I arrived by boat in Japan and left by plane. About seventy years earlier, some unknown American had a brief experience in Japan the precise reverse of mine in the sense that he "arrived by plane and left by boat," and in a more dramatic fashion. His story is told through the eyes of a Japanese watching:
After discussing the war generally, [the Japanese professor in his 60s] began, with seeming reluctance, to speak of his own war experience as a university draftee who had used all his family's influence to avoid call-up until he was finally tapped for coastal-defense duty late in the war. One day in July 1945, he went on, the intensity of his voice increasing with each sentence, he found himself in charge of an emplacement of ancient coastal guns just as an American flyer [pilot] parachuted into Tokyo Bay. As the downed American swam towards his position, the youthful candidate-officer found his mind racing. What should he do? Kill him, or take him prisoner? Suddenly, he was spared the choice, for right there in the middle of the bay, a U.S. submarine surfaced, scooped up the pilot, and submerged again, taking him to safety. At that moment in his story, the scholar broke off almost breathlessly, and said, "You see, that's the only kind of thing you'll hear. Pointless stories. It's too late to talk about crucial issues. All the people in decision-making posts are long dead."
Quite dramatic for a pointless story.
It comes from a book I'd bought cheaply in Tokyo (200 Yen or $1.65 at today's exchange rate). It's called Japan At War: An Oral History" published in 1992, an original English publication by an American, Dr. Theodore Cook. The interviews were conducted in 1988-1991 in Japan. He says he "selected people from [the ranks of] general to private, prison-camp guard to journalist, dancer to diplomat, idealistic builder of 'Greater East Asia' to 'thought criminal,' who talk revealingly of their wars".
The pointless story has two incredible points to it, as I see it. One, he considered killing a potential prisoner-of-war upon capture. Two, the pilot's manner of rescue, as described, seems so surreal that if I saw it in a James Bond movie I'd think to myself, "Gee, they're really pushing it now". The author makes some more comments about why this little anecdote is not so pointless. A photograph of the page is here.
This business about killing a captured airman in war seems especially cruel. I read that the Imperial Japanese government, late in the war, in its increasing paranoia and desperation, put captured American airmen on trial for war crimes (the bombing of cities) with possible death sentences, which were often imposed. In this kind of atmosphere, some must've also been killed without pretense of trial, on the spot, and a conscripted coastal defense position leader may have felt a kind of social pressure to do the same. (Just another chapter in a long-ago-concluded war.) The professor, recalling this moment in summer 1945, existed in that world. The war swept up everyone. Multiply these kinds of situations by the thousands for every day of the war, and that was the war.
So, as to pointlessness. The professor's idea can be taken further, if we want. Maybe almost all the stories from almost everyone's lives are pointless. This is one view, and a depressing one. I reject it. We all have our personal narratives and experiences; we were "there", somewhere, some time; we were part of it, something, whatever "it" was, whatever it's still shaping into.
I also recently bought a tattered old copy of the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. His relations of his early life are full of pointless stories, too, but they are greatly enjoyable and help us understand the man and his time and place.
Likewise, I understand that in the 1970s my father did an audio recording of his grandfather (born in the 1890s in Iowa, to parents born in Denmark) asking for, to carry forward the theme of this post, whatever pointless stories he had to tell. I don't know the full extent of this recording and have never heard it, but I have seen a partial transcript. He described how the original members of his family came to enter the USA. This was more of a retelling of a story his own father had told him, though, I suppose.
An idea that came to me as I've been writing this. Q. What is life? A. Life is a series of pointless stories.