Daniel J. Neumann
Professor Yonker (Senior Seminar)
May 8th, 2012
Emotions Cemented in Time
We have micro worlds within us;
Our whole world is but a pixel;
Our perception changes our scale,
Like a cloud whirling with color—
Spiraling upwards by our sight.
To exist in the full moment,
We must be aware of our selves. —Daniel J. Neumann
It may not be common to bookend an essay with poetry, but I’m not striving to do something common; I’m striving to do something obvious (yet hidden). I want to look at a horrible conflict between people by examining the people as people. Further, I intend to look at them for what they are: poems writing poetry. This being a product of post-modernism, and loosely derived from Foucault’s New Historicism, I’ll be implementing a deictic analysis. This basically means I’ll try to connect with the person writing the letter by adding my own meaning into his words. I hope that this method will improve empathy and a deeper understanding of war. For the sole purpose of relation and engagement, I’ll impose a level of interpretative flexibility in order to infer emotions and abstract ideas (codes). By the nature of emotions, sometimes they’re recorded less directly in a letter by means of framing or an altered state of awareness. Word choice is indicative of this.
Unfortunately, it was much more difficult to find translated letters from the Japanese perspective at the battle of Okinawa than American letters. (This may have something to do with who won the war).
The battle for Okinawa caused the death of many lives, both Japanese and American. Many scholars believe the numerous casualties incurred were a significant factor in President Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. We owe it to those who suffered such terror to remember what happened in those long months. (Maybe, God willing, we’ll learn from our collective mistakes). Historians typically use artifacts, such as letters from the battle of Okinawa, to reconstruct the past for us. It’s a shame we give the power to interpret away without pause. The conventional way of recording history doesn’t truly capture the experience of the soldiers who fought at Okinawa. The statistic number of deaths doesn’t bring the past to life.
Foucault, in Archeology of Knowledge, laid out a philosophy for deep historic examination.
In such an analysis, therefore, there is a suspension of temporal successions… But this suspension is intended precisely to reveal the relations that characterize the temporality of discursive formations and articulate them in series whose intersection in no way precludes analysis (Foucault 184).
He believed that the past is a series of subjective moments. It’s possible to have atemporal discourse. Historians could act as archeologists do, mapping artifacts to viewpoints. History isn’t absolute. Although conventional history shouldn’t be outright dismissed, a deictic, poetic method relates to human experience better.
Emotions alter our sight. The effects are the definitions. Sorrow can make you feel hollow, hopeless, and, sometimes, almost inhuman. Regret, a subset of sorrow, steals your attention away from awareness of this present moment. Rage and anger, if used as the sole guiding force, can turn people into monsters. Confusion and disorientation make you feel lost, adrift in an endless ocean without a buoy. Confusion always comes from uncertainty (there’s even uncertainty in grasping truth), but uncertainty doesn’t necessarily lead to confusion (the reaction is more a choice). Fear, often a product of confusion, can make people go insane, losing part of what makes us human (the rational ability to judge). Other abstract concepts (such as the following three codes: peace, honor, and legacy) have emotional aspects to them, but also employ logic and the (binding yet always changing) presence of the ego, making them slightly more complicated. Tranquility and peace soothe a person’s heart—liberating a man from passion and the never-ending cycle of satisfaction and hunger, happiness and sorrow. Honor and stoicism, being transcendent and selfless, help control these emotions. Legacy defines our being by what we leave behind, the desire for which derives from mankind’s finitude. Thinking about history in the context of these states of consciousness better conveys a more complete understanding of the people who fought at Okinawa. Clearly, emotions are an integral part to how we make sense of the world, and it should help us understand the people of history, to better articulate their experience.
Uncertainty scares people (and for good reason, if you’re trying to survive). Racism (and, related to this, the demonizing of the enemy) emerges from the fear of the unknown, of not understanding a person on any deeper level than as a black person, a woman, a Japanese, etc. Emotions, for the most part, are universal to human beings. We can relate to feeling sad, mad, or happy. Similarly, other abstract concepts, such as peace, legacy, and honor can help clarify an uncertain subject by its ambiguous nature. Unlike concrete and rational constructs, which have a definite meaning, emotions and other abstract ideas can contour around the unknown, filling in the gaps with interpretation. Abstract and nebulous emotions are as transient as clouds, precipitating continuously. Ambivalent, loose, subjective constructs, like poetry, combine two perspectives to decipher meaning, like a mutually agreed translation. If I envision a world where war no longer exists between people—that war only exists between ideas—then, eventually, someone down the road of history will say I predicted the future in my poetry so long ago, accrediting the interpretative meaning to their frame of reference. That’s why looking for the emotions and abstract ideas within letters from the battle of Okinawa (or any piece of history) is such a useful tool: We could empathize with people of other cultures; we could better learn from our mistakes; and we could all become our own historians.
The best way to accomplish this post-modern ideal, I believe, is the implement of anachronistic deictic discourse by interpretation. In other words, I’m going to read these letters the same way I’d read poetry: I will put as much meaning into it as possible (which entails a good sum of presumption and loose extrapolation), and attempt to understand and examine dynamically and dialogically the artifact left behind by soldiers. It’s as if I’m going to have a conversation with Japanese and American soldiers from the Battle of Okinawa outside the confines of space and time. I’ll add my own life—my own significance—into their thoughts.
I begin my analysis—using the eight codes: Tranquility/Peace, Legacy, Fear, Confusion, Honor/Stoicism, Rage/Anger, Sorrow, and Regret—with a letter through the eyes of a Japanese soldier at the end of the war. “The seven of us stared silently at the evidence—its meaning was all too clear. I felt as though my whole body had suddenly collapsed and I were being attacked by a dark loneliness” (Yamashita, qtd. by Far Outliers). Yamashita wanted to deny that the war was truly over, but he couldn’t rationally continue to do that once he’d seen the evidence of Japan’s unconditional surrender. He felt as if the Prime Minister Tojo and his government had abandoned the cause that drove him to endure in misery. He saw his brothers-in-arms die for the cause the government furthered. He endured countless pains for what the government called him to do. He was willing to die for the cause that Prime Minister Tojo, himself, sanctioned him for. He felt alone. “Then after recovering from this feeling of loneliness, I was assailed by an inexpressible anger. Who or what in the world was the object of my anger? I couldn’t say” (Yamashita, qtd. by Far Outliers). The sorrow of loneliness morphed into rage and anger. The reason for this eluded him, which caused him confusion. Uncertain of why he was feeling so angry—and possibly so enraged because he was afraid of what to do after the war—his anger and confusion became a destructive feedback loop. He was frustrated, enraged, by his confusion, yet his confusion came from his unassigned anger. Something redirected the feedback loop’s current for Yamashita, however (something, I feel, is beautiful):
Frankly, even if I acted alone and raced out of the bunker, the surrender of Japan as an actuality wouldn’t change, and the mop-up operation the American troops would launch in the wake of such an action would be directed continuously at all the Japanese soldiers in the vicinity of the military field warehouse bunker (Yamashita, qtd. by Far Outliers).
While the surrender of Japan boiled inside him, Yamashita realized that other soldiers exist too. The soldiers who did relate to him, who did understand his pain, were still alive. He wasn’t truly alone. If he attacked any Americans at this point, the soldiers still alive would die because the Americans would interpret the isolated incident as counter-insurgency. This soldier achieved peace with his circumstance by thinking about others, his fellow soldiers who weathered the same pain. His selflessness is the core nature of honor/stoicism.
In the previous letter, I ascertained six of the eight codes (all but regret and legacy) by my interpretation. Our fluid nature often causes us to feel complex emotions and abstract constructs at once—an overlapping of colored lenses. This leads me to the conclusion that emotions build upon each other, emerging out of the effect of another, and sometimes combine. For example, the person who regrets the past typically experiences sorrow for the past.
William Manchester, who would later achieve fame as an historian, served on Okinawa as a sergeant in a Marine infantry battalion. ‘To be avoided, and if necessary, ignored,’ he would write in his memoirs, ‘were gung-ho platoon leaders who drew enemy fire by ordering spectacular charges. Ground wasn’t gained that way; it was won by small groups of men, five or six in a cluster, who moved warily forward in a kind of autohypnosis, advancing in mysterious concert with similar groups on their flanks.’ (Gudmundsson).
The imagery of five or six people mechanically approaching the enemy—like programmed zombies—seems like Manchester regretted being part of the war. (Maybe he became a historian so future generations would avoid large scale conflicts). He uses the words, “mysterious” and “concert,” as if comparing fighting to magic or music. Here, I believe his fear manifested as sheer awe of occurrence. His mind simply couldn’t come to terms with what his eyes saw, so he turned to a more abstract and poetic vocabulary to describe the scene.
Brigadier General Paul Chinen fought in the extremely dark, collapse-prone cave systems that the Japanese entrenched in during the Battle of Okinawa. “‘… It wasn’t normal-type combat. It was more individual, hand-to-hand. So it was a real hard type of battle… if you’re going cave-to-cave, you’re real close. When you can hear them die and all that, it’s really painful.’” (Paul Chinen, qtd. By Chinen). Sorrow and potentially regret sprung from Chinen’s choice of words when describing the combat. When he saw the enemy die, he felt a closer connection to them, since they share in common their mortality. It’s interesting that Chinen describes hearing the suffering as painful. He empathized with the man whom he killed. It’s almost as if he could feel the wounded Japanese, as if they were the same, sharing a nervous system.
“A [s]trange scene began to unfold right in front of me… Once he had that stick in his hands, he turned into a madman. Striking his wife and children over and over again, bludgeoning them to death. That was the beginning of the tragedy I saw” (Japan at War 364-365, qtd. by Smits). This chilling recollection—colored by confusion for the senseless abandonment of morality and the sorrow from seeing a family slaughter itself—by a civilian of the Okinawan mass-suicides touches on a nuance of my hypothesis. While the abstract concepts and emotions I’m coding for within these letters are universal to any human being, they can sometimes emerge from unique processes. In the case of the Japanese, they believed that it was honorable to kill yourself, rather than being “shamed” (in this case, there were rumors by the Japanese that Americans would rape and kill Okinawan citizens if the Japanese lost). Opposed to this, western society rejects suicide as selfish, as an easy way out for yourself, but a difficult burden for those left behind that cared for you. In the case of both cultures, honor/stoicism is characterized by selflessness, but the interpretation of selflessness, concerning suicide, differs significantly—to the point of apparent contradiction. But it’s even more complicated than that: Some Okinawans believe in this Japanese norm of killing yourself to avoid the shame of defeat; others didn’t. There are some who claim the Imperial Army coerced the citizenry (the Okinawa Times). The author of this passage didn’t see the honor in the deaths, just the absurdity.
From this point forward, I’ll be examining American texts and poems exclusively.
Bob Doktor, an American veteran of the battle for Okinawa, reminisced a friendly-fire scene where naval artillery mistakenly shot an American warplane:
When there was no more fire, the pilot got out of the plane and raised [his] arms in anger and yelling at the American ships for shooting him down… I felt sorry for him and at the same time it seemed a little humorous that he had waved his arms in angry [sic] in a gesture of threatening the firepower (Bob Dokter, qtd. by Virtual Okinawa).
Doktor felt sympathy for the pilot, yet also laughed at the absurdity of a pilot waving in anger at ships that obviously couldn’t tell the plane was American so certainly couldn’t distinguish emotions from the man. The two reactions—sympathy and humor—may be linked to the emotion of fear. Empathy and the “Golden Rule” (do unto others as you’d like done to you) coincide. Doktor engaged with the plight of this pilot, something possible only through empathy. Doktor knows that, if he were the pilot, he’d be angry too—yet he saw the futility of expressing anger to the far-removed warship. He was afraid of the hopelessness of this man’s situation. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Humor is an almost physiological response to fear” (The Courier). Sometimes, all you can do when you’re afraid is to laugh. The betrayal by fellow soldiers and the inability to do anything to stop it cumulated into a mix of humor and sympathy, a product of fear—which arose from the ability to consider another’s situation as one’s own, which is empathy.
Inevitably, the abstract concept of legacy requires spirituality. The essence of honor/stoicism, selflessness, presupposes a transcendent, higher reasoning: We’re not here by pure chance; our lives have meaning. When we cease to have meaning, we lose our very spirit.
I think that we had the spirit… I do not know if we would have made it after this point until we brought our heavy tanks in and started to push… and push some more. I think that this broke the spirit of some of the Japanese soldiers… I say spirit as if you do not feel that you can do anything regardless if it is war or not, just anything on a normal day, you have lost (Bob Dokter, qtd. by Virtual Okinawa).
Doktor, again, empathizes with the enemy—doing precisely what I’m doing in this essay, assigning emotional value to another person.
What I really felt bad about after the fighting had ceased [was when] I visited the final fighting area and saw the amount of Japanese soldiers who jumped off the cliffs and killed themselves. At the time I could not understand why these soldiers had jumped. I did have at the time respect for them in their loyalty, but did not understand it… (Bob Dokter, qtd. by Virtual Okinawa).
He felt the sorrow and disorientation of the Japanese soldier, proving that Dokter saw this man as an equal in the capacity for emotions. Doktor seemed to have a desire to understand the Japanese soldiers.
Confusion concerning another culture was precisely the reason why I applied deictic analysis to reading these letters, because what we don’t engage in, we don’t fully understand, which often leads to fear of the unknown, which leads to anger for dissatisfied circumstance. The devastation of war then cultivates sorrow and regret. Doktor grew up in a society that abhorred suicide as a cowardly exit. At the same time, due to the collective nature of the suicides and the apparent singular cause, he couldn’t discount the behavior as selfish. Somehow, Doktor intuitively felt respect for those fallen soldiers despite how alien their sacrifice was to him. I feel this is in part due to empathy—the deeper examination, the ability to feel the emotions of who he saw.
Private First Class Peter Milo recollects storming the beaches at Okinawa: “April fool’s day, April 1, 1945, was designated as ‘Love’ Day. I promise there was very little of this emotion when we hit the beaches” (J.A. Hitchcock). Milo found irony in the poorly suited title for the invasion day. The entire skirmish’s code-name, Operation Iceberg, fit the mood better. “Suddenly, it was dark and I lost sight of my buddy Frank Enser. To my horror I failed to get the password for the night… if I was challenged by some ‘Hipshooting’ Marine I was a dead duck” (J.A. Hitchcock). Milo experienced fear in this passage—because American soldiers had to say a pre-established word to prevent friendly fire at nighttime. He expressed this fear by dehumanizing himself in the manner he phases his predicament, calling himself a “dead duck” if a marine heard him rustling foliage. Animals don’t have the same rights that people have—life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness—and, analogously, neither do soldiers; they’ve no expectation of staying alive, of being able to choose for themselves what they should do (instead, having to obey orders from a chain-of-command), and it’s unlikely they’ll obtain much happiness.
“Rising very slowly, I made the sign of the cross and tiptoed out. The wall I was sitting against took on a different aspect in the daylight. Now it was a neatly stacked wall of Japanese land mines. Needless to say, I took off like a bird” (J. A. Hitchcock). Milo continues to bēastiamorphize himself with the common theme of a bird. Perhaps he envies a bird’s freedom of flight. The unveiling of the unknown by light made Milo afraid for his life. He left the bunker as quickly as he could because the desire for survival hides the greatest and most fierce fear of all: the uncertainty of (and confusion regarding) death, of how it will end, of when it will end, of what will happen after that. At the brink of death we crave spiritual guidance (I qualify this opinion by internal reflection). Milo crossed himself. The belief in a soul that outlasts the body is a form of legacy, including love, peace, and joyfulness. Impermanence humbles. He could be killed like an animal—like a duck in hunting season.
Corporal Anthony J. Ferreira, a Scituate Marine served as the Browning Automatic Rifleman (Wheatly).
When I recovered my senses to a certain degree of consciousness, but in a dazed condition, I asked the squad leader if he was okay and he said he was. I told him to take off down the ridge while I covered him… Below the ridge we were pinned down with everything dropping in on us — mortar, artillery, etc… and I could hear the squad leader talking to me, but I couldn’t seem to do anything. I finally snapped out of it, and he asked me to take the wounded back to the C.P. (Command Post). I suggested that he go, and I stay because I didn’t even feel like moving. He said he should stay because he was the squad leader (Anthony J. Ferreira, qtd. by Wheatley).
Disorientation isn’t merely the lack of logical, contextual reasoning. It has a feeling that runs parallel to it. Confusion harbors a sinking, lost sensation. The lack of understanding easily exchanges itself for fear of the unknown. But Ferreira didn’t react the way fear typically makes someone react. While it did alter his perception, pump adrenaline into his veins—the biological component—it didn’t cause him to flee from the situation as nature intended. Instead, Ferreira bypassed the hormonal stew inside his body begging for him to think about survival. He behaved stoically, with honor, offering to stay in danger so the squad leader could bring the other soldiers back to safety. He considered the interests of others first, despite the fear of death.
In the initial days of the American invasion, Operation Iceberg, the Marines launched a decoy landing force on the opposite coast of where most troops would disembark. The ploy incurred many casualties (Alexander 11-12). “We had asked for air cover for the feint but were told the threat would be ‘incidental’” (Samuel G. Taxis, qtd. by Alexander 12). Lieutenant Colonel Taxis uses sarcasm to express his complex emotions after seeing the men around him die and the disturbing disconnect between this awful reality and the ignorant, cool calculations from high command. His frustration stemmed from a combination of the fear of dying, the sorrow of the loss of life, the anger directed at the negligence from the American High Command of the Navy and Air Force, and perhaps a hint of confusion for circumstance. Without an intimate, deep relation to the soldiers in danger of dying, its easy for the commanders in charge of artillery to think only from a technical perspective—weighing their judgments more on efficiency and less about the physical and psychological wellbeing of the ground deployment. Perhaps if the High Command empathized with the deployment by exchanging meaningful dialogue, they’d do more to ensure every American soldier’s safety. Deep, deictic examination is vital.
Fred Long drove a supply truck at Okinawa. He would distribute some of the canned foods to the frontlines directly.
… I would take the large cans of fruit cocktail, peaches and pears and put them in my tool box, behind the seat and wherever I could find a place to stash them… Those men had been on the front lines for around 30 days, as I remember, and had not had an opportunity to even wash their hands, let alone bathe. They would cut the cans open with bayonets and with bare hands, grab the fruit and devour it… I did not steal the fruit, but redirected it to where most needed (Long, qtd. by Hitchcock).
Long sympathized with the fear and misery the frontline soldiers felt. This led him to the honorable act of risking a court-martial for the sake of others. He ascribed to the Golden Rule, understanding that the relatively trivial act of canned fruit to a civilian, to a frontline soldier—at the brink of losing his flesh to the carnage-soaked soil and his mind to the depths of hell—brightens the world for a time, making life seem not completely bad.
Long, again, demonstrates his honor by not only caring for others, but also by standing on principle in the following quote:
… A Lt. stepped onto my running board… he offered to buy my jacket from me. My first thought was, I don’t deal in black market and refused him. A little further on, I saw a skinny little G.I., shivering in the cold and I eased over near him and handed him the jacket. In a moment, I had a very angry Lt. on my truck again and chewing me, but good. Had he asked for the jacket and not offered money, I would have given it to him (Long, qtd. by Hitchcock).
He didn’t want to sell his jacket. He didn’t want the money. The money really wouldn’t do him that much good in a war anyway. He wanted to be of service. As for the lieutenant, a little anger may remind him to swallow his pride and ask for what he wants instead of positioning someone, who has what he desires, as the role of merchant.
Long stumbled upon a key philosophical insight. He discovers the relative nature of experience, how different perspectives overlay comparatively.
I had watched Kamakazie’s [sic] come in and hit those ships and send flames the length of the ship, it seemed. I told the sailor that I had stood on that island and thanked God many times that I was on the island instead of on the ships. He said, ‘I have stood on the deck of this ship and thanked God many times that I was on this ship rather than that island.’ I guess it’s where you’re standing when you are looking that makes the difference (Long, qtd. by Hitchcock).
This passage illustrates the relative, subjective nature of war. No one person experiences an event quite the same. (This, along with the pattern of empathy from previous letters, corresponds to my hypothesis: That each event ought to be seen from the perspective of an individual and that to do so offers greater human awareness, instead of seeing war as a numbers game). People have a habit of either overestimating or underestimating—of either succumbing to fantastic optimism or cynical pessimism—when judging the favorable circumstances of others. In this case, both soldiers overestimated how good the other had it. The confusion is sometimes a stepping stone to realization. Logic can pose uncertainty as a solvable problem. Long realized that every person has to deal with suffering and bliss exchanging places. Every human has their challenges and their breaks. To look at another person’s plate only captures one moment in time of their whole life experience, and to envy someone else will disappoint you—this is because, relatively, they’ll have an equal experience of favorable and unfavorable circumstances. I believe Long found peace by seeing this.
Mr. Higa consoled the Okinawans, using their language to communicate that the war ended and they didn’t have to commit suicide anymore.
He has but one regret about Okinawa. ‘If the Uchinanchu had believed in us a little bit more and followed our pleas, we could have saved a lot more people.’ But he realizes how badly the Okinawan civilians had been brainwashed and knows he must let go (Takejiro Higa, qtd. by Chinen).
Mr. Higa left behind a legacy of service to mankind. Mr. Higa didn’t need to put effort into saving the Okinawans. He did it because he saw the people as people, not enemies, but a piece of the human race, which he’s a part of, so he helped them. He acted outside of self-interest. His care for others still haunts him, since he has expressed regret in his letter. It’s the love he felt for all of humanity that lead to his honorable, stoic deeds—and it’s the love he felt for all of humanity that secures his legacy by the people who he saved, who’ll continue to make meaning.
To conclude my analysis, I’ve decided to examine a letter written by Frank V. Gardner that is also poetry (seeing as I treated each letter as poetry). Each line contains 19 syllables, on an A-A-B-B rhyme meter.
One starry night on Okinawa, guns and men were still. / This young Marine was standing duty on a lonely hill. / The battle ever carries on . . . two months it’s been by now. / All dead exceeding ninety thousand; and he wondered how . . . (Gardner, qtd. by Hitchcock).
Gardner captures an energy incubated in the air, a scene of a beautiful world begging for acknowledgment, amidst a desolate scene of carnage. The battle carrying on for two months and the death count rising past 90,000, the young marine wonders how such a thing comes about—what are the origins that caused so many young Americans and Japanese to lie dead? The stanza captures sorrow, fear, and confusion.
. . . How all the slaughter could continue under God’s domain? / How long are minds of men expected to endure the pain? / First Saipan . . . Iwo Jima next, he’d seen his buddies fall. / And now, again on Okinawa . . . no letup at all (Gardner, qtd. by Hitchcock).
The war weariness comes through heavily in these four lines. He experiences confusion trying to come to terms for how an omnibenevolent God—or even a humane civilization—could allow such a horrible situation to endure.
And was there any reason why ‘twas them instead of him? / Perhaps a reason, somewhat subtle . . . more than just a whim. / On that occasion then he wondered why he felt so odd. / He had a realization . . . as he felt the hand of God. / A pact was made that night in June of nineteen forty-five: / A vow to God by that Marine . . . if he got home alive. / He’d make a contribution felt among his fellow man. / He’d work to serve his country well, according to God’s plan (Gardner, qtd. by Hitchcock).
The belief in God lifted Gardner’s confusion concerning why others had died rather than him. He put faith into the path God designed for him. He actively participated in its creation: a vow to help others. He would cherish his life by his capability to serve. This gave him tranquility.
It’s forty years now, since his vow was made that night in June. / From his career in Government, he will retire soon. / His family, friends, and colleagues are the ones to tell us how . . . / He made his contribution . . . and . . . how well he kept his vow (Gardner, qtd. by Hitchcock).
Gardner explains that his virtuosity, his honor, and, ultimately, the legacy he’ll leave behind, has almost nothing to do with his self-examination. Those that he loved and those that loved him ought to characterize him for these traits. After all, it wouldn’t make much sense for a person to judge his own selflessness.
Deictic analysis isn’t the answer to everything, and we certainly shouldn’t throw away all our conventional history books. The utility of this deictic and particulate model, however, rests squarely on the shoulders of relation. We need to understand those who fought in the most lethal war of our history. It helps to engage with individual recollections by adding meaning. I believe this to be the transcendent purpose for consciousness; we’re here to put value into things. That’s why the loss of human life to wars is such a shame. Humans are the engineers of truth—and the truth is, we really ought to stop killing ourselves. The last world war ended with an atomic bomb. To repeat such a mistake, with our current arsenal, invites doom.
The tree of life has many roots.
They are underground and unseen,
Yet they ground the tree’s foundation.
They carry water to branches.
People died brutal deaths in war,
But soldiers didn’t die for war.
They died for peace and their brothers.
We should be aware of our roots. —Daniel J. Neumann
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