Why Love My Enemies?
By DANNY MINTON
The most important teachings of Jesus involve “Love.” He teaches us to love God while the message of loving our neighbors presents a picture of how we love God. However, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He tells us we are to love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us. That command becomes one of the most difficult for us to follow. Human nature tells us to answer the attacks with “revenge.” Our minds tell us that we want those who treat us wrongly to “get what’s coming to them.” So why did Jesus tell us we have to love those who do us wrong? There’s a story out of World War II that doesn’t answer the question straightforwardly but does give possible insight into what Jesus wants us to learn.
The lesson takes place at one of the most unnecessary battles of the war. The fighting took place on the Aleutian Island of Attu. It’s a small dot on the globe measuring 35 miles long and only 20 miles wide. The inhabitants numbered forty-seven people, 45 Aleuts, and 2 Americans. Today, by longitude, it is considered one of the most eastern points of the United States. However, being this side of the International Date Line, it is known as one of the most western points by date. It was a quiet little haven far away from the battles of World War II until June 7, 1942.
As the Battle of Midway fought to an end on this date, the Japanese forces invaded the small island. Their first intentions were to build an airstrip; however, the issues with the soil made this almost impossible. Hoping to be a barrier between the U.S. and Russia if the Russians joined the war, the over 1,000 Japanese soldiers arrested the inhabitants, killing one American and removing the rest. Realizing that the island was of little significance, the troops moved to another island. The island remained uninhabited until October 1942, when again 2,900 Japanese took it over to attempt to build the airstrip. In May 1943, the Americans sent 15,000 troops to invade and overtake the enemy.
One of the Japanese on the island was a Christian doctor, Paul Tatsuguchi. Paul obtained his medical degree in the 1930s from a California university. His Japanese wife, Taeko, was the daughter of missionaries in Hawaii. Married in the United States, they returned to Japan in 1938 to help one of his sisters who had been sold into slavery and prostitution. Trapped there as the war began, Paul was forced into joining the military. He and his wife loved America, and he dreaded being in a battle against a country he loved. At least, being a doctor, he felt better about saving lives and being against killing did not want to kill anyone.
The battle for control of the island lasted for almost three weeks ending on May 30. In the end, 549 Americans died, 1,148 were wounded, and 2,100 were evacuated for frostbite and other related injuries. Only 29 Japanese soldiers survived after a full-out banzai charge with Paul Tatsuguchi dying at the hands of an American soldier, Dick Laird.
After the battle, Laird retrieved some papers in Japanese that he felt may have had sensitive intelligence. It turned out that the documents were Paul’s journal. Paul Tatsuguchi had at one point decided to keep an account of what was happening as the assault transpired. Much of the journal contained what had happened and what was going on day by day. But there was one section that stuck in Dick Laird’s mind and would bother him for decades. The journal was passed over the years to other soldiers, with copies surfacing over the years, sometimes inaccurate, but that one section impressed many American soldiers. The section was personal.
May 29-Battle: “Today at 2000 o’clock we assembled in front of Headquarters. The field hospital took part too. The last assault is to be carried out. All the patients in the hospital were made to commit suicide. Only thirty-three years of living and I am to die here. I have no regrets, Banzai to the Emperor. I am grateful that I have kept the peace of my soul which Christ bestowed upon me. At 1800 took care of all the patients with grenades: Good-bye Taeko, my beloved wife, who loved me to the last. Until we meet again, grant you Godspeed. Misako, who just became three years old, will grow up unhindered. I feel sorry for you, Mutsuko, born February of this year and never will see your father. Well, goodbye, Machan (brother). Goodbye, Sat-chan, Teshi-chan, Mitchan (nicknames of his sisters). The number participating in this attack is a little over a thousand, to take enemy artillery positions. It seems the enemy will make an all-out attack tomorrow.”
The diary then ended with Paul listing the various universities he had attended and from which he had graduated in the United States. The last statement read, “Received California Medical License September 8, 1938 (USA).
These words haunted Laird for years. As other soldiers read the diary, they began to see the enemy in a different light. Paul Tatsuguchi was a man just like them. He was an American. He had a family and those he loved. He had children who would live without a father. He didn’t want to be there, just like them. Paul wanted to be home. Their enemy was a human being with feelings, dreams, and hope for a better future.
Why pray for our enemies? Could it be that they are many times just like us? Things happen in their lives beyond their control. The things taught, the people that influence them, and where they live help form opinions and feelings. Our enemies are people just like you and me. They live, work, have families, loving wives or husbands, and children they care for deeply and often worship as we do.
When Jesus died on the cross, he died for all men, women, and children. He did not care about nationality or any other background. Paul wrote that “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jesus wants salvation for our enemies just like he wants us to receive the same salvation. You know what else? He tells our enemies the same thing. We are all someone’s enemy. Jesus is trying to tell us to love each other, keep praying for each other.
In his later years, Dick Laird met with the family of Paul Tatsuguchi, telling them he was the one who killed their husband and father. At first, it didn’t go well; then, the two sides began to see each other’s viewpoints. In the end, enemies prayed with and for each other, resulting in peace on both sides.
Back to the question, “Why love my enemies?” The answer? It’s simple. Jesus loves every one of us, and so should we. Peace begins when enemies can care for each other instead of fighting.
(The story of Dick Laird and Paul Tatsuguchi taken from “The Storm on our Shores,” by Mark Obmascik)
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ