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Reflections on My Wartime Letters

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image of Journal of American-East Asian Relations

It was some time in August 1945 that I received a letter from my friend and fellow language officer, Ted de Bary, reporting that he had a marvelous idea. It was to exchange letters from wherever we were sent when the war was officially over. Such letters, written by people who knew Japanese, would surely be more perceptive in describing the postwar scene than the usual journalism. I at once replied with enthusiasm. Soon afterwards, we learned that he would be sent to Japan and I to China. I wanted badly to go to Japan, having spent three years as a translator and interpreter of Japanese, but my superior officer, who decided our destinations, knowing how badly I wanted to go to Japan, sent me to China. I told myself that I should have been nicer to the superior, laughed at his jokes, and shared his various prejudices. But, although the war would soon be over, this was a military unit and orders had to be obeyed. I resigned myself to going to China. As it turned out, I was very lucky. My experiences in China were probably more varied than if I had been sent, like most of the language personnel, to a base in Japan. It also meant that Ted and I would have a real correspondence describing life in two quite different societies.


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