The Dark Hearts of Men
rating: +9+x


September 2, 1945

"Is it over?"

Charlie's words hang in the damp air of the bar, heavy with anticipation. The radio man's voice melts into a dull drone in the background as my brain struggles to process the information he relays, but I get the most important bits.

"On the USS Missouri…"

"Foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu… instrument of surrender…"

"End of fascism… a triumph for democracy…"

It was over.

I glance down at the shot of sake in my grip, watching the clear liquor ripple and shimmer in the dim light of the bar I sit in. Emotions I can't describe bubble from somewhere deep and primal inside me, threatening to spill out into the open.

"Yes," I say, trying to keep my voice steady. My eyes are still fixated on my sake. "It is."

"Holy shit." Charlie sounds on the verge of tears. "Holy fucking shit—" He lunges at me, wrapping his arms around me in a tight embrace. All I can do is reciprocate, placing my hands tenderly on his back.

"We did it, Charlie," I whisper in his ear, blinking back tears. "We did it." I can feel Charlie's breathing, ragged with bottled-up emotion, through his skin. His display of emotion prompts me to do the same, tears welling in my eyes. It was over. It was really, really over. I don't know how long we stayed like that, embracing each other and enjoying the high from the relief of years worth of anxious tension. But eventually, we break away.

"God, man." Charlie's eyes are red and watery as he returns his attention to his own shot of sake, softly glimmering from the shaking of his hand. "I can't believe it. I really can't."

"I—" I'm cut off by a crazed laugh involuntarily ripping out of my throat. "Am I fucking dreaming?"

"C'mon," Charlie jests with a playful punch to my shoulder, "Pinch me! Pinch me!"

"Nah, man," I giggle like a little child as Charlie grabs my arm, his own face in a rictus of glee, and I try to fend him off, "Nah!" The laughs fade as we both realize the enormity of the situation. The war was over. Finally, democracy had won. I knew would happen. I knew, deep down in my heart, even in the darkest of hours.

I knew, even after the Nazis brought Europe to its knees and England was the only democracy left standing.

I knew, even after the Japs brought hellfire down on Pearl Harbor and wiped out two thousand four hundred and three valiant children of Columbia.

Democracy always triumphs over fascism. Light always triumphs over dark.

I bring my glass of sake to my lips and take another sip. In all honesty, I never liked this Jap shit. But back in Okinawa, it was the only liquor a man could get. Eventually, I got accustomed enough to stomach it. But I'd still take a pint of U.S-brewed beer over this ricey crap.

"After all this shit," I remark, my voice low and sober. "All this fucking shit." Images of days gone past flash before my eyes. Smoke and gunfire and screaming. Every inch of progress in the Pacific was paid with a gallon of American blood. The things that happened on those little islands are best left in the past.

"The things we've been through," Charlie agrees, his youthful eyes fading into the empty stare of a battle-scarred soldier's. "But still, we knew these shitbags would get what they deserved, eh?"

"Yeah. I guess we did."

"You know what these assholes did in Manchuria? In Nanking?" Charlie's voice takes on a caustic prickliness as he leans towards me. He hushes his voice. "Bad shit. Made a fucking contest out of murdering civvies with a katana." I sigh in response. Times like these reveal the dark hearts of men.

"And the rape," Charlie continues. "Christ, it makes me want to pour bleach into my brain. They did it to kids, man. Kids."

"God." I don't know what to say. It's funny, confronting the abyss. No matter what you might think of it beforehand, whatever choice words you might have, staring straight at it always reduces you to quiet introspection. It makes you question whether it exists inside you. "But that's all in the past now." Now that fascism is gone for good, the United States of America can bring light to the world once more. We can bring the same ideals that our forefathers brought to the U.S people when they broke away from England to the Japanese, and to the rest of the world.

We can create a better reality.

"Right." Charlie looks outside at the dark Tokyo streets. "It's all behind us now."

I look outside with him and think about the future.

December 14, 1945


That's what I hear the Japs are saying. Shikata ga nai. Nothing can be done about it. I've quickly decided that it's one of my most hated phrases.

Japan has been in turmoil since we've arrived. Resources are scarce. Homelessness is on the rise. After being indoctrinated for years about the invulnerability of their empire, they've fallen into a haze of despair and lethargy. It saddens a part of me, seeing a once-proud people collapse into disarray like this.

Shikata ga nai. Nothing can be done about it.

Yet I can't help but think the future is bright. Back home, they're sending money to all countries affected by the war; billions will go to Japan alone. Things will not be like this forever. Tomorrow will always be brighter than now. Reality can always be changed for the better. Always.

I ruminate on these thoughts for a while as I walk through the streets of Tokyo. The things I see around me are not pretty, but I pay no mind. I see another group of soldiers a block ahead, four or so, walking into an alleyway. Under the olive beret of one of them, I see a familiar face. Charlie. I wave but he doesn't notice me. Quickening my pace, I approach the group as they slip out of sight. I break into a slow jog as I approach the entrance of the alley. I'm about to call out Charlie's name until I see what's going on.

There's a woman standing there in the alleyway. She's a Jap. Charlie and the others are approaching her. From here, I can see the look of fear on her face. It's like I'm watching from outside my body as I witness what happens next.

Charlie grabs the Jap, one hand against her chest and the other gripping her black hair, pinning her against the grimy brick wall. I see the muscles in his exposed forearm flexing. The other soldiers are crowding around her like hungry animals to a rotting carcass, laughing and jeering. The woman screams. I immediately know what I am watching.

Instinct takes over. My eyes dart to a glass bottle lying on the ground next to the alley entrance. I grab it with a shaky hand. I approach the U.S soldiers, crowding around the Japanese woman. Rage and disgust are all I know. I break into a jog, and then a full sprint. Charlie's hunched against the woman, his face twisted into a sick smile. Getting the drop on him, I bring the bottle down on his head with all my might.

The other soldiers immediately pin me down to the ground, yelling at me with words I don't listen to. My eyes are still fixated on the form of Charlie, who's on the ground, his body contorting in shock from the impact. Blood streams down his face, bloody gashes marring his handsome countenance. He looks at me, and in his eyes lies not anger nor outrage. What's in Charlie's eyes is a look of betrayal, like he's been hurt by what I did, like he truly believed what he was doing was justified.

I turn my gaze towards the Jap woman, lying on the ground and cowering pitifully in fear. Tears run down her cheeks. She makes eye contact with me, and I realize she's looking at me the same way she looked at Charlie and the others. I'm one of them. I'm one of the terrible Americans who invaded her country, took away everything she had, and violated her.

No. This can't be it.

This can't be all there is.

I stare into nothingness as the soldiers take me away.

December 17, 1945

They dropped me off at home.

Mom was there, waiting for me on the front porch. The dimming afternoon sun illuminates her hair, blond just like mine. The expression on her face is conflicted. Her mouth smiles with relief but the look in her eyes indicates concern.

"Oh, God," Mom sighs as he recognizes me, running up to me and throwing her arms around me. Caught off guard, I carefully reciprocate. "I'm so glad you're back." She pulls away to get a good look at my face.

"Hey, Mom." My voice is raspy and tired in light of the events of the past few days, but it still glows with genuine happiness. My lips curve upwards in a smile.

"God, what happened?" Mom asks, laying a hand on my cheek. "The Navy isn't telling me anything."

"Mom, it's okay," I say. I don't know what else to tell her. "It's all in the past now."

"But what—" Mom catches herself on another one of her rambles, ultimately deciding it best to leave the tired veteran alone. "C'mon. Let's get you inside." I stare at the Indiana plains around me.

I think about how different it looks now.


I wake up with a start.

Thin strands of daylight are peeking out from behind the blinds, reminding me it's time to wake up.

I've never been a morning person. I always take my time getting out of bed, my energy only hampered by the effects of age.

I start brewing my morning coffee. As my brain rises out of the haze of slumber and into the light of consciousness, I begin to recollect the duties of the day I must address. The council meeting from yesterday still weighs heavily on my mind. Thirteen hadn't exactly been the most agreeable. Maybe someone pissed in the grumpy bastard's coffee. I stow away these thoughts into the back of my still-foggy mind as I amble wearily towards my laptop, carrying a mug of coffee. Rubbing my eyes, I flip it open.


The screen blinks at me. I log in.




I'm greeted by a popup.

You have one (1) new notification. Would you like to open it?

I already know what I'm going to see when I click yes.






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Images flood my memory as I read the words on the screen. Of Charlie. Of that Japanese woman. And I think to myself: This can't be all there is.

I click nay.

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