Manning The Rails Into Sydney
Photo: Personal photo taken on the USS Kitty Hawk

Molly: (To Kim) You say you love him, now are you brave enough to act on it? Here you are, a pretty little girl, fine daughter, a child on the way, husband in combat. You’re frightened, you want him home. This is not your own special circumstance, you know what this is? It is the history of the world.

—From “The Unit” (written in part by David Mamet)

Damn that David Mamet. I was becoming one with the beanbag chair in the tatami room, watching TV, and a “The Unit” marathon started. Fox Japan showed about four or five episodes in a row, enough to get me interested. I find much of the show annoying, but the Mamet-speak hangs like a delicious haze and gets in my eyes and throat.

The night before the ship pulls out: after eating curry at the new Nepalese place on Blue Street in Yokosuka, we move to an izakaya and drink sake. At dinner and then over the drinks, the talk felt useless and superficial because it was about anything but the fact that you are going to sea. And everything is really about that: when you will be with me, when you won’t.

But the last kiss in the taxi as I drop you off at the ship is just one of so many last kisses. It won’t do to fret, but I feel my selfish need for you all the same. I may be used to watching you walk away to board that gray bitch, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

I can hear those words, those Mamet words, reminding me of my predecessors throughout time. All of us, wishing for our lovers to come home from war, feeling the same pride and resignation and resentment that there is something horrible and necessary to do.

I can never quite resign myself to it, and while you are daily recounting the tales of an enemy in your AOR, I send you a note from China dated around the year 750. I love you, and I know what you do is noble work, and I’ll be at every homecoming with tears of celebration and relief in my eyes; yet, I feel that this, too, is the history of the world.

Nefarious War by Li Po (Translated by Shigeyoshi Obata)

Last year we fought by the head-stream of the Sang-kan,
This year we are fighting on the Tsung-ho road.
We have washed our armor in the waves of the Chiao-chi lake,
We have pastured our horses on Tien-shan’s snowy slopes.
The long, long war goes on ten thousand miles from home,
Our three armies are worn and grown old.

The barbarian does man-slaughter for plowing;
On this yellow sand-plains nothing has been seen but
blanched skulls and bones.
Where the Chin emperor built the walls against the Tartars,
There the defenders of Han are burning beacon fires.
The beacon fires burn and never go out,
There is no end to war!?

In the battlefield men grapple each other and die;
The horses of the vanquished utter lamentable cries to heaven,
While ravens and kites peck at human entrails,
Carry them up in their flight, and hang them on the branches of dead trees.
So, men are scattered and smeared over the desert grass,
And the generals have accomplished nothing.

Oh, nefarious war! I see why arms
Were so seldom used by the benign sovereigns.