to have plenty of food, lunch-boxes filled with white rice and tinned fish. They laughed and talked loudly of the families they had not seen for years; old comrades shouted greetings to one another, running along the edge of the platform, screaming with delight from one end of the car to the other. One had been in Burma for years; another had just come back from China. They bowed, held hands, grinned, pushed one another. Today there were no thoughts of comrades left to die by the banks of the Salween and in the surf of Mindanao; they only thought: “We’ve made it!” They were alive, back from the frontiers of conquest, from the terrible ordeal of war. Behind them lay the bones of empire rotting with the green mold of the jungle. Before them lay the hideous foetus of the future, stillborn in defeat, shapeless, infinitely pitiful. At the end of this journey, at the edge of the platform, beyond the wicket and the turn of the road, waited the future, the shack of rusty iron sheets, or perhaps not even a shack but an elusive face hovering above a spadeful of cinders, a name pursued and echoed from neighbor to neighbor. The tangled forest of the old factory, the jammed hurrying streets, the park bench, the cry in the night, all this waited for them. But today they were content to dangle their raw new boots over the shimmering track, sitting shirtless and capless on the edge of the rattling boxcar, giving their last salutes: “O-genki de” – “Be in good health”; “Kiotsukete” – “Take care of yourself”; “Yoroshiku” – “Best regards”; “Sayonara” – “If it must be so”. The Japanese farewell never sounded so typical, so apt, so significant, as in the mouths of these defeated veterans home from the long wars. Not the prayer of “adios” or “goodbye”, not the warm hope of “au revoir”, “arrivaderci”, “auf wiedersehen”, “till we meet again”; only the fatalistic submission to the inevitable, “if it must be so.”