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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | On the cruelty of man

“Why is there ever this perverse cruelty in humankind that makes us hurt most those we love best?”

THE following story is related by the legendary Japanese film director, Akira Kurosawa, master behind such films as “Rashomon” and “Seven Samurai.” In pre-war Japan he saw the best and worst of human nature, and these experiences greatly affected his film career.

There is an old story in Japanese poetry about a stepchild that is sent to buy a product that will be used to hurt her. The description of the child’s face who is sent to acquire the instrument of her own torture was made yet more poignant for me by this incident.

One day while at my brother’s house the woman next door came in crying in a way that was unbearable for me to watch, with both hands clutched to her breast and sobbing piteously. When I asked the reason, she said the next-door neighbor was torturing her stepchild again. She heard a little girl’s terrible cries and finally couldn’t stand it anymore. She looked in through the neighbor’s kitchen window and saw the child tied to a post, with her stepmother burning a large amount of moxa on her bare abdomen. She was about to describe the scene when she suddenly closed her mouth.

A woman wearing light makeup passed by. She bowed to us with a pleasant smile and walked on toward the main street. The woman who had been sobbing said, “Until two minutes ago she looked like a raving demoness, and now she’s sweet as a lamb. Witch!”

So the woman who had passed by was the same one who had been torturing her stepchild. I couldn’t believe it to look at her sweet demeanor, but the woman pleaded, “Akira, please go help that child while she is out.” At a loss for words, half believing and half doubting, I found myself following her.

Looking through the window of the room, sure enough I saw the child tied to the post. The window was open, so like a thief I climbed into a stranger’s house. I rushed to untie the girl when she looked at me with furious eyes. “What do you think you are doing? No one asked for your help!” I stared at her in surprise. “If I’m not tied up when she comes back, she’ll torture me again.”

I felt as if I had been slapped in the face. Even if she was untied, she could not escape from the environment that tied her to that post. For her, other people’s sympathy was of no value at all. Pity was only a source of more trouble. “Hurry up and tie me again!” she said with so much ferocity I thought she might bite me. I did as she told me. It served me right.

In the end you might be surprised to find that God doesn’t care so much about whether you were right or wrong, but whether you were kind or cruel.”

BC Cook, PhD taught history for over 20 years. He lived on Saipan and travels the Pacific but currently lives on the mainland U.S.