Today, March 11, my father, Dr. Bernard Leo Kreilkamp, had he lived past 2012, would have been 100 years old.
71 years ago, in 1945, when I was two years old, my father was stationed in the South Pacific as an Air Force Flight Surgeon, yearning for the end of war. In August that year, he got his wish; however, not because Japan surrendered. Japan had already been defeated — and knew it, had been seeking terms of surrender for at least nine months.
“Our” two atomic bombs essentially signaled both a devastating finale to that war and launched another, far more insidious, ongoing war that is both military —
We used to be subject to radiation via nuclear bomb tests, both under and above ground —
— which, beginning in 1963 with the Test Ban Treaty, finally began to taper off for most countries.
Except North Korea, which so far, according to wikipedia, has conducted four nuclear tests, in 2003, 2009, 2013, and 2016.
Now, most of the radiation we are subjected to comes from leaking or melting nuclear reactor cores, most famously Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now, the unimagineably worst case, Fukushima, which continues to contaminate the Pacific Ocean and spew radiation across the entire world, following a reactor complex meltdown due to a 8.9 earthquake on March 11, 2011, my father’s birthday.
The irony of Fukushima occurring on my father’s birthday was not lost on me at the time. Indeed, it underlined what has functioned as the foundation stone, the continuously fissioning nuclear core, one might say, of my long long life. For me, My Father and The Bomb are inextricably entangled. Because, for me, that day when the radio announced the new atomic bomb that pulverized the first of what would become two Japanese cities, that day of great victory in my young fearful mother’s heart, that day when she discovered that her young husband would be coming home, was also the day, in fact, in the very moment of the historic victorious radio announcement, when I WOKE UP as a conscious being. Self-awareness flooded in: the sudden recognition of being alive on an alien planet, whose inhabitants celebrated destruction.
From that moment on, the weight of the world descended upon the shoulders of this small two and a half year old girl. For I knew, I just knew, that at some point in my lifetime, that unless I personally prevented it, the Bomb would destroy the entire world. Yes. From that moment on I was Chicken Little. Knowing the end of the world was nigh, and forbidden to speak of it.
My first moment of self-awareness was also deeply ambivalent. Because, of course, I too was excited to realize that my father would come home. Not because I consciously remembered him (I was nine months old when he shipped out), but because I was so enmeshed with my mother, whose crippling fear that he would not survive the war had ruined her experience as a mother, and mine as a child. Rather than her mothering me, I had been trying to mother her, to get her to smile, laugh, play with me. Be my mother.
From that moment on, my ambivalence extended from my mother to my father. I was supposed to be glad that he came home (and I was), which meant that I was supposed to be glad that we dropped the Bomb (which I wasn’t). An impossible contradiction. And I had to live with it, somehow.
Fast forward to Fukushima, the slow-acting, invisible, long-lasting, deeply destructive, radioactive Bomb that detonated five years ago today.
In yesterday’s news:
Today, on March 11, what would have been our father’s 100th birthday, I get this message from one of my five dear sisters, Katherine, via email.
Wanted to remember this day, so took one of dad’s journals off the bottom shelf in my office and opened it to the first page and found this in dad’s hand, unattributed.
He either composed it himself, or he copied it from a book he was reading, as something that struck home.
A busy busy life is like a pool of H2O
Continually stirred up
The mud at the bottom leaves life and the pool
dark and depressing.
A meditative life with quiet and peace
is like a pool of water
Reflecting the beautiful blue heaven above it.
The “H2O” leads me to think he wrote it (scientific training kicking in with this symbol).
Not sure why he underlined those two words in the third line. He was working something out, obviously.
Here’s to dad, ever present in our lives.
I ask: What fundamental internal contradiction was my father unable to integrate?
Reading this poem, moves me to compassion.
Thank you, Katherine.