Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Strange Convergences” and Granddaddy’s Memoirs

Two months ago, my friend Irina translated selections from Granddaddy’s memoirs into Russian, and sent me the translations for comments and corrections.  I’m just now getting around to it.  The first selection is about the beginning of the war in the Pacific, the infamous Pearl Harbor attack.  Granddaddy’s skipper had told the crew aboard his ship during general assembly on Saturday, December 6, that the war would begin with such a surprise attack on an American possession somewhere, and less than 24 hours later it occurred.  Historians of Russia (or readers of Japanese military-naval history, such as the captain clearly was) were only caught off guard by the location of the attack, not the expectation, the empire having successfully caught the Russian Far Eastern fleet sitting in Port Arthur some 35 years earlier—and winning strategies, as Francis Ford Coppolla’s Patton would have us remember, are meant to be repeated.  It did work like a charm the second time, at least initially.  The Americans didn't take more than a year to get around to fighting back, however, so the rest of the scenario didn't play out well from the Japanese perspective.

Curiously, also on December 6, 1941, while my Granddaddy was mulling over his captain’s words and anticipating a lazy “rope yarn” Sunday, the Japanese envoys were at a formal dinner at the home of my current employer’s grandparents.  The envoys excused themselves for a bit and asked to use the telephone, and their host showed them into his office.  I don’t know what exactly was communicated during that conversation, but the furniture used is in the library where I’ve been cataloguing—I’d been plopping books down in the chair, and occasionally using it as a sort of footstool to reach shelves (that was before they brought in the 8-foot ladder, which I needed to reach the highest levels).  I don’t know whether this is the quite the level of disrespect as climbing on the equestrian statue of Peter the Great in St. Petersburg (at least it’s not a public historic monument).

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