Every year my Japanese friend, Mitsuo, visits a son that lives and works in my US neighborhood. He recounted how his mother drummed it into him each morning as he left for school that he should be attentive. Of course, he needed to be attentive in his class; but, much more, he needed to be attentive outside.
The advice paid dividends. Mitsuo survived the war and later worked his whole life for the multinational company whose US branch his son now served.
With a little hesitation, I responded by telling Mitsuo of a singular experience I had had in 1943. I was visiting my uncle with my mother twenty blocks from our home in Kolkata, when the piercing wail of a siren struck terror. We knew what it meant, for we had been told in school that an attack was imminent by the Japanese army, which was already at the frontier of Burma, now Myanmar, and that the land invasion was likely to be preceded by bombardment.
A half-hour later, as the All Clear sounded, we walked back home. Six blocks down I saw what mother didn’t want me to see: three flattened tenements, two dead cows, and next to that the grotesquely crumpled body of the local milkman, who supplied us milk every morning. Apparently he wasn’t paying attention and had chosen to stay with his cows instead of going down to the air-raid shelter.