War Story

On Jeju Island we travel rough backroads on our small bus,
bumping along narrowly through perfectly planted fields,
row on row of fresh vegetables enough to feed an army.
The Koreans have inhabited this island for at least eight centuries.
We’re far from the crowded city, and our Hawai‘i guide
notes he’s never traveled this way before, but our local bus driver,
the primary guide here, wants to show us something few tourists might see.

Amid these idyllic sea green fields and fresh grass pastures
odd formations appear, manmade concrete bumps like stone turtles
scattered about as if they were dropped from above at random and froze
dead in time, their search for whatever they sought, no longer necessary.

As we approach one the driver tells us that these structures were built
to house kamikaze planes during World War II, and sure enough,
we spot what looks like a plane slightly protruding from this bunker.

After we walk up to the plane through the field surrounding it,
we see that it’s a sculpture only, an artwork constructed of fine wire,
a skeletal suggestion of those planes the Japanese hid from view
between training runs for the pilots whose final life purpose
was to sacrifice themselves by crashing into designated objectives.

The piece is decorated with multitudes of colorful ribbons and strips of cloth
inscribed with messages of peace, and pleas for it, but one stops me.
It reads, “Remember the War,” and I have to think twice about the intent behind it.

The Japanese forced the Jeju residents to build the huge airfields around us,
their treatment of the Koreans here as that of masters ruling over slaves,
contributing another tragic chapter to the history of Japan’s Korean occupation.

I read that ribbon again, then scan the rest to see how many of the messages might mask
in wording, all those angry memories of the Japanese who reigned over these people.

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