This evening I finished Louise Steinman's memoir, The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War. In going through her father's belongings, after he died, Steinman finds letters her father wrote to her mother during World War II and a Japanese flag with a soldier's name on it. Steinman decides to return the flag to the soldier's family. It's a terrific book. Here are three beautiful things about this book:
1. The human body and nervous system not wired for war. While the abstract principles and possession of land war is fought over might make war necessary and make soldiers admirable, war exhausts the body with its inherent deprivations. War shatters the body with its violence. War stretches the nervous system way beyond capacity and many soldiers never recover from the damage.
2. When Steinman returns the flag to the family of the Japanese soldier who was killed in the Phillipines, I've rarely witnessed such a moving account of the beauty of grace and forgiveness.
3. In unadorned prose, Steinman's father's letters give readers a much deeper feeling for the horrors of what soldiers experienced fighting in the Pacific Theater. I often wonder if these men, on the one hand, are grateful for the public admiration extended to them and for their efforts being called "The Great War", but, on the other hand, if they'd like to be better understood for having endured battle trials and horrors that were far from great and that left many of these men damaged, if not physically, certainly psychologically, for life. In a general sense, was the WWII soldier understood for this? Did the public generally understand that the Great War may have had a great outcome, but that the fighting itself afflicted many soldiers with long term damage and horrible memories?