Ex-soldiers, dressed entirely in white hospital-like attire, some without an arm or a leg, stood or sat in the precincts of a shrine. Some played plaintive tunes on concertinas. Others had a little dog beside them to garner the sympathy of passersby. Often the dog wore a little beanie or sported cheap plastic sunglasses to catch people's eye. Those disabled veterans of World War II were begging for money from their compatriots -- compatriots who wanted more than anything to forget they had ever existed.

The country was Japan; the time, the summer of 1967.

I had spent the spring of that year in France, before coming to Japan. Being a typically impoverished graduate student in Paris, I searched for the cheapest place to have a hearty meal. I found it in the Club for Polish War Veterans. Being able to speak Polish, I felt right at home, though I was the only young person there, a lanky and cheerful American among still largely traumatized ex-servicemen.