It had been a year of waiting and planning. Winds were quiet, the sun played loudly. It was one deep breathe that pushed Yukio Mishima forward. It was a speech meant to seize the hearts of soldiers, to grab them by their shoulders and shake them. Wake up! Wake up! We must take it! That's what he wanted it to mean…that's how he had dreamt it...or perhaps he didn't. Perhaps it went a bit differently as he slept. Perhaps he meant for it to be a grandiose exit. Perhaps, he had planned it that way all along.
For a year, Yukio Mishima and the Tatenokai (The Shield Society) had plotted to overthrow the Emperor. Their anger stemmed from the Emperor's renouncement of his divinity. Yukio, who had fought in World War II, aggressively armored himself to such an announcement. He felt that too many "gallons of blood had been shed for our living god…our Emperor." The plot seems thin…how could such a reasonable thought spurn a man to such a violent coup d'etat, they thought. The answer lie simply in Yukio's strict belief in bushido, the code of the samurai. Yukio felt strongly that Emperor Hirohito should have been abdicated and held responsible for the loss of life in WWII. In the eyes of the samurai, those lives were lost in vain.
On November 25, 1970 Yukio and the Tatenokai visited Ichigaya Camp, headquarters of the Eastern Command of Japan's Defense Forces. Yukio captured the Commandant and the Tatenokai barricaded themselves in the Commandant's office. It was then that Yukio made his desperate appeal to the soldiers to rise up and overthrow the Emperor. The soldiers scoffed the young man's words, they laughed at his passion. He had failed. In his mind, in the mind of the samurai he possessed but one option…seppuku. Suicide by plunging a dagger into his stomach. The final step in seppuku is for the defeated samurai to be beheaded. Yukio walked plainly into the Commandant's office and stuck a dagger in his stomach. He bled out slowly. His head was then removed from his body and the movement was dead. Yukio had left the world as a young man, which is exactly what desired.
"All I desire is beauty," Yukio wrote in his diary. He struggled to find the beauty in a post-WWII Japan. Harold Curlman wrote, "He wanted to make himself beautiful as well as strong. Beauty for him was purity, a purity which might realize itself in noble action. He did not want to grow old for then he would not die beautiful. But his love of beauty was not simply personal."
His love of beauty was not simply personal in that it extended to post-war Japan. "We watched Japan become drunk on prosperity," he said, "and fall into an emptiness of the spirit." Japan, its culture, its poetry had become ugly to him. He had built up a romantic image of what he thought it should be…he romanticized Emperor Hirohito as a divine being, it broke him when the Emperor failed to live up to his expectations. No one could live up to the poet's expectations. No one ever has.
Yukio was a poet, a novelist, a playwright, an essayist, an actor, and a model. A homosexual man, he married a beautiful woman who gave him two children. He was a loving husband and father, but it seemed he felt trapped in his own body. His novel Confessions of a Mask touch heavily on this idea. The novel follows a young homosexual man, Kochan, who struggles to find his place in Imperial Japan. Kochan is wearing a mask, hiding his true feelings. Many believe this work to be highly autobiographical.
By the time of his suicide, his final farewell to an ugly world, he had written thirty-four novels, fifty plays, twenty-five collections of short stories, and countless essays. The man was an artist urging his country to beauty...unreachable beauty. He had always wanted to die young and beautiful. His coup d'etat, however unlikely, was his final attempt at achieving such beauty. A final romantic plea. One last beautiful goodbye. He knew it would not work. He knew November 25, 1970 would be his last day. He was 45.
"We need back up or we'll die out here," Special Agent Jack R. Coler radioed in to dispatch.
"I'm hit!" Special Agent Ronald A. Williams screamed.
"Williams is hit! I repeat Williams is hit!"
The fire fight would continue for the next ten minutes before both agents would succumb to gunshot wounds. On June 26, 1975 the two agents had travelled to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in pursuit of a man named Jimmy Eagle. They were seeking to question Eagle in connection with two assaults and armed robberies in the local area.
Their deaths have never been explained, although they have been pinned to an innocent man. His name is Leonard Peltier. Close range gunshot wounds to the head had killed the two special agents, but it was not by the hand of Peltier. In numerous interviews with Peter Matthiessen, author of In The Sprit of Crazy Horse (1983), Peltier provides numerous alibis. These alibis went unheard, or rather ignored for by December of 1975 Peltier had been catapulted to the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted List.
Peltier successfully fled to Hinton, Alberta before he was captured and extradited by the FBI. Like a flag of war they waved an affidavit signed by Myrtle Poor Bear, a Native American woman who claimed to have been Peltier's girlfriend and to have witnessed the murders. She would later renounce her statements and speak of the intimidation methods used by the FBI.
The trial that followed was muddled by corruption and flagged excessively with planted guns and made up stories and false records. Peltier never had a chance. His only chance, his only steward, his only ally was Peter Matthiessen.
Peter Matthiessen worked tirelessly to clear Leonard Peltier's name, tearing back the skin of the entire corrupt case - using his writing as his weapon. The details lay masterly in his book which I mentioned earlier. Matthiessen died on April 5, 2014, finally giving in to leukemia. He was 86.
Upon hearing of his death Peltier, still incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary, Coleman in Florida, had this to say:
"Peter, if you are looking down on us you can see me as I'm writing this. My eyes are not clear and I miss you already. I asked you in our last phone conversation to please not leave me here. Wait for me. I know in my heart you tried. I love you and I will miss you terribly. I will see you soon, my brother, as my time is coming."
RIP Peter Matthiessen
He was a philosopher and a poet and a lover and a man and a god. Born in the Zhou Dynasty, it's difficult to know who or what Lao Tzu or Laozi or Lao Dan or Boyang exactly was, but it's very plain to see the impact his words have had - simply read them to understand them.
"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage."
"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like."
"Silence is a source of great strength."
"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading."
"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving."
"Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will be blunt."
"If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present."
Many scholars have likened him to an all encompassing mythic figure pushing the teachings and words of Taoism. His famed work Tao Teh Ching has been believed by many scholars to be more of a compilation, a work drafted by many different hands. Perhaps, the many different hands make this man, Lao Tzu…perhaps, the many different hands have helped to sculpt this man into a god. Immortal. Wise beyond the confines of one man. The deity of a religion. The teacher of a thought. It's much more romantic to think that a single man, a mortal with with such wisdom and enlightenment lived…it's much more beautiful to think that one man dreamt with such vision and wrote with such pulse…rather than a group of people working together to construct a myth. It's much simpler that way, to be believe it was a single mortal…That's what he preached, to live life simply.
It's said that Lao Tzu was chiefly a combination of three different men. The first was a man named Li Erh or Li Tan, from the Chinese imperial capital, Loyang. This man was a contemporary of the Chinese Philosopher Confuscius (559-471 BCE) and it is written that Confucius came to Loyang to learn from Li Tan the ancient Zhou ritual.
The second man was a man called Lao Lai Tzu, and he has also been credited as the founder of Taoism. He is credited with a fifteen-chapter book explaining the teachings of the Taoist School. He was the same age as Confucius. Nothing more is known about this man.
The third man…the third Lao Tzu lived one-hundred and twenty nine years after the death of Confucius. This third man was called Tan and served as the historian of the Zhou Dynasty.
Confucius is a common thread between the three of these men…the three Lao Tzus. It seems that there it never one man who embodied the legendary Lao Tzu, the legendary philosopher, the contemporary of Confucius, the adversary, the enlightened, and the man whom Confucius looked to for advice and wisdom and counsel. It seems that Lao Tzu is but a name and a myth…a name that adds legitimacy to any scattered thought.
Lao Tzu operated much the same way that the Dred Pirate Roberts did. The Dred Pirate Roberts was not one man, rather he was many different men…it was the name that held the power, it was not the man behind the name. It was passed down through generations, fanning the flames of fear as it went, stacking the logs of legend. Lao Tzu did the same, and probably better…it was an outlet for rogue thoughts of brilliance to be remembered for a lifetime. It's amazing that these thoughts and these ideas are still relevant, or at least still available today. Lao Tzu will always live on, and we will always wonder who this man was…who was Lao Tzu?
Hard to say, but he's still around today.