Two weeks ago, I went to Las Vegas. It's a miserable, ugly town, filled with the sick and the elderly, losing their meager pensions to the slots. I was reminded once again of the constant heat of the southwestern United States, where you're covered with a thin, greasy film on your skin from the moment you wake up until the freezing cold of night. Despite my friends' congratulatory response to my telling them I was going to Vegas for a week, I frankly wasn't interested in gambling or hookers. Just not my thing.
And a fun time wasn't the reason I was going. My grandfather, Frank, is 91 years old and lives in Las Vegas. He's lost the ability to walk, and his mind is deteriorating rapidly. My father and I decided to go and stay with him, spending a few final moments with him before his probable passing this year.
I didn't particularly know the man very well, and I presume his death will affect me in the same way a celebrity's would. Sure, it's unfortunate, but I've spent time with my grandfather maybe four or five times. And every time we did, it was because he was visiting my parents, asking for health assistance, or asking for money. And he abandoned my father at a young age and didn't speak regularly with him until he was in his 20s. My dad's feelings for him are a bit fonder because my grandfather ran casinos on a boat off the coast of Southeast Asia and asked my dad to help him, thereby allowing my dad to see the world in a way he couldn't imagine before and also providing the source of a wealth of insanely interesting stories.
But that's beside the point. What I was really looking forward to was the possibility of discussing with him his career in Naval Intelligence. He worked for SACO, the Sino-American Cooperative Organization, whose existence was kept confidential for 50 years after its inception. It was an intelligence-gathering organization formed between the U.S. and China and overseen by General Dai Li, the head of the Chinese Secret Service, and Admiral Milton Miles of the United States. SACO worked to undermine Japanese operations throughout World War II via all the usual spy stuff: working with guerrilla forces ("The Rice Paddy Navy"), Japanese radio interceptions, and the like. According to my grandfather, the OSS tried to take over and run SACO before it dissolved at the end of World War II.
I've always been fascinated by World War II, a war that happened before television, before modern psychiatry, and one that was just plainly brutal. Not that the American wars after WWII weren't terrible, but when you consider the scope of the fighting and its death toll, not to mention the death toll from the Holocaust alone, it's still unfathomable. And I'd talked with my grandfather before about his experiences and always found his stories engaging. Unfortunately, I neglected to write down what he told me the previous times, and it was becoming more and more evident over the last few years that he'd been spilling the beans over what exactly he did in intelligence. After all, the U.S. government is still trying to persecute Snowden, so it's not exactly comfortable to discuss Top Secrets even for him.
Well, until now, I thought. After all, what does he have to lose?
It's difficult to try and extract confidential information from somebody who's been so thoroughly convinced over the decades to remain loyal to the United States. He asked me what I was going to do with the information. I wasn't really sure; it's just fascinating. I mean, c'mon, it's spies and secret codes and shit. There's also just a primal human desire to know a truth that is impossible to verify through any other standard means.
Before you get your hopes up, he didn't tell me much. He doesn't know who killed JFK. He doesn't know where the Ark of the Covenant is. He did relent and gave me some juicy information, however. He told me all the deaths of the Japanese as a result of the atomic bombs were completely unnecessary (well, no shit) and that the Japanese definitely wanted to surrender to the U.S. before the bombs were dropped (which isn't officially on the record, but I could've guessed that). He also told me that the U.S. State Department killed General Dai Li in 1945. On Wikipedia, it states that there are rumors that the OSS killed him, so that's pretty close and could've been deduced. But Dai Li died in 1946, so I'd absorb that information with a grain of salt.
He also said the reason behind his assassination was to strengthen the USA's hold on China and help bring Mao into power (oh, the irony). When Admiral Miles tried to tell the U.S. government about this, they responded in that most noble American way we're all familiar with: They put him in a mental institution. I can't find any information online that verifies any of this. Maybe it's true.
And it's a big "maybe" for a number of reasons. My grandfather's mind is completely scrambled, and it was hard for him to string sentences together at times. The sad part is that in his brief moments of clarity, it's clear that he knows it's scrambled, but he can't do anything about it. Another is that he often refused to share information with me because a) I wouldn't believe it, and b) it's of no help to anyone. Who am I gonna tell? Everyone is dead, and all the stories are pointless (I suppose my grandfather is unfamiliar with the concept of an artist).
After trying to be nice with him for two hours, I eventually took the assertive-bad-cop route. I put my foot down and told him it was ridiculous to withhold any information. He barely registered I said this by the time he started talking about John D. Rockefeller in 1914.
And then he forgot.
What did he know about the Rockefellers? I pleaded with him to tell me more.
He told me they were greedy and corrupt.
Yeah, what else?
They were greedy and corrupt, he told me. And Ida Tarbell exposed it all.
But wait. I knew that. This isn't news.
He then told me the information is right under our noses. That the American government shoves bullshit down my throat every day. All I have to do is read what's in front of me.
When I realized Rockefeller was around before my grandfather was even born, it hit me. My grandfather doesn't know anything. There is no great secret he's discovered or knows about. He's not some badass spy who's seen the worst that the American government can do in times of selfish duress. He was just a kid working in an office in China. He wasn't even my age at the time. He may have overheard some heavy shit, but that was it. Everything else that he thinks is too unbelievable for anyone to consume is based off of guesses that are as good as anyone's. Even mine. I could've guessed that the Japanese didn't need to be bombed to end the War and that Dai Li was offed by the Americans. I just have another source of support now.
He apologized and told me he couldn't tell me any more (not that I was sure he really told me anything). There were some interesting questions raised about the nature of true-story storytelling and even journalism. What's the point of it all if you can't help anyone with information you've been given? If I found out who definitively killed Kennedy, would that really make that much of a difference? Probably not. What's important is that he was killed, and we can't do anything about that.
But we can't help that this is the stuff we want to know about, the mysteries. It's part of our genetic makeup. The fact we can comprehend an omniscient god may be our most debilitating weakness as humans. We know there's more information to be gathered, but we will never be able to know it.
I thanked my grandfather for what he did tell me (which I still hold as being possibly bullshit -- don't arrest or sue me, American government) and went to bed. While I can't say I'm grateful for my grandfather or that he impacted my life in any positive way, I can respect the guy. I probably couldn't do what he did.