April 13, 2007

Back at the beginning of the year, Ian's "Quote of the Day" list sent this out:
"This is a marine biological station with her history of over sixty years ... Take care of this place and protect the possibility for the continuation of our peaceful research. You can destroy the weapons and the war instruments, but save the civil equipments for Japanese students. When you are through with your job here, notify to the University and let us come back to our scientific home.

"The last one to go"

- Katsuma Dan, marine biologist, from a handwritten notice he left at the Misaki Marine Biological Station for U.S. forces occupying Japanese installations at the end of World War II. The station survived the war.
I've held on to the quote since then, thinking I should "do" something with it. I've not quite figured out what, exactly, but it seems important somehow.

Recently, the thought that keeps coming into my head when I look at that quote is more about the future. I've been feeling pessimistic lately, despite the various baby steps about ending the war in Iraq and the general sense that we're finally going to take climate change seriously. I'm not sure why, but there it is. Maybe it's the feeling that no matter how distressed the little people are, the powerful won't permit the changes we want. Maybe it's the vague sense that the change that may be in the air is too little, too late. Maybe it's easier to just assume we're all doomed.

So I've found myself wondering if anyone will leave a note like the one above. What would it say? Who would it be left for? Rather than "Please don't wantonly destroy our research equipment - we'd like to come back someday" will it say "Please don't hate us too much - we meant well"? If Americans found such a note in Iraq, would we respect it? If the note was left in the ravages of climate change, who would "the last one to leave" be? And where would that one be going?

Or maybe I should see the existence of the original note as a spark of hope to counter my pessimistic funk: In a time of war, with all the tensions and mistrust that goes with war, one person had enough faith in the decency of the enemy to request respect for the peaceful intellectual pursuits he had to abandon. Just as hopeful: the enemy honored that note and request.

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