I had a thought as this new year started. It was a good one. Maybe a radical one, but it made me feel comforted. It’s about peace on earth, that sentiment that always gets rolled out this time of year. Bear with me as I build a case.
First: tell me how you feel about the English. A decent group of people, right? We meet them and squeal, “Ooh, I love your accent.” We hungrily learn every detail of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, and no American tabloid is complete until there’s some mention of Charles and Diana’s brood.
Would you ever be afraid to travel to the United Kingdom? No, you say? Yet the English were our mortal enemies not so long ago. They established troops on our soil and asserted that we were citizens of a country far off across the Atlantic. They fired on us. They warred with us. And now we’re big fans of their high tea.
How about those Germans? Terrifying people, no? We would certainly never participate in anything approaching a native celebration like Oktoberfest, would we? Drinking their beer would be out of the question.
And we wouldn’t consider the gorgeous Alpen lands of Germany a fine tourist destination, would we?
Wait … you say you went to Germany a few years ago and loved it? You actually spoke to these barbarians and bought their cuckoo clocks? But … we’ve fought two wars with the Germans. Not just little wars, world wars.
The leader they loved and followed is universally acknowledged as one of the most evil men in history. But admit it … you sometimes go through the Wienerschnitzel drive-through, don’t you? And you love the pitched roof.
Now, about those Japanese. A group of people so feared and reviled only 70 years ago that the U.S. government put them in concentration camps. Thankfully, ours weren’t equipped with Zyklon B or ovens, but they were detainment camps nonetheless.
The Japanese attacked us when we weren’t even at war.
Which brings me to a turning point. Pearl Harbor. Dec. 7, 1941. Guess what I was doing December 7, 2011?
Dining at Pearl Sushi Lover.
Somehow Pearl Harbor has morphed to Pearl Sushi. I didn’t even realize the irony of our restaurant choice until we pulled out of the parking lot and saw the flag at half-mast at McDonald’s across the way.
Those poor bastards still trapped in the barnacled bowel of the U.S.S. Arizona probably could have never conceived that hostilities between our nations would be so completely resolved within only 70 years. Yet resolved they are. I never look at a Japanese person and think “enemy.” I think, “I like your culture’s aesthetics and wasabi was a really great idea.”
Which is leading me to the next point. Whatever tension we feel towards the Middle East, it will be resolved someday. A day will come where we’ll scarcely believe we fought a war in Iraq, or that Al Qaeda attacked us on our soil.
In fact, I predict a day in the year 2082 when someone will emerge from a great lunch at a Saudi Arabian restaurant, notice a flag at half-mast, and say to their friend, “Oh my god! I just ate Saudi food on the anniversary of September 11th!”
I sense outrage. People are flapping their Dispatches or clicking angrily on their mouse pad. Nothing has ever been as awful as September 11th, they’re saying. We can’t forgive this one. It only feels that way because it’s so recent. We forgave the people who turned a blind eye to Nazis rounding up all the children from a Jewish kindergarten and shipping them off to be killed. We forgave the people who stepped into planes and bombed a fleet sitting peacefully in harbor. We forgave the people who tried to alter the citizenship of our country and took up arms to protect that ill-conceived idea.
Let’s not forget the Mexican-American War, fought 1846-48 between the U.S. and Mexico. I still get happy at Los Pericos.
And we can’t overlook the Vietnam War. Yet I love Pho Thanh An.
Come to think of it, healing may come through food. It may be the experience of eating another country’s cuisine that lets us move past hostilities and find a place of commonality.
I know there’s a lot of hurt and anger still. It will pass. It is the way of all humanity and history proves again and again that former enemies become future friends.
Erika Mailman is a local author. Read more at www.gilroydispatch.com or www.erikamailman.com.