Several years ago I
took a two month camping trip. On the way home I stopped at Wounded Knee on
the Pine Ridge Reservation. Not only was the site powerful for its setting,
but also for its poignancy. A large bronze plaque described the
massacre which included a group of young men who believed that their magic
made them invisible to the enemy and impervious to their bullets. Needless
to say, many if not all of them died as a result of their self-deception.
They had no real grasp of the nature of the forces that opposed them.
In 1811 and 1812 a
group of men in England, who came to be known as Luddites, destroyed a lot
of machinery which they felt endangered their livelihoods and hence they
ways of life. These men became the primary symbols in the West of
reactionism. I still have friends who don't own a television or a computer
and who obviously can't send e-mail. They are definitely resistant to
trends in technology even though they fly all over the world, ride in cars
and take elevators to their luxury suites on the 23rd floor. I guess each of
us gets to pick and choose.
The print on this page
is a portrait of the geisha Kokatsu who was the mistress of one of the Meiji
commanders of a garrison at Kumamoto (熊本 or くまもと). The year was 1876, almost
9 years since the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, and discontent among
the old order, i.e., the samurai class, was festering. On the night of
October 24th rebels known as the Shinpūren divided into two main groups and
made a coordinated sneak attack. One part surprised the garrison and
slaughtered many of the soldiers showing no mercy for those who were wounded
or captured. The other group attacked the telegraph office and destroyed the
machinery which was so symbolic of all the things they hated. "Still others
attacked the residences of the prefectural governor Yasuoka Ryōsuke, the
garrison commandant Major Taneda Masaaki, and the chief of staff Lieutenant
Colonel Takashima Shigenori. They killed Taneda and Takashima, mortally
wounded Yasuoka, and burned down his house."* After telegraph communications
were reestablished Taneda's mistress, the geisha Kokatsu, telegraphed the
news to her parents.
samurai class resented everything Western and everything modern. As a result
the attackers demurred the use of modern weaponry preferring their
traditional swords. This was fine in the opening assault, but in the end
served them no better than the delusional Sioux warriors at Wounded Knee.
Also, by destroying the telegraph equipment the Shinpūren cut off their best
source for quick communications which could summon support for
reinforcements. The similarities to attitudes both Eastern and Western are