For my husband, Boston’s historical ground zero was nowhere to be found on the Freedom Trail. In early June, 2010, we’d spent the entire day tracing the footsteps of the revolutionaries, shaking the city of Boston, and the fabric of America forever — but John wasn’t moved. Not until we caught a glimpse of that weathered old gray hull across from the USS Constitution. Then, like the greedy seagulls hovering around us, he dove straight towards this morsel of forgotten history, one without swarms of tourists or a song to forever memorialize its great accomplishments. His hungry eyes devoured all of it, from the industrial strength metal panels bolted together to the rather auspicious “793” painted on the side.
“It was hit by kamikaze fighters in the Pacific,” I pointed out. Nothing could have been sweeter to my husband — to see a retired US Navy Ship that fought against the Japanese during World War II. Because, after all, he is a “military fan.”
When I first met John, nothing about him suggested a hidden love of tanks and fighter planes and battleships. I knew guys like that from my past, in secondary school and college. They were the ones with the utilitarian-chic gray T-shirts with “ARMY” printed on them, who claimed to have their own guns, and play paintball for fun. The diehard military guys, of course, ultimately signed up with the real forces, or joined ROTC in college, their dogtags hanging around their necks like medals of honor.
John, on the other hand, loved the humanistic philosophy of Carl Jung, Erich Fromm and Rollo May, detested gun ownership, and held altruistic dreams of opening a “humanistic care center” where he could provide psychological support to needy Chinese.
So, a few years ago, when I caught him with the latest news on Sina.com one day, where he was talking about F-7 versus F-15 fighter pilots, I wondered just who had come in and swapped my Chinese husband.
But, no, I was the one all wrong. “I’ve always been interested in the military,” he grinned.
As a child, every summer vacation marched into his life with a platoon of anti-Japanese movies, turning the land of the rising sun into a call for patriotism encapsulated in two characters — kangri (抗日, resist Japan). The stories of Communist heroes at war with the Japanese gave the military a sort of nostalgic patina as the years went by. For John, it was as if the military itself brought him back to these simpler years in his life, when he could fritter away those endless summer days with everything from catching fish in the creeks to films that re-imagined warfare on the shores of East Asia.
That day in Boston, I shot a photograph of John standing before that destroyer, the USS Cassin Young. He flashed me this boundless, insouciant smile, and I knew deep down it was more than just about finding something connected to World War II and the Japanese. It was about John returning, if just for one moment, to his own nostalgic ground zero.
Are you “a military fan?” Do your Chinese loved ones or friends have fond memories about watching anti-Japanese films (and were you surprised)?