Dr Sadao is first a Japanese citizen and then a surgeon and it is these two roles that make it difficult for him to make a choice of whether to save Tom, or hand him over to the authorities. The conversation that takes place between Dr Sadao and Hana in the beginning, when they discover Tom lying on the beach will bring out this conflict that runs through their minds. It is a difficult choice that both Sadao and his wife, Hana have to make in any case, and this is reflected in the words, “If we sheltered a white man in our house we should be arrested and if we turned him over as a prisoner, he would certainly die”. Hana however states the obvious, “You also cannot throw him back to the sea” – her statement helps Sadao make up his mind.
The issue is brought to the fore later when the servants voice their reservations regarding the correctness of Dr Sadao’s decision to give shelter to the American sailor. Hana tells him that the servants think “that you and I were so long in America that we have forgotten to think of our own country first. They think we like Americans.” This is a serious accusation, one that shows that if Dr.Sadao and Hana had a bias in favour of the American as opposed to their own nation, then they could only be labelled as traitors. That this is not the case is clarified by Dr Sadao when he states, “It is not true,…Americans are our enemies. But I have trained not to let a man die if I can help it.”
Dr. Sadao chooses to save the life of the American Sailor because he is a surgeon who has been trained to save lives if he can help it. What makes everything complicated and rather paradoxical is that throwing the sailor back into the surf would expose him as 'the surgeon who let a man die!' a tag that he would rather not have even if it meant being exposed as a traitor who who had betrayed his nation by saving the live of an enemy sailor. Clearly, Sadao opted to save the life of Tom because he could not bear to be haunted by the guilt of breaking his oath to Hippocrates, and letting a man die.
Often, the choices that we make in life are dictated by the conditions that we live in, and often these are complex conditions. While for the servants everything is straightforward, and as the gardener states, “It is clear what our master ought to do…When the man was so near death, why did he not let him bleed?” What the gardener and the rest of the servants do not know is that sometimes there are no plain answers to the difficulties we face in life. The servants being simple folk (without much learning or formal education ) have not given much thought to the higher laws of humanity as opposed to the narrow, divisive, and limited laws of patriotism. The lesson questions the very concept of “Enmity” as propounded by laws of nationalism; it exposes the hollowness of a term that is based on very narrow terms and conditions that exclude anyone who does not conform to popular beliefs, beliefs that are subjective, manmade and full of bias.
The decision made by Dr Sadao and Hana, to save Tom’s life is based on their realisation of the hollowness and hypocrisy of laws of patriotism that do not address the higher law of humanity, and the very conditions under which one might label a person as “The Enemy”! In many ways, one can argue that Sadao and Hana went with what they thought was the better choice, to save the life of a human being rather than to conform to the laws of patriotism and let Tom die. They felt responsible for their actions, and they decided to save Tom’s life, not because they had studied in America and he was American, so they had a particular soft spot for him, but rather because he was a human being who was in great need of medical attention. The humanness of the sailor takes precedence over his being an American.
Through the difficult choice made by them, Dr. Sadao and Hana expose the very foundation of Nationalism, a popular philosophy upheld my many Japanese during the second world war including Sadao’s own father and to some extent the servants too. The decision to save the life of the Enemy Sailor is in itself a rebellion against the divisive and exclusive nature of the laws of Patriotism. If only everything was so straightforward and easy as the servants thought! Hana voices her confusion when she states on the seventh day, “Why is it we cannot see clearly what we ought to do?…Even the servants see more clearly than we do. Why are we different from other Japanese?” What she will understand later on is that both of them had made the correct choice, it was a well thought out choice, they went with their heart and not with their mind. It was a choice brought out by the voice of education, and a loyalty to the humanness of the heart. What makes them different from the other Japanese is their ability to rise above the confines and narrow boundaries of Patriotism and racial prejudice and to see the common thread that runs through all human beings, the fact that universal brotherhood is a more compelling reason to save a life than colour or nationality! Last but no least, I would suggest that in the case of Sadao and Hana, it is the individual that triumphs and emerges victorious over the citizen. In some cases, dissent might be the best choice. Popular opinions and popular beliefs might not always be the correct opinions simply because they are upheld by a larger group of people. History has shown us many a times that the herd mentality or the crowd mentality have often led to much pain and suffering. If Dr Sadao and Hana decided to go against the accepted beliefs of patriotism and nationalim for saving a life then it speaks of loudly of their great courage and bravery. They made a stand against death, and chose life instead!
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