Peace, love and Godzilla

Last night, with my Godzilla geek rising in advance of the U.S. release of the new film Godzilla Minus One, I took another of my occasional looks at the film that started it all, the 1954 Japanese classic Gojira, and was again struck by what an awesome film it is and still so relevant in this crazy world of ours.

The crux of the film is convincing research scientist Dr. Serizawa to employ the horrible weapon he accidentally discovered to kill the 150-meter-tall monster that has ravaged Tokyo — an ancient dinosaur made even more dangerous due to the radiation from H-bomb tests in the Pacific. 

Serizawa is convinced his device — the oxygen destroyer — must remain a secret for humanity’s sake.

“If the oxygen destroyer is used even once, politicians from around the world will see it. Of course, they’ll want to use it as a weapon,” Serizawa explains. “Bombs vs. bombs, missiles vs. missiles, and now a new super weapon to throw upon us all! As a scientist — no, as human being, I can’t allow that to happen.” 

He is finally convinced by the televised images of the ruined Tokyo and a girls choir singing a mournful prayer for peace called “Oh Peace, Oh Light, Return”:

May we live without destruction
May we look to tomorrow with hope
May peace and light return to us

But Serizawa insists on operating the oxygen destroyer himself, burns all his notes, and after deploying the underwater weapon that destroys the giant monster, he cuts the hose that links him to the surface, choosing to die rather than to risk being coerced to share the secrets of the horrible device with the damned politicians.

As the story closes, Professor Yamane, who has served in the role of the scientist who wants to study Godzilla, not destroy him, says, “I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving members of its species, but if we keep on conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear, somewhere in the world, again.”

The film ends with a reprise of the prayer for peace. 

The story was sanitized when Gojira was recut for American audiences and titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Serizawa’s on-target description of political animals was excised. The words of the hymn were never shared, leaving only its mournful tone. And, of course, Yamane’s warning that we should stop testing nuclear weapons was nowhere to be heard.

In fact, the original Japanese version of the film was impossible to find in the U.S. outside of bootleg editions. I was one of the first in line to buy the DVD when it finally was released in America in 2004, the 50th anniversary of the movie.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters was one of the formative movies of my childhood, fueling my love of science fiction and the fantastic, but I was thunderstruck upon seeing the film its creators intended. 

Its message, nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is simple and powerful: May we live without destruction; may we look to tomorrow with hope. That U.S. citizens were not allowed to see that film for 50 years speaks volumes.

Dream. You cannot fail.

From the archive: This is from my book Refuse to be Afraid.

“Self-help” is an entire category of book; an industry has grown around materials that give people advice about how to live a more successful life. I think the reason more people don’t find success is that they spend more time studying the principles than putting the principles into action.

One question I find frequently in such materials is: What would you do today, right here and right now, if you knew you could not fail? A corollary of the question: What would you do today, right here and right now, if money was no object?

The point of posing these questions is to remove obstacles to your thinking process. Too often creativity is held back by fear of failure or by the perception that a great deal of money is required to launch whatever endeavor you may be considering.

Therefore it’s a liberating and exciting exercise to set your mind free by imagining you can’t fail and/or that you can afford everything you need to succeed. But one more step is necessary to pop your dream over the top and into reality.

Imagine this: You’re not imagining things.

You cannot fail. Money is no object.

I need you to ponder that carefully, I need that to sink in, so I’m going to repeat it.

You cannot fail. Money is no object.

When you set your mind on a vision that fires up your dreams, it’s as if the forces of the universe align to make it happen. Try not to think too hard about why that’s true, but understand it is true. 

It’s popular to refer to this as The Law of Attraction. Books have been written about it, most recently and famously The Secret. which brings to a modern audience the concepts Wallace Wattles described in The Science of Getting Rich. I am not sure I buy the idea that a creative universal stuff exists to form the future into what we will, but I do agree with Wattles that we are born to be creative, not competitors, and there’s plenty of stuff for everyone.

And I do know that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. How and why that happens is not necessarily important. Maybe it’s simply that people sense your enthusiasm and are drawn to help. Maybe it’s that catching the fire of your inner passion generates an energy that makes you do what’s necessary. Maybe God rewards the fact that your passion and energy finally align with how He designed you; yep, that’s how I envision it, but if you have issues with the idea of supernatural power, don’t dwell on it. The important thing is overcoming the illusion that you might fail.

Just know that dreams are contagious. When you set your mind on a vision that fires up your dreams, something makes it begin to happen. Understanding that you cannot fail ignites the dreams.

James Allen explained it best in his motivational classic As A Man Thinketh: “All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts. In a justly ordered universe, where loss of equipoise would mean total destruction, individual responsibility must be absolute. A man’s weakness and strength, purity and impurity, are his own, and not another man’s; they are brought about by himself, and not by another; and they can only be altered by himself, never by another. His condition is also his own, and not another man’s. His suffering and his happiness are evolved from within. As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.”

Allen set forth a truth that Henry Ford stated even more succinctly: Whether you think you’ll succeed or you think you’ll fail, you’re right. 

Most people — if they even bother to go through the exercise and answer a question like “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” — feel a burst of creative energy, get in touch with their dreams and inner passion, and then step back and think, “Well, that was an interesting exercise. Too bad for all the reasons why I can’t do that stuff.”

The people who succeed find a way to stay in touch with that inner passion. They discover that it wasn’t just a mental exercise.

What would you do today, right now and right here, if you knew you could not fail? Hang onto that thought, because here comes the kicker: It’s true. Refuse to be afraid, free yourself and hang onto your dream, and you cannot fail. So you may as well get started.

The greatest laws

I keep coming back to the last thing I read to Red as she made the transition to the next world, which is the most concise mission statement a Christian could hope for:

The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Meanwhile, my political philosophy boils down to what has been dubbed the Zero Aggression Principle, which is not unlike the two greatest commandments: “No one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatever, nor advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else.”

It occurs to me that these statements are all about how to interact with other people, person to person. Treat other people with love, and don’t initiate violence against anyone.

Person to person, I think most people have no problem treating other people with love, or at least respect. If you think through the average day, you have dozens of peaceful, nonviolent interactions with other people.

Things start going awry when we remove that personal interaction from the equation. Road rage is between two people separated by tons of steel at high speed. Online bullying is, of course, not face-to-face. Racial and ethnic violence is the opposite of treating people as individuals.

The most active agent of initiating force, of course, is government. The average state is a blunt force instrument, and politicians as a general rule treat each other and the average citizen with anything but love.

I wonder how much easier it would be to love one another, and live in peace with our neighbors, if we didn’t have politicians and other agents of the state on our shoulders whispering (or shouting) violent words of hate all the time. 

On the road to dreaming big

I am working my way a second time through Bob Goff’s book Dream Big, but this time I’m doing the exercises he recommends along the way. He starts with three big questions: Who are you? Where are you? What do you want?

Who am I? A guy who likes to string words and sounds together as melodically as I can. Where am I? Stuck. What do I want? To get unstuck.

In answer to one of Bob’s prompts, “Are there some recurring themes in your behaviors and choices?” I wrote in all-caps, “PEACE. NONVIOLENCE. PUPPIES.” 

Being less glib, I recognize that a recurring theme in my behavior is what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance — a reluctance to move my dreams ahead — to finish my work, to get better at my musical instrument(s), to learn my craft — not so much the craft of writing, but the craft of shipping it out to willing customers (and I keep shaping that thought in terms of “customers,” rather than people who share my love of words and stories and songs. I suspect that’s part of the problem.)

It’s not that I don’t think my stuff is any good — the three novels-in-progress are the best I’ve ever crafted, but something pathological in me won’t finish them. Am I afraid that even my best isn’t good enough for the world? That would be so silly, and I don’t believe that’s the issue.

I suspect I have a touch of agoraphobia. Red was so worried that I might become a hermit that among her last entreaties to me was not to be one. I do tend to retreat into myself on a routine basis. I identified with the character in my friend Linda R. Spitzfaden’s novel The Other Side of Everything who wanted to step outside but was unable to do so for reasons no one could understand.

I want to finish my novels and go out into the world and be the wordsmith and podcaster and novelist and singer-songwriter who have always been lurking in my soul — I want to be Ray Bradbury and Judee Sill and Uncle Warren and Paul Harvey and e.e. cummings. They are in there, bursting to leap out and show the world what they’ve got. “I got the Resistance and I got it bad,” each of them says in turn and then goes back into hiding.

Another unfinished project is that I have struggled to sit down and write thank-you notes to all the people who sent me condolences or came to Red’s funeral two months ago. I wrote a note to myself Sunday night: “GET UNSTUCK. Monday: Write one thank-you note. Write one paragraph of Jeep. Write one paragraph of (other unannounced work in progress). Buy stamps.”

OK, that last one was everyday life trying to sneak back in. Everyday life is my favorite excuse for the recurring theme that I know what to do and I just — won’t — do it. “Yumping Yiminy, Uncle Warren, break out of the damn rut and be who you are!” I concluded my journal entry.

I’m pleased to report that before I sat down to post this Monday morning, I wrote my first thank-you note, I wrote several short paragraphs for Jeep Thompson and The Lost Prince of Venus, and I wrote several short paragraphs for (other unannounced work in progress). It’s not much, but it’s a start, and if I rinse and repeat every day, I think I can start dreaming big again.

When we live despite the urge to fear

[Drawn from the archives, June 17, 2020 – now THAT was a year! Also reprinted in Echoes of Freedom Past, one of my 2022 books.]

Fear is an ugly thing. It contorts the face, boils the gut, and manifests in every unhealthy emotion – anger, worry, hatred. Fear can spread across the land, a virus more deadly than any microbe.

“Fear is the mind-killer,” Frank Herbert wrote: It robs us of our reason, strips love and compassion from our hearts, and brings out the monster in us.

The children of fear are slavery, tyranny and war.

When we overcome fear, we rise.

When we rise, we turn our faces to the sun.

When we turn our faces to the sun, we begin to live. The sun nourishes, warms, gives life to the dying. Without the sun, we die in darkness.

When we live despite the urge to fear, without loathing, without anger and hatred and all of that – when we stand instead of cowering, in other words – our spirits become invincible.

When our spirits are invincible, we have no need for the darkness.

The spirit of love is fragile and beautiful and strong and powerful all at once. It takes courage to shout love at the heart of darkness, but it’s lighter, more free, an antidote for terror, and healthier for the soul.

An ounce of love is more powerful than tons of gunpowder. Love slices souls more surely than the sharpest knife. Fear is a poison; love an elixir.

I would say that I loathe fear, and I do, but loathing is a byproduct of fear and the world has enough loathing.

Better to say that in my most sane moments, I set the anger and the hatred and the anxiety aside, burying them in a place where I am free to love and to live and to laugh and to cry with joy.

We could get along if we wanted

Sometimes I think about how any number of things may have unfolded differently in my youth had I had the ability to call or send a message/text at a key moment.

Think how many classic stories would be ruined if they were set in the modern era — stories where something tragic happens because of not being able to communicate, say if Romeo or Juliet had been able to send a text saying, “Don’t be alarmed, I’m going to try something, it’s not what it looks like.”

We have in the palm of our hand, the ability to reach across the miles and avoid all sorts of catastrophes and misunderstandings in a way that was unfathomable when many of us were younger. We are linked. We can connect at a moment’s notice to anyone almost anywhere on the planet.

And yet the same catastrophes and misunderstandings keep happening.

It seems the ability to communicate is not the same as the will to communicate.

I know that smile

The girl was new at this. She rolled down the slight incline of her driveway, suddenly perhaps realizing that she could possibly roll into the path of my oncoming car. Then she rotated her arms wildly in the way people do when desperately trying to maintain their balance, and finally she stepped off the skateboard.

She smiled sheepishly at me and, in the instant before my glimpse of her ended, I saw her smile inwardly at herself.

She’s going to be all right.

The smile said, “I don’t have this yet, but I will have this. It’s funny that that guy saw me fall short, but we both know I will get this.”

We see the Olympic snowboarder defy gravity. We never see the thousands of times she fell or the hundreds of smiles she smiled at herself after she had to flail her arms to keep her balance.

We see the all-star quarterback throw the tight spiral into the arms of his sprinting receiver 25 yards downfield. We never see the thousands of times he didn’t.

“You got this,” they say to themselves after they fall short. And eventually, if they keep trying, they do.