I cannot hide anything while you are here: so you are fired!

This old tactic is absolutely the sleaziest of all inelegant ways to terminate someone:

You're Fired!

Let me give you a hand there…

CFM Asia, k.k. (“Capital Fund Management”) is a global French company with a proprietary technology that crunches numbers, then churns this into financial products. These are highly sought by pension funds and banks.

CFM Asia, k.k. incorporated in Tokyo 5 years ago, hiring a Japanese trilingual go-getter to facilitate the process. This individual found their real estate, set-up shop, handled the accounting; you know the type? In 5 years, the company flourished and the staff doubled, brought-in two expatriate technicians from Paris. This Japanese national continued to play the key roll as the technicians spoke no Japanese and the Representative Director needed his own level of handling. Eventually, he was promoted upstairs and now runs the London operations. A really great guy.

So CFM kicks over some rocks and hires a new guy… spends a couple of months in transition, then left to his own devices. But this staffer-with-the-company-from-the-start knows everything: handles everything, facilitates everything, translates, interfaces with FTC. This, of course, drives new guy nuts. So he plots. And waits. And spreads stories that undermines her credibility & standing and boosts his own; you know the type?

Finally, when all things are in place, after a long vacation that includes a secret couple of days at the headquarters to deliver the coup de’ gras, he arrives in Tokyo… everything planned-out in advance (including hiring replacement, her first day on this explosive day!).

He gets in early that morning before anyone else, all a’quiver with excitement. New girl arrives early too. The ambush is set.

Our earnest employee arrives for work a bit before 9:00 a.m. as usual. It is a warm Spring day, yet before she can make it to her desk, bossman ushers her into the conference room. “Oh, welcome back! How was your trip?” He responds after sitting her down, “Sorry, but today is your last day. Here is your Resignation Letter, please sign here, here (and pointing with the pen she is to use…) and here. You can come back tomorrow when everyone is gone to collect your things. Thank you for your work here…”

You might think this is unfathomable but this kind of story happens with enough frequency in small foreign companies with bosses who don’t have a clue, but finally feel their “lock” on power.

This battle is still in full-swing. CFM Asia has hired a local law firm, so they are busy cobbling together “cause” of enough enormity so to justify immediate termination, but this just will not fly: too much mental gymnastics & re-depiction of reality is required.

So what should one do in such a predicament? Go to a bengoshi… file a suit… argue by throwing stones at the castle walls? There are plenty of ways to go about righting this kind of wrong, the most effective is (the same way you eliminate mold) exposure to sunlight.

The essential points here are:
1.) If you are going to hire a fox to watch over the chickens, don’t let the fox… first eat… the chickens; and
2.) If a company treats valued & dedicated employees so shabbily, how will they secretly treat their valued-customers?

In normal Japanese society, this kind of corporate behavior is exceedingly rare. No foreign capital company or know-nothing Representative Director should get a “pass” with such torrid behavior and be able to say, “opps! well, sorry, talk to my bengoshi…” That is what’s known in the vernacular as chickensh*t… and something you would normally expect from a financial services company… in Japan??!

They are at it again: Sloppy terminations in Tokyo.

It’s been a while since reporting on some of the nasty, sneaky tricks companies pull on unsuspecting employees in Japan.

Takin' for a ride...

Takin’ for a ride…

These tricks are companies’ attempts to whittle-down, right-size or rationalize employee ranks. They do this by skirting Japanese laws and social norms established within the confines of their own companies here. “I don’t want to hear again how Japan is different! Just do what I say!” is frequently the background music for these stories.

Many of the formerly favorite tactics have fallen by the wayside precisely because of exposure through blogs like this one. In their place, new and slightly tweaked older tactics rise to the top and hit my radar. Here are some current flavors-of-the-mouth.

1. “I don’t like what you did two years ago so I decided you’re fired.”
2. “After negotiating a voluntary resignation successfully, headquarters decided to post-date to 3 months ago, thereby reducing what you thought you were getting, hahahaha. Take it or leave it.”
3. “No one likes you; you’re fired”.
4. “You refused to move HK (so we could easily fire you there) so you’re fired.”

More details to follow in a daily update here. There are a lot of take-aways but if a reputable company is going to treat their “most valued resource “ (employees) as these stories reveal, one has to wonder about their view of their “valued customers”. Definitely something to chew on. To follow in sequence:

1.) CFM Asia (in Japanese/English/French);
2.) Sigma-Aldrich Japan;
3.) Bank of America Merrill Lynch – brought to you by HR Director Leisa Nagy;
4.) UBS AG Japan.

End of War in Okinawa

Maybe because I grew-up on this tortured tropical island, the reminder today of the Okinawa_turtle_back_tomb69th anniversary of the fall of Okinawa to US forces jumped-out at me like a punch to the gut.

This 90-day battle was epic even among truly epic battles elsewhere in the three WWII theatres (Pacific, Europe, Africa).  Ninety-days!  What this could have possibly been like?  Simply, it had to have boggled… even now, it must even now boggle the mind and shock one’s sensibilities.

Today … we too are confronted with global trends and aspects of the economy, the human-condition that we cannot quite grasp.  Things are underfoot that we cannot quite accept as reality.  We in fact refuse to believe: they are too huge, too incomprehensible. They run counter to everything that our society, our religions and our training have guided us to conclude about the world and how things “work”, i.e., the financial collapse, drone-surveillance, the bail-outs, NSA big data vacuuming, the encroaching death of the US Constitution, the black-shirted TSA, the US war-machine. But back then, too, alien concepts were thrust upon Americans.

With this reference, try to put yourself back in time, after the Marco-Polo Bridge Incident, then Pearl Harbor, the fall of Singapore.  Not so long ago… consider this:

Guadalcanal was a shocker.  America for the first time was confronted with the ferocity of the Jap fighters, the concealment of nests, the tactics employed, the tunneling, the inhumane treatment of prisoners, the preference of death-over-capture, reverence for the Emperor.  Only afterwards and with the benefit of hindsight was anyone able to appreciate any of this at all.  While astounding, we would not be mesmerized today if kamikaze-type fighters plunged into ships in a far-off war.  Back then, this new tactic in fact had soldiers and sailors frozen in place, so new and incomprehensible a sight it presented.  Comparably, it would be as if watching an authentic star-fighter warship, replete with hieroglyphic symbols and bearing obvious scarring / discoloration from an ageless trip, landing today, just there, a stone’s throw away!

Similarly, when sleepy, countrified, insular & agrarian America joined the world community and was confronted by something equally incomprehensible (the Japanese), we too were dumbfounded.  Honestly, people on decks of aircraft-carriers already on fire stood mesmerized as plane after plane struggled to crash INTO them (kamikaze), or waves of Jap soldiers with bayonets charged foxholes (and usually successful!), having wrapped each other tightly in gauze so that even if hit, they could continue.  This tactic created the absolute necessity for the deployment of the .45 which would drop an elephant.  They just couldn’t kill these other-worldly Japs.

Unfathomable.  Yet, just like us today.  Lost in our training, schmeared in the lie that is consumerism controlled by mass-media, (and thinking it is “natural”), pursuing money… never getting “there”.

My teenage pals and I came to know all the battlefields in Okinawa by exploring caves in jungle fatigues, crawling like tunnel-rats, outstretched arms holding candles, probing into the damp, heavy darkness, waving away cobwebs, squealing like little girls at monstrous bugs, centipedes, spiders… always forward.  Reading topography for possible jungle-swallowed sniper-nests; being rewarded with discoveries of bones, ordinance, undiscovered cache, discarded bodies, hidden tunnel openings.  And this insatiable appetite was not just generated by a terrain burdened with raw, recent and abundant scars.

We would dive in turquoise colored waters that sometimes dropped suddenly hundreds of feet, hovering like skydivers over bombed-out wrecks.  The battle of Okinawa, the gashes in the landscape, pill-boxes and gun-emplacements, rusting wrecks were all daily reminders to us and the Okinawans, only 2/3 of whom were fortunate-enough to have survived this hell a mere 20 years earlier. Wounds everywhere were gaping, though healing. Slowly.

During the very brief period of this battle, one third of the 300,000 Ryukyuan population were annihilated, most of the children, all the young men.  All livestock, chickens, pigs: gone.  Agriculture came to a complete halt months before the campaign.  Ryukyuans who spoke in their native dialect were killed as potential spies, not even a second-consideration given: “just do it”.  Entire villages were regimented, 100% of them!  Tunnels were dug everywhere: into sacred tombs, into naturally occurring limestone caverns (lots of these!), double-backs formed into the hills, concealments in water-wells, inside ponds, under floorboards of houses.  Ninety-days!  And every inch intended to be a bloody, hand-to-hand battle.

In any conflict, to suffer a double-digit loss is a catastrophe: a 5% attrition guarantees a courts-martial. Historically, casualties will normally be three times greater than fatalities.  But THESE were civilians!  For Japan, Okinawa could simply not be lost.

Soldiers from all over Japan poured into the islands.  Eventually, 100,000 soldiers occupied the island and conscripted the locals.  Fewer than 8% of these soldiers survived.  The largest battleship ever built (even today) was the mighty Yamato with a crew of 3,000.  In transit, on a one-way kamikaze mission to “rescue” Okinawa (to be purposefully beached in Buckner Bay), it was sent to the bottom with all-hands.  The US forces lost 12,500 soldiers suffering an astounding 5 time multiple in casualties.  Even more sobering is the fact that as bad as it was on land, the Navy suffered more deaths than the army or the marines.  In fact, the Navy suffered more deaths than casualties, a rare reversal generated from the successful plunder of kamikaze attacks.

The most lasting impact of the battle is vivid and well-preserved.  I’ve visited Okinawa and outlaying islands endlessly since departing Okinawa to focus my career on this marvelous, insanely-difficult-to-master country & culture.  The final days of the battle focused on the southern tip as defensive-position after defensive-position fell (none “surrendered”) and as a smaller and increasingly more decimated bands of soldiers retreated, eventually carving-out a last-stand on the Mabuni hills of the Itoman peninsula.

Clean-up lasted another month as the beachhead at Buckner was expanded and mopping-up increasingly centered around the Cliffs area. At this time, the caves were packed with the wounded remnants of decimated forces.  Ammo was almost all spent, little water, few rations. US Piper planes (spotters) identifying pockets while Japanese soldiers ordered Okinawan kids to crawl out to the lines to do damage and keep the GIs at bay. Caves given-up still contained wounded and soldiers, who each took turns killing themselves. The terror in the south had civilians killing one another after taking turns taking care of their parents, infants, then their children last.  This insanity just escapes description.

The last remaining unified bands of survivors were nurses, all Okinawan teenagers who straggled from shelter to shelter dragging or carrying, and caring for the wounded who might be saved… but eventually giving-up even on them.

With so, so many, and not enough grenades to go around, they tried to tightly huddle in groups of five or so, pull the pin… struggle with each other in these last desperate seconds to hold the device closer to their chests … but this always left most just mortally wounded … and absolutely terrifying even more the 14 year-olds who watched, or came across piles of withering bodies afterwards.  This went on for days: too afraid to die, not knowing how, no easy methods, and always the pounding of aerial bombs, mortars, pillars of black smoke rising into the sky.  The verdant vegetation now long gone, the sea can be seen beyond.  But this only conveys more horror as it is absolutely, impossibly, covered to the horizon with ships of every imaginable shape: the devil-amerika-jin G.I. are here.  Panic.

As the noose tightened and the GIs approached on foot, and with no self-defense and no IMG_9617 IMG_9642 IMG_9643soldiers to protect them or even order them around, the cliffs preventing further escape beckoned them as their only escape. In droves they just leapt … Japanese-speaking G.I.s pleading with them, begging them with canteens of water, pleas and promises.  Reports from spotters in the piper airplanes were ghastly, reporting the final dash, girls in white, in pairs or just perched on a craggy edge, sometimes approaching soldiers only yards away,  pleadingly … a brief hesitation, then falling to the coral 200~300 feet below.

Very, very few didn’t leap and survived in inerasable shame, guilt, exhaustion… maybe less than two hundred?  In the twilight of their lives now (as of this writing), these beautiful girls now take turns walking tourists through the quiet, preserved caves… and thereby honoring their friends by being the echoes of such a wretched, wretched story.

Many ways to cook: CS dishes it up

Continuing on the theme of unloading unwanted, no longer useful human resources in Japan, here is a follow-up from another vaulted icon in the financial services industry.

Memo to HR Staff:  CS’s standard global policy is simply: “this is what we pay in terms of severance and it is very generous…”; if the employee disagrees with the payout, respond with the excuse that we just cannot do any better, times are tough, we have no money.

Splay-open first... then skewer.... then add salt...

Splay-open … then skewer…. then add salt…

In the meantime of course billions of profits are announced quarterly on our website.  But still, treat even requests for tiny improvement as if this would require squeezing blood from stone.  Be compassionate; but say “no”.

If a snarly employee refuses to sign-off, explain that they are really lucky because even getting to this point (and not just because they are not being immediately terminated), you-the-HR-professional had to personally move mountains to get to this simple, precarious point.  If challenged with the well-known fact that earlier CS employees have settled at significantly higher amounts, quickly defer that you cannot comment on that situation: every situation is different.  And besides, aren’t they being a little insulting?

Of course, disregard local employment rules applying to Japan.  Stress over-and-over that we have our own GLOBAL policy, which is far superior to whatever is offered in a backwater legal community like Japan.  Mention that Japan labor laws are rather inconvenient in this process of getting to a solution quickly, without damaging unnecessarily the employee’s reputation or career prospects. Keep repeating the GLOBAL policy.

Show your strong side when negotiating with soon-to-be former employees.

Show your strong side when negotiating with soon-to-be former employees.

It is also useful to stress Regional Management’s role to get job cuts done even though Labor Law works very different in Japan.  Tell ungrateful, unresponsive employees (because it is true) that “…my hands are tied… it is Singapore’s decision”.  Look truly helpless when delivering this.

HR’s work is intrusive so it requires an air of arrogance in order to keep employees from becoming haughty.  However when it comes to terminations, maneuvering between the disconnect between Japanese labor laws and our Global Policy generates stress and, well, there will be mistakes. In our experience, it is best to start making incomprehensible mistakes on sensitive disengagement documents including job titles, severance amounts and illegible documents to convey the sense that this is common practice “because there is so much of it going around…”.  This will add to employee uncertainty and fear as the process unfolds.

A final tactic that works well is to artificially inflate the severance package by including entitled pension amounts, untaken vacation days, unvested but earned bonuses. While these amounts are generally entitled already, completely separate from any severance amount… still, try it and sometimes weak or stressed-out individuals will just jump on it. Anyway, the point is to get them to sign straight away within a three week-window; then, Mission is Accomplished.

Easy pickin's... looks NOTHING like when we first fished him out, huh?

Easy pickin’s… looks NOTHING like when we first fished him out, huh?

Sometimes offer job-placement support; make this into a big deal.  “It’s a GREAT concession!”  But be careful: ONLY offer if they agree to sign immediately.  Otherwise, suggest in vague terms the possibility of being “black-listed” within the industry.  Stress that this means Asia-wide.  Be careful here because it can be variously interpreted … but again, as long as they sign-off “voluntarily”, mission is accomplished and all is forgiven.

Disregard internal company-rules when inconvenient to the situation. This could apply when the employee has a medical condition, for example (many fall into that hole as the stress is expected to mount exponentially during this process: push it). Advise that

我が信条 Our Credo ... " We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the world. Everyone must be considered as an individual. We must respect their dignity and recognize their merit. They must have a sense of security in their jobs. Compensation must be fair and adequate, and working conditions clean, orderly and safe. We must be mindful of ways to help our employees fulfill their family responsibilities. Employees must feel free to make suggestions and complaints. There must be equal opportunity for employment, development and advancement for those qualified. We must provide competent management, and their actions must be just and ethical." ...

我が信条 Our Credo
… ” We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the world. Everyone must be considered as an individual. We must respect their dignity and recognize their merit. They must have a sense of security in their jobs. Compensation must be fair and adequate, and working conditions clean, orderly and safe. We must be mindful of ways to help our employees fulfill their family responsibilities. Employees must feel free to make suggestions and complaints. There must be equal opportunity for employment, development and advancement for those qualified. We must provide competent management, and their actions must be just and ethical.” …

medical-leave is not counted at all in their situation and deny the employee the use of this entitlement even if a legitimate medical issue exists.  Insist on the provision of shindan-sho (doctor’s report), but then ignore it if produced.  Insist they consult with a company-doctor.  He is on HR’s payroll (neat borrowed tactic; massive company Credo nailed to the vaulted wall of their lobby entrance).  See? we can do anything.

Finally, in the event these tactics fail, threaten unilateral termination.  Explain precisely to keep out of trouble: the employer has the right to terminate unilaterally… even if it does not comply with the Japan Labor Law… when the employee does not accommodate the legitimate directions of the employer.

If they disagree, THEY have to prove THAT to a third-party judge (after they have been fired!).  With little available cash and no experience pursuing a legal claim in Japan, and likely no language abilities… the chances of them going THAT far are exceedingly low.  Likely, their defense beforehand is only bluster, positioning and putting-up a strong front.  Given the experience and in-house

Scrumptious!  What's left goes out with the trash, please.

Scrumptious! What’s left goes out with the trash, please.

knowledge we in HR clearly MUST possess, we can expect far better results in these areas (bluster, positioning, putting-up a strong front) than a single hired-resource that we manage through this process, one-by-one.

Go get ‘em! (… and take out the trash when you leave).

仲間として受け入れられること

私の人生で起きた最も印象的な出来事からお話しよう。私が1969年に居をアメリカジョージア州アトラ ンタに移した直後に起きた出来事だったが、この話はまだ誰にも話したことがない。なぜ、話さなかったのか。実は、この出来事というのは滅多に起きないこと でもあるし、挙げ句は、自分を美化する話に誤解されてしまうことを恐れたからだ。しかし、そろそろ記憶の中から取り出してみる時期にきたようだ。(English version here)

それはベトナム戦争の真只中のことだった。当時、私はアメリカの管理下にあった沖縄で少年時代を過ごしていた頃のことだった。沖縄は日本と台湾の間に浮かぶ島々に架かったネックレスのような存在だった。

ベ トナムで戦争が行われていることは、至る所で体感していた。沖縄はアメリカの軍事関連施設が多く置かれており、その活動で活気にあふれ、何千人もの軍人た ちが駐屯している。巨大な病院施設などもあった。沖縄の陸、海、空にはあらゆる種類の軍事関連機が動き回っている。上空には、一日中ヒューイ(Huey) ヘリコプターが縦横無尽に飛行している。中学生だった私は、郊外の野原に座り、絶え間なく滑走路で離発着を繰り返している様を眺めていた。その中には滑走 路から重々しく離陸し、数時間後の爆撃に向かうB-52機もあった。中学生の私の目には、この灰色の化け物(B-52)はあまりにも巨大な重量構造物で、 とても空を飛べる代物には見えなかった。特にファントム空爆飛行隊として次々に離陸する巨大なB-52機が滑走路を這うように進み、ついには空に向って滑

超秘密偵察機SR-71ブラックバード

超秘密偵察機SR-71ブラックバード

走路を離れた瞬間、「やったぁー」と金切り声をあげそうになった。そんな奇跡のような発進風景を見た後は何とも言えない気持ちになった。

巡航する偵察機はその飛行スピードが生む摩擦で白熱光を放っていた。本当にすごい風景だった。

南シナ海に面した沖縄の西側にあった玖波崎(くばさき)中学校。1969年。

南シナ海に面した沖縄の西側にあった玖波崎(くばさき)中学校。1969年。

ターコイズ色(緑がかった青)の南シナ海に向かって並んだ捕虜収容所のようなプレハブの校舎。中学3年生を修了すると、ベトナムに従軍している父から、引退後は家族全員でアトランタに引っ越しするとの連絡があった。

私の1965 製のシボレー・コルヴェアは、ドスンドスンとひどい音を立てる難点があり、格好悪かった。

私の1965 製のシボレー・コルヴェアは、ドスンドスンとひどい音を立てる難点があり、格好悪かった。

「ア トランタって、どこ?」と妹は甲高い声で聞いてきた。私は「そんなことどうでもいい」、続けて「僕たちは祖国アメリカに帰るんだよ!」と答えた。そして嬉 しさのあまり、7人兄弟全員で歌った。これまで父親の勤務する軍の人事異動で2~3年ごとに違う土地に住んだ。やっと生活に慣れ、親友ができたかと思った 頃に、父の次の任地に家族で移らなければならなかった。そういう生活の繰り返しだったから、アトランタ行きの話は言葉で言い表せないほどの喜びだった。つ いに、転勤型の生活から、ふるさとへ帰ることになった。

ジョージア州アトランタはアメリカ南部にある。以前のように転々とした生活ではな く、じっくりと腰を落ちつけた生活スタイルになった。しかし、これまでの生活と比べ、あまりにも「アメリカ」そのものだったので、奇妙な感覚さえ生まれ た。私は弟と一緒によそ者(異邦人)として地元のアメリカンフットボールチームに入った。私は沖縄から米国に帰国する際にアルバイトで商船貨物船の甲板員 として働き、それで貯めたお金で手ごろなオンボロ車(シボレー・コルヴェア)を買ったが、それに友人たちを乗せて走った。そうやって、私と弟は何とか地元 に溶け込もうとしたのだった。

ブライヤークリフ・チアリーディング・チーム――青少年がアメフットをやろうとする動機はここにあり!!

ブライヤークリフ・チアリーディング・チーム――青少年がアメフットをやろうとする動機はここにあり!!

僕 らなりに新しい街で友だちを見つけ、仲よくなろうとしたが、それは無理な話だった。可愛い女の子はすでにボーイフレンドがいた。友だちを見つけようにも、 そこには地元の仲間集団ができ上がっていて、新参者を簡単には入れてくれなかった。私たちはやはりよそ者扱いだった。私や兄の髪型や服装は彼らのものとは テイストが異なっていた。話し言葉にも微妙な差があり、どうやら耳障りだったようだ。そうしたことから、なかなか仲間にしてもらえなかった。さらに、父親 たちの世代にも似たようなことが起こっていた。地元チームのイベントやサマースクールには父親が子供たちに付き添うが、練習や引率でその役割を長年担って きた父親のポストが、新参者の登場でさらに激しくなる。私たちはよそ者というだけでなく、まさに「異邦人」だった。

ところが、こうした状況は、新学期が始まって1~2か月した後、変わった。

ある日授業中に、雑音交じりの校内アナウンスが流れ、今までに例のないことだったが、全校生徒に大講堂(体育館)集合が伝えられた。全員すばやく元気に廊下に出て、クラスごとに講堂へと進んでいった。講堂の中にはすでに折りたたみ式の椅子がいっぱいに並べられていた。

barons

10分ほどで全校生徒が集まった講堂はすし詰め状態になった。蒸した空気で充満した講堂内を巨大な扇風機が旋回していた。

正面のステージの壇上には、学校の経営陣が両脇から中央を向く形で座っていた。校長が立ち上がり、教職員と生徒全員を一通り眺め、何度かうなずいた。たぶん、視線の合った教師かお気に入りの生徒だったのだろう。校長は壇上の中央を一人で陣取った。

私 はクラスメートの後に続き、講堂内の右端側に用意されている参観者席の方角から年少の中学3年生たちがいる場所よりもステージの近くへ進んだ。しかし、1 年でも違えば神のような存在となる先輩たちは、この大講堂の中で自信と落ち着きをみせ、私たちからはかなり離れて壇上の校長や脇に並んで座っている学校の 経営者たちの目の前に座っていた。位高ければ特権あり。このことを私はすでに知っていた。

校長がマイクで咳払いをした途端、それまでざわめいていた講堂内が静まった。無意識ではあるが、「なにかある」と感じた。

校 長は、「皆さんに重要なお話があります。まず、この集会の理由を説明する前に、校内の、、、」と語りはじめると、講堂はしーんとなった。その後、まるでそ の静寂さを引き継ぐかのように、恰幅のいい(太った)副校長が椅子から立ち上がり、校長に代わって話しはじめた。芝居じみた厳格な声で、ロッカーはきれい にしておくこと、駐車場は最上級生用のもの(一部の下級生たちはこの規則を破っていたが…)、金曜日の集会の前に計画されている激励会について一言――等 など、大した内容でもない話を延々と続けた。明らかに多くの生徒はソワソワしはじめた。

副校長の話が終わると、再び校長が登壇し、胸をいか らせて立った。私はこの時初めて、彼が3つ揃えのスーツに青いネクタイをしていることに気がついた。彼はまた話しはじめた。「生徒および教職員の皆さん、 経営陣の方々。今日集まっていただいたのは、私たちの中に模範となる英雄的行為を行なった賞賛すべき2人がいるからです。昨日、この事実を知らせる電話が ありました」

その瞬間、講堂は静まり返った。その夏に自動車事故があり、人気だった生徒が亡くなったことが伝えられた。この校長の言葉は全員の心を揺さぶった。校長は自分の言葉をドラマチックなものにするために、少し間を置き、そして全員を見渡した。

そ の直後、講堂の後方中央の両開きドアが急に音を立てて開き、皆が一斉に振り返った。誰が入ってきたのかを見るため、大勢が椅子に座る体をよじらせていた。 ドアの向こうから歯切れのよい叫び声が響き渡り、あたかも大洞窟で大声を発した時のように講堂中に反響した。「進めっ、、、行進!!」

立錐の余地がないほどに人でいっぱいの講堂に入ってきたのは、突き出た槍のような留め具に星条旗をつけて行進して軍服姿の2列、6人の軍人だった。先導するのはまるでパットン将軍のように見えた。

この突然の光景を目にした衝撃をどのように語るか、それは本当に難しい。畏敬の念、あるいは恐怖。まるでエイリアンがいきなり眼前に現れたという感じだったのだ。

6 人の軍人たちはピカピカに磨いたブーツを履き、後方4人は肩にライフルを担いでいた。国旗は全体が見えるような角度で掲げ、広い中央通路を行進してきた。 ドスン、ドスン、ドスンという音が講堂の壁に反響して振動した。私は恐怖を感じた。上級生たちが座るステージ前の場所にいる兄をチラッと見た。兄も私を見 ていた。

軍旗衛兵は、分配器にかけられる液体のようにステージの前で二手に分かれた。まるでモールドに流し込まれるように、1列の衛兵がそ れぞれ左右の階段を上ってステージに上がり、隊列が再びひとつになった。寸分違わず行進し、規律正しい歩調でステージ中央の後方に回った。この行進が立て る唯一の音は、魅力的で、しかも、どういうわけか神秘的だった。校長は満面の笑みをたたえて見ていた。この間、私は胸が詰まり、息苦しかった。私は兄の視 線をそらさずにいた。恐怖と不安が私たち2人を襲っていたのだ。

校長は、勲章のメダルをいくつも飾り、胸から光を放っている4つ星の将軍 (大将)を紹介した。将軍は、校長が席に着き、尊大にズボンの埃をはたき、ネクタイをまっすぐに直し終わるまで、背筋をピンと伸ばして壇上のマイクの前に 立っていた。将軍は校長が落ちつくのを待っていたわけではない。将軍は話しはじめるタイミングを分かっていた。そして話しはじめた。

「皆さん!」

砕 けた口調だが、権威と自信に満ちた話し方だった。彼の言葉はピンを落とせばわかるほどに静寂の中で響いた。「5ヶ月前、悲劇的な火災・爆発がありました。 そして、燃える家屋の中に数人が閉じ込められてしまいました。この火災・爆発はこのアトランタで起こったのではありません。遠く離れた米軍駐留基地のある 沖縄で起こりました」

そう言って、彼は一呼吸し、右を見て、左を見て、そして上級生たちのいるところに視線を落とした。私はこれが軍への入隊の勧誘であって欲しいとも思ったが、実は、そうでないこともよくわかっていた。

彼 は続けてこう語った。「米軍の沖縄駐留には問題がつき物です。米軍兵が時々問題を起こしています。また沖縄の日本返還デモもよくあります。ベトナム戦争で は米軍の沖縄駐留は重要な役割を担っているものの、沖縄と米国の関係は常にメディアや反戦主義者、さらには太平洋戦争後の米国沖縄占領に反対する勢力に よって抗議の声が止みません」

将軍が話している間、私は別のことを考えていた。周囲を見回し、逃げ道はないかと探していたのだ。将軍の話が 進むにつれ、私はクラスメートを含め講堂にいる全員の目がステージに釘づけになっているのに気がついた。ひそかに観察すると、誰も私の存在に気がつかない かのようだった。多くの人がそうであるように、私もあれほど自分の名前を覚えてもらい、誰かに注目され、仲よくしてもらい、認めてもらえる存在になりたい と思って努力してきたのに、またよそ者のままでいたくなった。

しかし、もはやそういうわけにはいかない状況が近づいていることもわかっていた。演壇の将軍の話から火災・爆発についての詳細が次々に明らかになってきた。

火災・爆発の様子、家屋を炎が猛スピードで覆ったこと、応急措置にもかかわらず死者が出たこと、犠牲になった人の個人名などは伏せて詳しく説明してくれた。

最後に、「この場にいる2人の英雄的行動に敬意を表して、米太平洋軍の最高司令官の名の下に表彰します。この表彰状を読みあげる前に、ジョーとティム・ラングレー兄弟はステージに上がってきてください」、こう言って将軍は話を終えた

ま るで皆が長い時間、呼吸を止めていたかのような状態から一転して、講堂全体が拍手喝采で沸き上がった。緊張を抑える術を知らなかったら、私は完全にチビッ ていたことだろう。私がすくっと立ち上がると、私の周りに座っていた生徒たちがあっと驚いた。すぐに周りからたくさんの拍手喝さいの手が差し出された。四 方八方からの声と握手で、狭い通路がますます狭くなり、その中を私は抜け出した。

ステージの近くの場所に座っていた私の兄は、ステージの下 でさすがに弟らしく兄の私を待っていてくれた。私を先に押し上げながら階段を上った。私は兄がチビッていないかすばやくズボンを触ってみたが、濡れていな かった。階段を上りながら、「なんて凄いやつだ」と頼もしく思ったものだ。

この記事を読んでクラスメートが送ってきた高校3年生(1970年)のアルバム写真。最近までこの写真のことはすっかり忘れていた。感動である。(エイミー・ワトキンス・ローズが提供)

この記事を読んでクラスメートが送ってきた高校3年生(1970年)のアルバム写真。最近までこの写真のことはすっかり忘れていた。感動である。(エイミー・ワトキンス・ローズが提供)

正直言って、私はステージに上ってからのことはあまり記憶が鮮明ではない。目をキッと前方に向けて直立不動で静止する軍旗衛兵らに囲まれてステージに立ったことも、将軍が額縁入りの表彰状を読みあげたことも、また彼が私たちに話しかけた内容も、あまり覚えてない。

しかし、名前を呼ばれて特別な人として扱われた時の荘厳な雰囲気、私という存在を認めてもらいたかった人たちからの注目、そしてステージに辿りつくまでの短い時間に、よそ者であるという疎外感で悩んでいたことが魔法のように消えてなくなったことを覚えている。

その後、私の高校生活は一変した。私にとって、言葉にできないほどインパクトのある出来事であった。

私 は今もこの表彰式がどのような経緯で企画されたのかわからない。しかし、誰でもこれと同じような状況に遭遇すれば、きっとそうしたであろう行動を私もとっ たに過ぎないが、そうした行為に対して関心を寄せ、表彰してくれたことにとても感謝している。たまたま私と兄の2人がこのような稀有な状況に遭遇したのは 運命のめぐり合わせによるものだと思っている。そこで数人の命が救われたことは幸運なことだった。

1969年の夏に沖縄から米国に帰国する際にアルバイトした米国商船貨物船、デューク・ビクトリー

1969年の夏に沖縄から米国に帰国する際にアルバイトした米国商船貨物船、デューク・ビクトリー

こ のエピソードを披瀝するのも、この出来事がどれだけ私に影響を与えたかを語るのも、これが初めてのことである。仲のよい沖縄時代の友人たちでさえこのこと を知らない。というのも、沖縄で火災・爆発が起こった出来事というのは、私たちが沖縄の那覇港で人手不足の商船貨物船に乗って米国に向けて出航する数週間 前に起きたことだった。友人たちにお別れの挨拶さえ言う時間もなかったからだ。

今も誰か他の人のことを書いているような気分である。振り返れば、はるか遠い昔のことに思えて仕方ない。

ステージで隣りに立った兄と共にまるで異次元の世界に転がり込んだようなアトランタの高校で、多くの同級生、上級生、下級生から大喝采を受けたこと―――想像がつくと思うが、私はこの出来事を決して忘れず、いつも感動し、今でも変わることなく感謝している。

愛国的市民の勲功(Patriotic Civilian Service)に対する表彰状

愛国的市民の勲功(Patriotic Civilian Service)に対する表彰状

 

私の人生には数々の出来事が起こったが、これはその中でも群を抜いたものである。今でも私の記憶の中に鮮明に刻み込まれている。

日本で解雇される理由(再訪)その4/4: 「あれ?辞めないんですか?今度はあなたの業績に問題があることが発覚しました。首です!」(Japanese Part IV)

Getting Fired in Japan: Part 4今年の初め、世界中のメディアを騒がせGetting Fired in Japan: Part 4たゴールドマン・サックス・ジャパンの訴訟の最中に、「日本で解雇される理由」をブログに載せた。ゴールドマン・サックス・ジャパンの長引く訴訟は、全面的攻防の末、結局失敗に終わった。(English here)

訴訟中も、今日においても、ゴールド・マンサックス・ジャパンがお馴染みの攻撃的で即効の解雇を続ける中、最近では、他の企業らが解雇の理由として使う別の手口に注目が集まっている。その手口の中には、度肝を抜くようなものもあり、これら企業が日本の社員を解雇するための必要条件を回避することにものすごい努力をするのに対し、私のような熟練の顧問でさえ従来の対処法では間に合わず、新たな対処方法で対応する必要がある。

つまり皆さんにどんなやり方で解雇が行われているか、知っていただく必要があるのだ。

連載その4(Read Part 1) (Read Part 2) (Read Part 3) この連載では、最近に行われた最も非道な手口を明らかにし、皆さんが同じような境遇に直面したとき、どのように対処できるか提案したい。

最近、この製薬会社は、積極的な人員削減目標を掲げた。人員削減に向けて様々なことが起きている。

同社は、CEOを交代し、従業員に対し優しい人事チームを解雇して、あらゆる最新の強引な人員削減戦略(新興のスキル!)に馴染んでいる熟練の人事チームを採用する責務を担ったある外国人を新たなCEOとして迎えた。以前は、この有名な米国企業は社員を優遇しており、将来のみ通しが明るいとして、公けに自慢していた。実際、以前は自信と献身と安定の拠点であった政府、金融、製薬、軍のサービスの分野において、社会全体に様々な変化が起こっている。

突然、業績考査でも優秀な評価を得て、長年勤務し、献身的な社員らが解雇命令を突きつけられ、3つの選択肢から1つを選ばなければならなくなっている。あなたは、これらの選択肢が一部の社員に対し、習慣的に使われると思うかもしれないが、事実、人員削減は広範囲で包括的に行われている。解雇しにくい社員から解雇していくのだ。

そして、この選択肢はゆっくりと注意深く公表される。

1. 会社に居続けても良いが、降格する。(ところで、会社はあなたを何処に配属するか確かでない。)

2. 別の部署に異動する。(残念ながら、現在は空きのポジションはありません。)

3. 2-3週間分の勤務に相当する解雇手当を受け取る。

当然のごとく、これらの選択肢が提示され、「心配要りませんよ。あなたはとても市場性が高いですからすぐに仕事が見つかりますよ。それに会社が就職コンサルティングを提供しますよ。」と言われる。

柔軟性の無い労働市場とひどい不景気の瀬戸際にある経済という厳しい事実は押しのけられる。「いや、製薬会社や消費財会社は大丈夫。だからあなたは大丈夫ですよ。はいペンをどうぞ。こちらとこちらにサインしてください」という風に。

選択肢から選択することを拒否する(圧力の掛かった短い時間の中で躊躇しただけでも)と、「重大な業績に関する問題」が挙げられる。さらに抵抗すると90日間の業績改善が勧告され、その数日後にはそれを即刻開始すべきだと強く要求される。

この過程を上手く通過する者はほとんど居ない。これは従業員が失敗するように始めから企画されている。というのは、目標は異常なほど高く設定され、しかも厳しい締め切りを課され、不要な仕事を増やされ、パワハラに遭う。頻繁に行われる3時間会議で、幹部は閉鎖された会議室からバタバタ出たり入ったりして、「今日中に決断しなければいけない。」などと言って、従業員を不可能な目標に合意させるのだ。

もし拒否すれば、典型的な心理作戦で、会社はそのような拒否を「そうですか。もうこの会社で働きたくないんでしょう。」と言う風に解釈し、もし決断が無ければ、そのような態度は不服従の行為として、「あなたは管理者の命令に背いています。」と言うだろう。

勢いのある調子で、会社は激怒して説明し、「このような非協力的な態度が、まさに私たちが議論をして、何故あなたが指摘されているかの、そもそもの理由なのです。業績考査プロセスに同意しなさい!」と言って従業員を脅迫する。従業員は、有名な小説、チャッチ=22的な状況に追い込まれる。 この時点でほとんどの社員が到底生き残れない、最低もう90日の地獄という偽りの勤務保障にサインしてしまうだろう。同じ手口の多くの例が九段下で起きている。

この件は残念ながら、従業員の個人的申立てに対し、会社はその立場で争い、訴訟となりそうだ。。本訴訟では、ひどい荒れ模様が予想される。日本での違法な解雇を特集したブログが今後投稿された時にお知らせできるよう、Langley Esquireをフォローしてください。

日本で解雇される理由(再訪)その3/4: 突然、「あなたは最低です!」(Japanese Part III)

今年の初め、世界中のメディアを騒がせたゴールドマン・サックス・ジャパンの訴訟の最中に、「日本で解雇される理由」をブログに載せた。ゴールドマン・サックス・ジャパンの長引く訴訟は、全面的攻防の末、結局失敗に終わった。(English here)Getting Fired in Japan: The "Suddenly, You Suck" Ploy

訴訟中も、今日においても、ゴールド・マンサックス・ジャパンがお馴染みの攻撃的で即効の解雇を続ける中、最近では、他の企業らが解雇の理由として使う別の手口に注目が集まっている。その手口の中には、度肝を抜くようなものもあり、これら企業が日本の社員を解雇するための必要条件を回避することにものすごい努力をするのに対し、私のような熟練の顧問でさえ従来の対処法では間に合わず、新たな対処方法で対応する必要がある。

つまり皆さんにどんなやり方で解雇が行われているか、知っていただく必要があるのだ。

連載その3では、 (Read Part 1) (Read Part 2) 最近に行われた最も非道な手口を明らかにし、皆さんが同じような境遇に直面したとき、どのように対処できるか提案したい。

これは、恵比寿に所在する米系金融機関が使う解雇の手口の話である。この手口は基本的には典型的なものだが、さらに同社特有の仕様で遂行され、一層非道で不快なものにしている。

通常のシナリオであれば、まず本人は非常に辛らつな業績考査を受け取る。そして、これを受け取った時でさえ、本人と担当者は礼儀をわきまえて、お互いの不満を言って議論するであろう。しかし、会社の上層部にいる担当者は、傷ついた感情をなだめる様な口調で、「心配なさらないで下さい。きっと私の業績考査ご覧になったでしょう。これは社内中で起こっていることなのです。いづれにしても今年のボーナスはなさそうなのですから。」と言い、この過程を済ませることが重要である。そしてそれからすばやく話題を変える。結局のところ、誰がボスであるか分かっているので、ここで本人は黙諾する。

案の定、2ヵ月後、本人は、まさにトワイライト・ゾーン/超次元の体験の映画のシーンから出てきたかのように会社に呼びだされ、続く業績不振に対して叱られる。この過程は徐々にエスカレートして行き、突然会社組織表が予告無しに変更され、プロジェクトから外されて人事異動があり。。。これは、周りから本人が本当に敗北者だと疑わせるように仕向ける典型的なステップである。同僚らは会議室などで本人を避けるようになり、本人は会議が終わった後に、会議があったことを知らされる。。。というように本人にとって、非常にストレスとなる。

この過程はついに人事担当者によって、「両者とも、誠心誠意努力してきましたが、残念ながらうまく行きません。私の思うには、3つの選択肢があります。。。」と言われる。そしてそれらの選択肢が説明され、後者になればなるほど、少しずつ条件が悪くなってくる。これらの選択肢とは、たいてい給与減額、香港かシンガポールに異動になるか、辞職するが会社はいくらかお金を出すといったものだ。

しかし同社の解雇にいたっては、もう少しやり方が攻撃的で、基本的には、「あなたは最低ですから、会社はあなたを解雇します。これが解雇通告書です。さようなら。」と言うだけだった。「お礼を言って、さようなら」ではなく、ただ「さようなら。」である。ずいぶん大胆である。

さらに悪いことには、同社との対応を続ける中、(というのも会社は、後の訴訟を避けるために、早く本人と解雇合意書を締結し、会社の住居から出てもらい、その見返りとして未消化分の有給休暇、解雇予告期間の給与の支払いなど、いずれにしても会社が支払う必要があるものを本人に支払う手続きなどがあるため)、会社はさらに悪化するひどい攻撃、中傷及び脅迫を浴びせてきた。これが3ヶ月続いた。

会社はこの間、本人を会社に招き、窓の無い狭い部屋へ連れて行き、2対1のミーティングを何度か行った。そして1人が悪人の警察役で、もう1人が善人の警察役を担当し、2人が入れ替わり立ち代り本人と話した。そして本人の従業員としての立場の弱さや、東京で働くことが不可能になる可能性を脅迫的に指摘し、これまで傷の無い経歴書に「解雇」の文字を載せるより、辞職したほうがいいと勧めたりした。

同社との最後のミーティングで、私は彼に同行し、男性人事担当者と鼻っ柱の強い彼の女性人事仲間を驚かせた。それでも、この2人の人事らは完全な自由裁量権に慣れていたので、彼らは彼らの策略を貫き、筋書き通りの役割を遂行した。彼らが完全支配しているということを痛感させるため、彼らの言い分を私たちに浴びせ、それに対するこちらの返答に対し、いちいち2人の人事はお互いを見て、あきれ果てて目玉を上に向けた。(実際にはやっていないが、耳の脇に身か指を出して、ヘリコプターのまねをするようなものだ。全く馬鹿にしている。)非現実的であった。

要領を得ない話しで3度目にこちらの言い分を阻止すると、本人は当然の事ながら、「私の言いたいことは未だ済んでいないので、どうか話の邪魔をしないで下さい。」と言った。驚いたことに、即時反応が返ってきた。

明らかに、ここで会社側と議論をする際、この種の態度や話法は受け入れられない。女性の人事職員が凍りついたような顔で、無表情で、その場を立ち去り、すぐに戻ってきた。

女性人事職員がじっとして黙って、細い目から矢を投げるようにこちらを睨み付けている間も、男性人事担当者との議論は続いた。女性人事はずっと黙ったままで、会議を終えて失礼すると、会議室の外にいた警備員の集団とぶつかったのだ!これは信じられないほど極めて侮辱的で傲慢的行為だった。明らかにここでは日常のことである。

この過程を経験する方には、前もって警告しておきますが、人事とのいかなる交渉には非常に気をつけなければなりません。実際のところ、交渉の段階で既にあなたは何を言っても無駄なのです。あなたがまだ交渉をしていると思っているとき、実際は、あなたは彼らにとって単なる標本なのです。彼らのマントラは「列に戻って、言われたとおり行動しろ!」なのです。

会社はあまりにも短絡的で従業員を力ずくで辞めさせることができると信じています。日本人従業員に関して言えば、これは一般的に事実です。ほとんどの日本人社員はただサインしてしまいます。限られた時間の中で、従業員1人が、この過程において、心理専門家とも言える複数の管理職員らに立ち向かう場合、当人は赤子同然です。誰もこんな状況に陥りたくありませんが、時には正義のために戦わなくてはなりません。残念なことに、本件は訴訟になる運びです。

(Part 4で続き読む)

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日本で解雇される理由(再訪)その2/4: 1年雇用契約 (Japanese Part II)

ティム・ラングレーが2012年12月6日に投稿

今日は、日本で解雇される理由のその2として、話を続けたい。(Part 1を読む方はこちら)(English hereFalse One-Year 'Career' Contract

1年雇用契約の策略において、会社は資格のある既に雇用されている熟練の従業員を探し出す。このために、会社はたいてい、あらゆる一般のヘッドハンターを使い、東京の競合他社内を探し回り、少しだけ前職より高い給与と条件の良い報酬パッケージをオファーする。

雇用契約書を実行する時になると、突然調子が変わる。

本人は、彼の雇用担当者(入社するという決断が基本的になされた後)から、「本社シドニーの要求を満たすため、というのも彼らは日本の雇用がどれだけ困難か理解していないので、雇用契約書は1年契約となります。」とウインクをしながら告げられる。

雇用担当者は、これについて熱弁をふるうであろう。

「全ての。。。つまり例外なく全ての従業員がこの1年契約で就業を開始します。でも心配なさらないでください。これは単に形式上のものなのです。だって、私は未だここにいるじゃないですか!しかも、あなたが安定した正社員の職を離れて、1年だけ働くために入社することは決して無いと理解しております。心配無用です。これはあなたの出世への道であり、会社はあなたが素晴らしい業績をあげてくれると確信しています。あなたを探し出し、雇用するためにどれだけ会社がお金を費やしたか見れば分かるでしょう!」

この手法は従来使われている「ここ日本ではお互いを信頼してるので、紛らわしく、意味の無い、長ったらしい書面での契約が必用なあなたの国とは違うのです。私を信じてください。私があなたの面倒を見ますから。さあ、これで手を打ちましょう。」というパターンのちょっとした変形である。

市場が下落基調を続ける中、この金融機関から解雇されて、ばかばかしく感じ、激怒している元1年契約の社員が大勢いる。この詐欺行為に対して、調停中の2件を含め、対処しようとする取り組みが何度か行われているが、進行中の数件があり、労働組合を結成する新たな動きがあり、また既に数件が訴訟で敗訴している状況だ。

さらにこの状況(一層加速して困難な状況になって)を苛立たせることに、人事ディレクターは香港勤務(東京にいる人事スタッフ単なる使い走り/末端の職員)なのだ。つまり、通常よりも、控訴は一層難しいのだ。この人事ディレクターは特に頑固な暴君であった。交渉は全く無く、論理も無く、彼女が命令すること以外はありえなかった。この香港勤務の官僚は、安全にも遠く離れたシドニーに所在する会社ための完璧な補完財のようである。

このような、扱いにくく、傲慢な会社に対処するには、厚い板でぴしゃりと連打することが必要だ。会社の唯一の戦略は、否定し、曖昧にし、怒鳴り散らし、力ずくで、頑固に我が道を行くというものだ。

香港では、これが第二の天性であるため、状況は非常に進行が遅い。しかし、この件では、他の件が失敗する運命に遭ったと同じように、最終的な支払いという形での返済は、強欲な会社にとって辛い経験であろう。彼らはゴールドマン・サックス・ジャパンに助言を求めるべきだろう。

本件での明らかな教訓は、この種の状況を回避するということである。しかし問題は、ずる賢く、自己中心的な人たちは、あなた対する安全、保障及び献身が堅実なものであると説明する時、必ずシルクのように滑らかで、巧妙で、心に響くほど親しみを感じさせてしまうということだ。ですから、これは戦うに値する戦いなのである。

本件においても、進展があり次第、引き続き報告をしたい。しかし、ここで心に留めておくべき重要な点は、会社側の構想を実行し、従業員を見捨てて投げ捨てるための、当然のことと思われている会社の「権利」を保持するためのこの長期的戦略の企画は、長い時間と思考を必要とするということだ。

想像しただけでも、これは極悪非道だと分かる。あなたがあまり深く調査したくない人たちの性質を明らかにしてください。本件はまず、会社のトップの性質を明らかにした。

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(続けてPart 3を読む)

 

Recognition

One of the coolest things that ever happened to me occurred in high school just after I moved to Atlanta in 1969.  I haven’t spoke of it until now, even among friends, because it always seemed so self-aggrandizing… still, it is admittedly a pretty cool thing to befall someone:

This was after spending my formative years growing-up at the height of the Vietnam War on the island of Okinawa, an American-controlled tropical island.  Okinawa is a necklace of islands strung-out between Japan and Taiwan.

That a war was ongoing was evident everywhere. Okinawa was a beehive of activity related to this effort: thousands of soldiers, huge hospital complexes and military vehicles of every description on the roads and in the sky.  The air thumped throughout the day with Huey helicopters crisscrossing each other and landing nearby.  As kids, we’d sit on a boonie-grass knoll and watch lines and lines of B-52s lumber down the tarmac and takeoff for bombing runs five hours away.  These grey beasts looked like they would never possibly get airborne, so huge and obviously overburdened they were.  Especially after watching squadrons of Phantoms

SR-71 Blackbird super-secret spy plane.

rocketing on takeoff, these behemoth Stratofortress super weapons seemed to taxi down the runway, miraculously lifting off at the very end as if screamingly lucky; SR-71 spy planes would cruise in, still glowing from the friction heat their speed produced.  Incredible.

Kubasaki Junior High School, west side of the island of Okinawa facing the South China Sea. 1969.

After finishing the ninth-grade in a POW-type campus comprised of Quonset huts, sitting right on the turquoise colored South China Sea, a WATTS call from my father in Vietnam announced we would be moving to Atlanta where he would retire.

My ’65 Corvair; had a nasty habit of just clunking-down: uncool.

“Where is Atlanta?” my baby sister squealed; “who cares?” we all sang in unison, “we’re going HOME!”  After a military life with 7 siblings, on 2~3 year tours here / there / everywhere, picking-up, starting again only to leave again once best-friends were found, and repeating over and over… well, this was a joy beyond description.  Finally, after a life as transients, Home.

Entering an established community of civilians in NE Atlanta was a strange experience, precisely because it was soo…..Americana.  My brother and I joined the football team as nobodies, purchased a passable jalopy Corvair from money we earned working as deckhands on a Merchant Marine ship; we attempted to blend in.

Briarcliff cheer squad… really, the only true reason anyone would actually play football.

That was a tall order: the cute girls were already spoken for, the in-groups already firmly established, we were outsiders in the truest sense: our hair and our clothes were all wrong, our lingo grating… we didn’t blend.  To make matters worse, fighting for slots on a team populated as well with fathers on sidelines who had participated for years and years in practices, team events, summer sessions… well, we were worse than just nobodies: we were interlopers.

This all changed after school had been in session for a month or so.

An announcement crackled over the speakers throughout the school in mid-class one day… something almost unheard of…. instructing all the students into the huge gymnasium for “an assembly”. Everyone quickly, gleefully packed into the hallways for a class-by-class march to the gym.

Once inside, it was surprising that the entire floor was already

decked-out in folding chairs, bleachers reaching into the floorspace from both sides. The entire school from 8th Grade to 12th would completely fill this void.  In 10 minutes, the place was packed to the rafters, huge floor fans circulating the muggy air.

The stage was populated with the Administration seated at an angle off to the side.  The Principal stood and watched, nodding every once in a while into the audience, maybe to a teacher or some pet student; he alone occupied center stage as if basking in some new-found insight.

I followed my classmates to one of the side bleachers… to the right and closer to the stage than the baby 9th graders but miles away from the god-like Seniors who naturally, even now in this cavernous auditorium, threw their weight around with aplomb.  Rank has its privileges; I already knew that.

The Principal cleared his throat into the mic and the din slowly subsided.  Something was definitely up.

The Principal further calmed the room by beginning with: “I have an important announcement to explain the reason for this Assembly but first, some preliminary items of school-business…” and as if on que, the beefy Vice Principal stood from his seated position and replaced the Principal.  This fellow, in a too-forced stern voice, began with something about keeping the lockers clean, that the parking in the lot was reserved only for Seniors (and undeserving underclassmen were violating this), a word about the upcoming Pep Rally planned before Friday’s big game, and on-and-on, drone-drone-drone… the natives were getting visibly restless.

Finishing-up, the Principal leaped to the podium again, rising to his full height.  I noticed for the first time that he was wearing a three-piece suit, bright blue tie.  He begins: “Students, Administration, Staff – we’ve been called together today because I received a phone-call yesterday informing me that in our midst are two shining examples of heroism that need to be acknowledged.” The room fell suddenly quiet.  Over the summer, there had been a terrible car wreck in which a favorite student was killed, so this resonated immediately.  He paused for dramatic effect, looking around the audience.

Then from the back of the auditorium, the center double-doors sprung open nosily.  A number of people in the crowd physically jumped in their seats as all heads turned in unison to see what was the intrusion.  From the unseen foyer beyond the doors, a crisp shout echoed through the packed cavern… “Forward… MARCH!”

Into this fully packed auditorium marched a military procession, replete with flags on pointed, spear-like lances, two lines of six soldiers fully decked-out in military regalia, led by some guy who looked like General Patton.

I cannot even begin to describe the impact this had on the audience.  Awe, fear… as if a group of aliens had suddenly appeared in our living room… “poof!” like that.

This group marched in practiced unison down the wide middle aisle, boots shining, rifles on the shoulders of the rear four, flags pointed at an angle to display the full colors.  Clomp-clomp-clomp echoing and reverberating off the walls.  A feeling of dread consumed me.  I shot a glance at my brother sitting in the Senior’s section; his eyes were already riveted on me.

The color guard divided similar to liquid hitting a divider, splitting in front of the stage in military precision, one file to the stairs on either side, up the stage and poured, as if into a mold, as a backdrop behind the podium… without missing a single beat… totally in unison and in perfect cadence.   This alone, the only sound as they made this procession, was mesmerizing and somehow mystical.  The Principal watched with a grin beaming on his face.  By now my stomach was in my throat and I had difficulty breathing.  I held my brother’s gaze.  Trepidation gripped the two of us.

The Principal introduced the medal-festooned officer, a four-star General with literally light ricocheting off his chest.  He stood ramrod straight in front of the mic until the Principal sat-down, dusted-off his pants leg self-importantly and straightened his tie.  The General did not even bother to look… he just knew… and when he was ready, he started:

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, a tone conversational yet seeped in power and confidence, his first words echoed into a silence where even a pin drop would be noticed. “Five months ago, there was a tragedy, a fire and an explosion, where several people were trapped inside a burning house.  What makes this incident so remarkable is that this occurred not here in Atlanta but far away on the island of Okinawa, a place where the US military maintains a dominant presence.” He paused, looked left, right, and then down at the Seniors. I was praying this would be a “We Want You” speech for recruitment though I already knew better.

He continued, “This presence is not without problems…. soldiers get into trouble, there are riots for the return of the islands to Japan, the Vietnam War effort is largely centered on our presence in Okinawa. The relations between the Okinawan civilians and the United States are constantly under attack in the media and by elements against the war and against the United States occupation of Okinawa since the end of the Pacific War.”

As he continued, I nervously looked around, seeking a hole to escape into.  I noticed all the eyes in the auditorium, those of my classmates, focused exclusively on the stage in front as this scene unfurled.  I was invisible, as if secretly observing and no one noticing.  I realized that that Thing I so desperately wanted, even after months of attempting to have someone notice me, to remember my name, to welcome me warmly into a gathered crowd after school as were many in a daily, predictable ritual… well, I wanted to just remain anonymous again. I knew this wasn’t to be and it was unfolding far too rapidly, too unstoppably.

After describing the explosion and the breaking into a flame-engulfed house, the first-aid, the deaths involved… and pregnantly refraining from mentioning any names, he finally concluded by saying, “… and in recognition of the heroic efforts of these two young men seated in this auditorium, the Commander-in-Chief of Pacific Forces has commissioned the following citation.  I would like to read this citation but first, I would like to ask brothers Joe and Tim Langley to come up.”

As if it’d been holding it’s collective breath far too long, the entire auditorium exploded in applause and cheer!  Had I not been better trained, I am absolutely certain my pants would have been covered in my own urine.  I stood-up, surprising those seated around me, and maneuvered through a suddenly constricted pathway made all the more narrow with outstretched hands and claps and remarks hurled from every direction.

My brother, closer to the stage, waited for me on the gym floor and, like a big brother, pushed me up the stairs first, in front of him.  What a guy, I thought to myself as I checked quickly to see if his front was wet (it wasn’t) and mounted the stairs.

As appeared in the ’70 Senior Album, sent by a classmate after reading this article… completely forgotten photo. Wow. (credit: Amy Watkins Rhodes)

I honestly don’t remember much about standing up there surrounded by a crisp color guard, their eyes steely glued forward, or of the General reading directly from the frame-enclosed citation, or the words spoken thereafter.

I do remember, however, the awe and the magnificence of standing there, identified and singled-out, surrounded by those whose mere acknowledgment I had craved, and feeling the anxiety of being an outsider magically melt away. My high school life was forever transformed after that… and for a new kid, that’s a pretty big deal.

To this day I don’t know how such an event was conceived or organized but I am so grateful that someone took the time and the interest in acknowledging something that anyone would have done in a similar circumstance.  Honestly, it is just by a twist of fate that it was my brother and me who were placed in a unique situation and where, fortunately, some lives were saved.

The Duke Victory, a merchant marine cargo ship that brother Joe and I worked on as our way to get back to the United States from Okinawa, summer of ’69.

This is the first time I have ever revealed this story or how it impacted me.  Even pals in Okinawa never knew of this since it happened just weeks before we finagled work on an underhanded Merchant Marine ship in Naha Port and sailed away the next morning from that time in space… without even saying “goodbye”.  Even now it feels like I am writing about someone else, so far and long ago that era seems now.

Anyway, standing there on that stage next to my brother, receiving an ovation from all these strangers in this very strange place we tumbled into… well, you can imagine: for me,  I was forever touched by and still remain eternally grateful for that.

Citation for Patriotic Civilian Service

Of all the interesting and remarkable things that have happened to me, this is by far the coolest.

Four Months Afterwards…

It has been a long while since my last post; let me update you on what’s been going on.

While most of the foreigners who fled due to the nuclear reactor situation in Fukushima have returned, there are plenty of lingering aftereffects. In most cases, foreign and Japanese families returned to Tokyo in April/May, finished schooling, then departed for summer vacation (Japanese school system runs year-round April-to-March, summer break in August).  Tokyo as a result is full of abandoned husbands.

The impact of radiation leakage has spread pretty seriously however.  Just this week, it is announced that beef contaminated by irradiated hay has been shipped throughout the archipelago and entered the food chain; this is for sure and without doubt.  Recall is not mentioned, suggesting a collective “oooopps!” from the Japanese government as the only manageable English translation for what should be a major “gomen-nasai” and the unsheathing of the short blade.

The rebuilding – if it can be called that – in the north is going strong but slow; it is just so massive.  Since the triple disasters, there have been two major vacations here (Golden Week – 10 days, 3-day weekend last week)(yes, even a 3-day-weekend is cause enough for celebration in this country of workaholics).  Yet, what happened then and continuously in fact since mid-March is almost unfathomable: the steady stream of people to volunteer.  There are one-day trips, weekend trips, one-week forays… the whole nine-yards. Schools send soccer teams up, companies organize to distribute product or erect temporary-shelter, people arrange to take their vacation-time to go … the list is as endless as is the proliferation of this sense of duty throughout the entire country.

Everyone comes back with similar stories of the stench, the mind-numbing magnitude, the herculean effort being devoted.  It is truly astounding.

In addition to just getting down on your knees to scrub walls or spoon-up sea-salt contaminated dirt in neighborhoods or parks, people understand that simply spending money at hotels, grocery markets, restaurants is a good way to help, too.  So in Sendai they organized a festival this weekend (3-day-weekend).  Anticipating 50,000, organizers had to cancel when more than 130,000 showed-up along the festival route!  The same thing with volunteers: waiting in line, registering, getting an assignment, situating yourself (and being fully self-sufficient in the process by bringing your own food, water, tools, gloves, steel-bottomed shoes, cookware, etc. and etc.), the logistics is itself a challenge.  But people stoically soldier on, make friends, wait without frustration, put-on-a-good face, exude a good attitude.

For me, though not even Japanese, I feel pride and awe (and this was before the tremendous women’s soccer victory of yesterday!).

As unbearable as the situation is, the people who lived through this ordeal must continue to maintain in their damaged houses, live in shelter nearby or risk losing their land and house.  Essentially, the Japanese government will exercise eminent domain at any suggestion that the property is “abandoned” (and there is PLENTY of that: many areas effected by the tsunami lost 40% of their population, some even more).  In most cases, the records of ownership have all been destroyed and they STILL have not figured-out who is alive / who is dead / whose is what.

So thousands of women devote their energies to cleaning and scrubbing inside waterlogged houses to make them livable (the men assigned more physical, manual labor).  In the meantime, flies and bugs are everywhere and making, for the queasy, everything just that much more difficult. And this is on “holiday” time? And you might get a shower after a hard day but then again you might not?  And the whole time the earth continues to shake and you are at or near sea-level?  And a steady uphill sprint of 2~3 km. may or may not save you?

Incredible video runs on the television from time-to-time show soldiers still digging through mud chest-high in catch basins for accumulated parts of bodies.  They trudge, collecting and preserving articles of clothing, wallets, wrist-watches, and claw their way forward. Armies of volunteers clean and preserve these artifacts, tag them with notes, and display them for bereaved to view.  Warehouses devoted just for this are full – row-upon-row; a steady stream of visitors come-in all day long, walking quietly up one aisle, down another.

In the meantime, a massive, major typhoon approaches from the south, scheduled to strike Tokyo on Wednesday / Thursday before kicking-out to sea again.

So how am I taking all this?  When the swarms of locusts arrive and the rivers run red, I guess then I will be ready to call it quits.  Until then, surrounded by all this stoic beauty it is difficult to walk when others continue.

More to follow…  clicking “like” or volunteering encouragement to continue with a comment would be warmly welcomed.

Battle of Okinawa

Like many of my pals who grew-up and were indelibly touched… even infected by time spent on Okinawa, we have ‘a thing for’ the island.  We know where the significant battles were, have extensively explored the gun-emplacements (now mostly removed and consumed again by jungle), the sunken wrecks, the tunnels that hid soldiers, villagers, provisions, the wounded. The vast fields of tombstones where final stands were made are familiar sites.  When I stumbled upon this book, I was immediately moved to share it with others simply because it is so profound and physical; I don’t think it is just me.

Published this month is Author Jeff Shaara’s moving & revealing book on a truly epic battle entitled

The Final Storm: A Novel of the War in the Pacific. The book is currently on the NYT’s Best Seller List.

Jeff Shaara describes his motivation for writing the book:

Though Hollywood has given us countless ways to dramatize the Second World War in the Pacific, the challenge for me was to bring to the reader a story that isn’t simply a rehash of everything you’ve heard before. And, where Hollywood is often less concerned with keeping the history accurate, I have always felt that if I’m going to tell any story like this, “getting it right” is key. When dealing with World War II, my research often included conversations with living veterans, and ignoring their truth just to “beef up” the tale, does an incredible injustice to what those veterans accomplished.

In the Second World War, the Japanese were unlike any enemy we had ever faced, a very different enemy than the Germans. We had very little understanding of their culture, of how seriously they took their loyalty and obedience to their emperor, and we were completely unprepared for their willingness to die rather than accept the dishonor of surrender. For young soldiers and Marines who faced this determination, the fights often became a slaughter on a scale no one could have imagined. To put a nineteen year old boy into that position, and hope that he responds appropriately is not a typical method of training our young troops.

In researching The Final Storm, I was surprised to find a significant amount of humanity among the Japanese commanders whose voices became a vital part of this story. Okinawa was the last great stronghold that held the American wave away from Japan itself, and the Japanese troops assigned to defend the island country knew that there could be no retreat. The Americans who confronted them had to fight not only this extreme dedication, but the weather and the geography as well. A fight that was scheduled to last a month, took three. How and why are far more interesting to me than a simple history lesson.

If this story is not a history lesson, it is also not an exercise in blood and guts. That kind of story would get old very quickly. What has always drawn me to these stories are the characters. I am not concerned with giving you every detail of the numbers of casualties or the positions of troops. There are historians far more qualified to do that. My job as the storyteller is to find the voices that will carry you (along with me) into the story itself. My search is to find a story beneath the history lesson, to feel it, hear it, smell it, to explore not only the horror, but the laughter (and yes, there is laughter. There has to be.) What kind of thinking and agonizing goes into command decisions? What makes a nineteen year old Marine rise up from a muddy hole to drive forward into the enemy he cannot even see?

While much of The Final Storm focuses on the great struggle for Okinawa, this story does not end there. One more extraordinary drama must be played out, the story of how the Second World War actually ends: the dropping of the first atomic bombs. Through characters such as Paul Tibbets and General Curtis LeMay, I try to show just how much tension and how much mystery surrounded the bombs themselves. Consider that, to the young crews of the aircrafts that were to carry the bombs over Japan, none had any idea what would happen when the bombs were actually exploded, whether their own planes would disintegrate, along with the targets they were seeking. On the ground, the Japanese civilians had already experienced massive bombing strikes from American planes, and so, on that morning of August 6, 1945, the sight of a single B-29 bomber high in the clouds above causes no real concern. That point of view is here as well, a Japanese doctor who is weary of the war, of what he knows to be the propaganda being fed to the people by their military. And yet, he has his own duty to fulfill.

There are debates ongoing today about whether the United States did the “right thing” by ending the war the way we did. The decisions made by President Harry Truman are controversial even now. My job is not to anguish over morality, or debate what is politically correct. Ultimately I have one goal: to bring you the best and most accurate story I can, as told by those who were there. With so few veterans of World War Two remaining with us, I believe we must be reminded just why we owe them our thanks, and why their legacies must be remembered. I hope you enjoy the story.

Whether you visit Okinawa or not, read this book and reflect on what happened.  While most chose to downplay it, beyond the turtleback tombs, the sandy beaches, the coral reefs that stretch far off into the surf, this place is sacred.  Incredible, indescribable sacrifices were made; we all benefit from this legacy.

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