Dirty Japs

When I was a child, I vividly recall a scene from an old war movie. . . .

The US Marines are storming some Pacific island and driving the terrified “Jap” defenders before them, much as safari beaters drive prey. The wild chase increases in momentum until the enemy is finally flushed from the trees and onto the beach. Halting their tanks, situating their machine guns for maximum effect, the marines open fire. Scores of Japanese are mowed down mercilessly. With no hope, with no escape, the survivors leap into the surf and try to swim for it. In a matter of minutes, there is not a living “Nip” among them.

Another scene I vividly recall seeing—and this only once—was a war documentary. A Japanese sailor is struggling in the water amid a flotsam of oil and debris, desperately trying to save himself. Clearly, he is a survivor from a recently sunk ship. The sailor is so close to the American naval vessel that I can see the fear and confusion in his face. Suddenly, from a point beyond camera range, bullets spray the water around the man. In a panic, the sailor begins swimming around and around in circles. Finally, a well-aimed bullet blows the young man’s head apart and he sinks silently beneath the surface.

In those old documentary films that cover World War Two in the Pacific, there is a very good reason why one seldom sees a live Jap in any of them, much less a prison camp filled with live Japs. Just as they were doing in Europe, Americans in the Pacific were taking no prisoners.  The awful truth never mentioned in these films, or in any book, for that matter, is that the war with Japan from start to finish was a black flag no-quarter contest in which the rules of engagement were shockingly simple: If the Japanese won, they lived . . . if they lost, they died.

***

Millions raped, millions tortured, millions enslaved, millions murdered—truly the defeat of Nazi Germany was utter in its hate and hellish in its evil.  It was, by all standards, the most savage and sadistic such defeat in human history.

Savage and sadistic as the war and ensuing Jewish “peace” in Germany was, nowhere was the terrible price of propaganda more evident than in the war with Japan. Unlike the Germans who not only looked and acted much like the Americans, British, French, and Russians, and shared a similar religion and culture, the Japanese were outwardly, at least, very different from their opponents in World War Two. Most graphic, of course, was race and the fact that the Japanese were Asians.

Although racially and culturally the enemy nations differed, prior to hostilities each side had no difficulty at all interacting amicably with one another. Indeed, a great degree of mutual respect, even admiration, existed among the two peoples.

All that changed in a blink, of course, on December 7, 1941.  With the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor the American propaganda mill had no problem at all transforming those who had been universally acknowledged as a kind, courteous, and dignified people into a race of “dirty rats,” “yellow monkeys” and “sneaky Japs.” Thus, unlike the vilification campaign waged against Germans which took a great amount of time, effort and imagination, the job of demonizing the Japanese was simple. Once the US Government and the entertainment industry were up and rolling, the natural outrage and racial instincts of white Americans took over.

In the anti-Japanese furor that swept America following Pearl Harbor, in the hyper-heated madness to exact revenge for the attack, rare was that American who paused to consider that perhaps the impetus behind Pearl Harbor was the months of deliberate and humiliating aggression directed at Japan by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, including the embargo of vital raw materials without which Japan was doomed to collapse as an industrialized nation. Well before December 7, 1941, such sanctions were correctly viewed by the proud Japanese leadership, as well as the world, as a de facto declaration of war by the United States. Also, though few were aware at the time, it has long since been known that Roosevelt and others in the US government were well aware of the coming attack in the central Pacific.

Nevertheless, because of Japan’s military pact with Nazi Germany, Roosevelt and his Jewish “advisers” desperately hoped that backing the Japanese into a corner would provoke just such a response resulting in the United States entering the European war via the “back door.” In that case, the U.S. would then join with Britain and the Soviet Union to crush Hitler and Germany.

Thus, and almost on cue, the “sneak” attack at Pearl Harbor and the “date which will live in infamy” was used by the propagandists as a rallying cry to whip the American people—who had been decidedly against war—into a frenzy of anger, hatred and revenge.

If possible, the degree of American rage actually increased four months later when lurid details of the “Bataan Death March” reached the public. Bad enough in its own right, the chaotic 60-mile forced march of over 70,000 American and Filipino troops captured after the siege of Bataan was made infinitely worse by the fact that many of the prisoners were already near death from lack of food and medicine resulting from the long siege itself. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of prisoners, unable to provide transportation, the Japanese could do little else but watch as hundreds of prisoners dropped dead along the road during the long march.

De-Humanizing the EnemyDescribing them as “yellow vermin,” angry American artists created posters depicting the Japanese as everything and anything, save human—sneaking cockroaches, rampaging monkeys, large-fanged snakes, flapping vampire bats—an official U.S. Navy film described enemy soldiers as “living, snarling rats.”

Reinforcing this dehumanization process were US political and military leaders. While General Eisenhower was busily murdering as many as a 1.5 million disarmed German prisoners in his secret death camps, Admiral William Halsey, US commander of operations in the South Pacific, seemed determined that not a single Japanese in his sphere of operations would survive to even reach a death camp.

“Kill Japs! Kill Japs! Kill more Japs!” Halsey exhorted his men time and time again. “Remember Pearl Harbor—keep ‘em dying!”

Thus, in what was perhaps the worst-kept secret throughout all branches of the US military, it was this unofficial, yet understood, injunction to all American service men, high and low, that there was to be absolutely no mercy shown the enemy in combat.

“You will take no prisoners, you will kill every yellow son-of-a-bitch, and that’s it,” yelled a marine colonel to his men as their landing craft was about to touch shore on one Japanese-held island.

And thus it was, from the outset, from the initial island invasions of 1942, all the way down to 1945 and the nuclear holocausts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “no quarter” to Japan and the Japanese was the tacit understanding.

***

Despite the generally held belief that persists to this day, a belief which argues that all Japanese soldiers willingly, even eagerly, died for the emperor, relatively few young men embraced such an end if there was any hope of living. Like the American, British and Australian soldiers they were facing, most Japanese soldiers dreamed only of a day when the war was over; when they could return home in peace to family and friends; to marry a sweetheart; to raise a family; to tend a small garden; to enjoy life. Nevertheless, almost from the first, it soon became apparent to these young men that there would be, that there could be, no surrender. Wrote one American early in the war:

Japanese were known to come out of the jungle unarmed with their hands raised crying ‘”mercy, mercy,” only to be mowed down by machine-gun fire.

Time and again, on every contested island and every spit of sand, Japanese soldiers and sailors were slaughtered the instant they raised their hands and walked forward to surrender. After scores of such encounters in which breathless comrades in hiding watched, waited, then witnessed the massacre of their unarmed friends, fewer and fewer Japanese soldiers entertained even the slightest notion of giving up.

Ironically, though murdering a helpless enemy may have brought some sadistic satisfaction to Allied soldiers, the failure to take prisoners insured that thousands of comrades would also be killed by an enemy now forced to dig in and fight to the death. It is also a fact that as the war wore on and defeat became certain, more and more Japanese soldiers would have gladly surrendered if only they could.

“If men had been allowed to surrender honorably,” admitted one Japanese veteran late in the war, “everybody would have been doing it.”

OneoftheFew--ALiveCaptiveBEST

One of the Few: A Live Enemy

In addition to the murder of prisoners, numerous other atrocities occurred. When one marine battalion captured a Japanese field hospital containing over 400 unarmed men, including patients and medics, all were slaughtered on the spot. Other massacres occurred when hundreds, even thousands, of Japanese were driven onto beaches or small peninsulas where there was no hope of escape. Such wholesale “kill offs” reminded one Midwestern marine of nothing so much as the merciless massacre of jack rabbits driven into fenced enclosures back home.

“Nothing can describe the hate we feel for the Nips,” wrote an American lieutenant to his mother. “The destruction, the torture, burning & death of countless civilians, the savage fight without purpose—to us they are dogs and rats—we love to kill them—to me and all of us killing Nips is the greatest sport known—it causes no sensation of killing a human being but we really get a kick out of hearing the bastards scream.”

Remembered another witness:

When a Japanese soldier was “flushed” from his hiding place . . . the unit . . . was resting and joking. But they seized their rifles and began using him as a live target while he dashed frantically around the clearing in search   of safety. The soldiers found his movements uproariously funny. Finally . . . they succeeded in killing him. . . .  None of the American soldiers apparently ever considered that he may have had human feelings of fear and the wish to be spared.

Flame throwers were a particularly sadistic way to “roast rats.” Reported one observer:

I have asked fighting men, for instance, why they—or actually, why we—regulated flame-throwers in such a way that enemy soldiers were set afire, to die slowly and painfully, rather than killed outright with a full blast of burning oil. Was it because they hated the enemy so thoroughly? The answer was invariably, “No, we don’t hate those poor bastards particularly; we just hate the whole goddam mess and have to take it out on somebody.”

“We are drowning and burning them all over the Pacific, and it is just as much pleasure to burn them as to drown them,” bragged William Halsey. As the admiral was well aware, his men were doing much more than just burning and drowning the enemy. . . .

With discipline lax or non-existent, those who wanted to torture, kill and mutilate, did. Desecration of bodies first began with the first islands invaded. Along a wide stream dividing the two armies on Guadalcanal, fresh arriving troops noticed decapitated Japanese heads stuck on poles facing across the river. There on the “Canal” and elsewhere, U.S. Marines tossed the dead and dying into open latrines while others laughingly urinated into the open mouths of the wounded.

The collection of ears, noses, fingers, and other body parts was a pastime many marines proudly participated in. Some strung the trophies and wore them like necklaces.

“Our boys cut them off to show their friends in fun, or to dry and take back to the States when they go,” said one man matter-of-factly.

Cured Japnese SkullJapanese skulls were another popular trophy. Some were sent home to friends, family, even sweethearts. Most heads, however, after being “cured” by ravenous ants or boiled in kettles to remove flesh, were then sold to eager naval personnel.

Bones were also collected. Some were carved to form letter openers for folks back home. Even the White House received one such present.

“This is the sort of gift I like to get,” laughed President Roosevelt. “There’ll be plenty more such gifts.”

Understandably, when news reached Japan that the bodies of their sons and husbands were being wantonly abused and that the US president himself countenanced such atrocities, there was outrage. The Americans were portrayed in the Japanese press as “deranged, primitive, racist, and inhuman.” Explained one American, himself equally outraged:

The thought of a Japanese soldier’s skull becoming an American ashtray was as horrifying in Tokyo as the thought of an American prisoner used for bayonet practice was in New York.

Of all the trophies, however, none were more sought out than gold-capped teeth. After any battle or massacre, the mouths of the fallen were often the first stop for many Americans. Like South Sea prospectors, fights broke out when “claim-jumpers” attempted to steal the bodies claimed by others. One excited marine felt he had struck it rich after spotting a dead enemy. “But,” according to a witness . . .

. . . the Japanese wasn’t dead. He had been wounded severely in the back and couldn’t move his arms; otherwise he would have resisted to his last breath. The Japanese’s mouth glowed with huge gold-crowned teeth, and his captor wanted them. He put the point of his knife on the base of a tooth and hit the handle with the palm of his hand. Because the Japanese was kicking his feet and thrashing about, the knife point glanced off the tooth and sank deeply into the victim’s mouth. The Marine cursed him and with a slash cut his cheeks open to each ear. He put his foot on the sufferer’s lower jaw and tried again. Blood poured out of the soldier’s mouth. He made a gurgling noise and thrashed wildly. I shouted, “Put the man out of his misery.” All I got for an answer was a cussing out. Another Marine ran up, put a bullet in the enemy soldier’s brain, and ended his agony. The scavenger grumbled and continued extracting his prizes undisturbed.

Understandably, Japanese soldiers had no more desire to surrender and be tortured than did US soldiers fighting the Indians on the Plains of America a century earlier. Each fought to the finish, but each also saved the “last bullet” for them self. If a Japanese soldier found himself surrounded with no way to escape or kill himself, he committed “suicide” by walking calmly back and forth along the enemy lines until a bullet found its mark. Sometimes ten, even twenty, Japanese would thus kill themselves simultaneously.

Once the Americans reached Saipan, Okinawa and other Japanese islands with civilian populations, mass rape was added to the menu of war crimes. Small wonder that a Japanese soldier, or civilian, for that matter, would do whatever it took to keep from falling into Allied hands. As one American revealed:

The northern tip of Saipan is a cliff with a sheer drop into the sea. At high tide the sharp coral rocks are almost covered with swirling surf. The Japanese civilians and the surviving soldiers were all crowded into this area. Now one of the worst horrors of the war occurred. In spite of loud-speaker messages asking them to surrender, and assurances that they would be well-treated, they began killing themselves. Soldiers clutched hand grenades to their bellies and pulled the pins. Through our spotting scopes from our observation post I witnessed this sickening spectacle. One of the worst experiences of my life.

Not only were there virtually no survivors among the 30,000 men of the Japanese garrison on Saipan, but two out of every three civilians—some 22,000 in all—were either murdered or committed suicide.

“We just blew it all up,” admitted one marine. “We don’t know if there were women and children or whatever, we just blew them up.”

“Japanese are still being shot all over the place,” reported an Australian late in the war. “The necessity for capturing them has ceased to worry anyone. Nippo soldiers are just so much machine-gun practice.”

A handful of prisoners did manage to get captured, of course, by accident if nothing else. All were spared solely for the information they might provide. When the interrogation was through, the subjects were of no further use. Wrote one witness:

When they flew Japanese prisoners back for questioning on a C-47, they kept the freight door at the side of the plane open, and when the questioning of each man was concluded, he’d be kicked overboard before they reached their destination.

Of course, it was not just island-hopping marines who committed countless atrocities; virtually all American service men partook. A Japanese sailor whose ship or submarine was sunk stood no better chance of survival than his comrade on shore. US naval vessels routinely shelled all life boats and machine-gunned any survivors still in the water. Overhead, Japanese pilots who escaped from burning planes were themselves murdered by Allied airmen as they struggled in their parachute harnesses.

As late as October, 1944, it was announced that a mere 604 Japanese were being held in Allied POW camps.

***

Just as the Allied air forces were targeting cities and civilians in Germany, so too was the US air force incinerating the women and children of Japan.  As was the case with his peers in Europe, cigar-chewing, Jap-hating Gen. Curtis Lemay had no qualms whatsoever of targeting non-combatants. Once his air armada moved within striking distance of the Japanese home islands, the American air commander sent his B-29 bombers to attack Japan with high explosives and phosphorous bombs. Virtually all Japanese urban centers suffered utter destruction but it was the larger cities that were forced to endure the hell of “fire bombing.”

In one raid on Tokyo alone, in one night, an estimated 75,000 to 200,000 people, mostly women and children, were burned to death. Only the incineration of Dresden, Germany, with an estimated death toll of between 200,000-400,000, was greater.

In January, 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur forwarded to President Roosevelt a Japanese offer to surrender that he had just received. Roosevelt spurned the request. Seven months later, the new American president, Harry Truman, received virtually the same offer from the Japanese. This time, the Americans accepted. Had the Japanese surrender been accepted when first offered, well over one million people, American and Japanese, would not have died needlessly. Had peace been made in January, 1945, there would have been no battle blood-bathes as occurred at Iwo Jima, Saipan and Okinawa. There would have been no firebombing murder of hundreds of thousands of women and children in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, and every other major Japanese city. And, perhaps most important of all, had the Japanese peace offer been accepted earlier there would have been no horrific use of atomic weapons against the women and children of Japan and no stigma or shame attached to we Americans forever for the use of such hideous and hellish weapons.

The fiery deaths of civilians in Tokyo and other cities and the vaporization of 200,000 mostly women and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains an evil black smear on the human soul for all time to come; they provide a clear and terrible testament to man’s inhumanity to man. The unbridled assaults against the helpless civilians of Japan were also a graphic comment on the powerful price of propaganda. From beginning to end, American political and military leaders hoped to punish the Japanese like no other people in history had been punished. Hence, the refusal to accept Japan’s surrender in January, 1945, and the refusal to accept the surrender several times later on. The argument made by President Truman and his apologists that the atomic bombs were used to “end the war sooner” and thereby save both American and Japanese lives, was a lie; it was a lie then and it is a lie to this very day. In fact, Truman deliberately prolonged the war until the bombs were tested, assembled, delivered, and ready for use against Japan.  When the first device exploded as planned at Hiroshima and vaporized an estimated 80,000-100,000 civilians, Truman was eager to use another such bomb against another civilian target, Nagasaki. Had Truman a hundred nuclear weapons in his arsenal—rather than the mere two that he used—it seems clear he would have happily dropped them all on the women and children of Japan.

“The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them,” argued the American president. “When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him like a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless necessary.”

Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

Hiroshima: August 6, 1945

Another argument for the use of the atomic bombs when Japan was willing, even eager, to surrender, was an attempt to impress the Soviet Union with American might. If such a line of reasoning was indeed true, as many later pointed out, then the weapons could have just as easily been used against isolated military targets, and not urban areas filled with women and children.

Certainly, one strong reason for using the weapon, though never mentioned then, and seldom mentioned even now, was hate. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were merely a more dramatic and devastating continuation of the no-quarter policy that had been in effect since December 7, 1941. The bombs were used against a much-hated enemy simply because the Americans wanted to use them. Weapons that would kill tens of thousands in a flash, then kill tens of thousands more in the most hideous and painful ways imaginable, made perfectly good sense at the time; it certainly made sense to Truman and millions of Americans then, and sadly, it still makes perfectly good sense to millions of Americans even now, seventy years later.

“The Dirty Japs began the war,” as the reasoning ran then, and still runs now, “the Dirty Japs fought the war in the most inhumane and barbarous way possible, and so it is thus fitting that these dirty yellow rats should suffer like no other people ever suffered;” or, as one American historian phrased it more delicately: “[T]he widespread image of the Japanese as sub-human constituted an emotional context which provided another justification for decisions which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands.”

Nevertheless, with the war clearly won, and with pangs of conscience beginning to reassert themselves among some, a few voices felt that the dropping of the terrible new weapon was a display of sadistic savagery, pure and simple.

“The use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul,” former US president, Herbert Hoover, wrote shortly after the news reached him.

Added the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Leahy:

It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were almost defeated and ready to surrender. . . . [I]n being the first to use it, we . . . adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.

And even Dwight David Eisenhower—a man who himself knew more than a little about the mass murder of a helpless enemy—suddenly found a mote of pity when he registered his complaint against the use of the hideous new weapon. “The Japanese were ready to surrender. . . ,” the general wrote. “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

Mercifully, for everyone concerned, the Allied powers soon accepted the Japanese surrender seven months after it was originally offered and World War Two, the most savage and evil conflict in history, was over.

***

And while this was in progress, the “world’s worst peace” was claiming its European victims in their millions. None suffered more in war, none suffered more in “peace,” than German females.  Of all the numerous war crimes committed by the Allies during World War Two, the massive rapes committed against the helpless women and children were perhaps the most monstrous.  Of course, an untold number of German women and children did not survive the violent, nonstop assaults.  One million?  Two million?  Ten million?  Since no one in power cared, no one in power was counting.

And as this monstrous crime was enveloping the women of Europe, a similar spiritual slaughter was transpiring in Asia.

Because the great bulk of fighting in the war against Japan was fought on the water, in the air or across islands either uninhabited or sparsely populated, rape is a word seldom mentioned in American war diaries or official reports during the years 1941-1944.  When US forces invaded the Japanese island of Okinawa, however, this changed.  Almost immediately, and in spite of the bloody fighting, US soldiers began the sexual assault on the females of the island.  In one prefecture alone, during a ten-day period, over one thousand women reported being raped.  Since most victims would never come forward and voluntarily suffer such shame in a society where modesty and chastity were prized above all else, the number of rapes was undoubtedly much greater than reported.

Incidents like the following became common:

Marching south, men of the 4th Marines passed a group of some 10 American soldiers bunched together in a tight circle next to the road. They were “quite animated,” noted a corporal who assumed they were playing a game of craps. “Then as we passed them,” said the shocked marine, “I could see they were taking turns raping an oriental woman. I was furious, but our outfit kept marching by as though nothing unusual was going on.”

So pervasive was the crime, and so frightened were the people, that hundreds of Okinawa women committed suicide by swallowing poison or by leaping from the steep cliffs of the island.

With their nation’s surrender in August, 1945, Japanese officials were so concerned about the mass rape of their wives and daughters by the victors that they rounded up tens of thousands of girls from poorer families throughout the nation and all but forced them into prostitution at various brothels, or “comfort stations.”  Although such stop-gap measures did prevent wholesale rape on a German scale, this was small consolation to the women and children who had to endure the sanctioned sex attacks.  Earning anywhere from eight cents to a dollar a day, a girl working in the “rape stations,” as they more commonly were called, might be brutally raped and sodomized from 15 to 60 times a days.

“They took my clothes off,” remembered one little girl. “I was so small, they were so big, they raped me easily. I was bleeding, I was only 14. I can smell the men. I hate men.”

Despite hundreds of thousands of American and Australian occupation soldiers using the rape stations, thousands more preferred taking their sex violently.  In the days, weeks and months after the surrender, numerous atrocities were committed as the victors laid claim to the “spoils of war.”

In the Spring of 1946, American GI’s cut the phone lines in Nagoya and raped every women they could get their hands on, including children as young as ten.  At another city, US soldiers broke into a hospital and spent their time raping over 70 women, including one who had just given birth.  The mother’s infant was flung to the floor and killed.

Had Allied occupation commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, spent even half the time on stemming rape as he spent censoring news from Japan or running down real or imagined Japanese war criminals, the attacks would have been curtailed.  But, like his opposite in Europe, Gen. Eisenhower, he did not.

As American historian, John W. Dower, acknowledged:

Once you recognize that soldiers rape–including “our” guys, our fathers, uncles, grandfathers, sons, husbands, boyfriends, grandsons–then you understand the tremendous resistance [by authorities] to recognizing mass rapes during wartime as the atrocity it has always been and still is.

***

When it comes to propaganda, we suspected our enemies of it, but we never figured we were using propaganda. We felt like our country was too honest to use propaganda on us, and we honestly were not conscious that they were.

So wrote Katharine Phillips, an American Red Cross worker during World War Two.  Hardly concealed in Katherine’s words written long after the war, is the fear, the dread fear, that perhaps the inhuman evil that her generation was told to hate a thousand times over during four years of war may not have been so evil or so inhuman after all.  Just as with every other war known to man, World War Two had also been a war of words, a war of poisonous words; a war of deceit, treachery, hate, and lies in which trusting, unsuspecting people were lashed once again into a frenzy of murderous madness by outrageously vicious and vile propaganda. True, some angry words are perhaps needed in times of war to awaken and impassion the laggards among us to work and slave like ants to win such a contest; but equally true, some of that same propaganda, in the hands of evil men behind desks far removed from danger, contribute to outright murder of the most heartless and cold-blooded kind, encourage rape on a massive, historical scale, add to the agonizing death by fire of uncounted millions of women and children, and engender enough hate, misery and pain to make a planet groan.

For many, like Katherine, it took years before they came to realize that the very people they had been programmed to despise, dehumanize and ultimately exterminate like vermin were but after all, very frail, very frightened, very human, and finally . . . were very much like themselves. For a fortunate few, however, even in the midst of the terrible inferno itself, reality sometimes shattered the hate-filled propaganda unexpectedly.

The sudden re-humanization of the Japanese came as a shock to some. While sifting through a blackened, blown-out cave on Iwo Jima, one marine was “horrified” when he discovered some childish and brightly-colored paintings strewn among the wreckage. After poring over the art work, the soldier was stunned.

“The Japanese soldiers had children . . . who loved them and sent their art work to them,” the incredulous marine suddenly realized, just as American children would send pretty pictures to their equally proud fathers.

Rummaging through pockets of the fallen enemy, other Americans were startled when they found newspaper clippings of baseball teams back home in Japan, just as any normal American soldier would carry; or they discovered inside enemy helmets photos of beautiful Japanese movie stars just as many US marines folded pin-ups of Betty Grable or Rita Hayworth in theirs; or they unwrapped delicate letters from home with pictures of girl friends inside, or they stumbled upon a torn photo amid the debris of battle of a now-dead soldier laughing and rolling on the ground with puppies in his back yard back home. For some Americans, the abrupt realization that there were more similarities between them and their enemy than not was life-altering.

Occasionally, in even more startling ways, the realization of shared humanity came when a dead soldier’s diary was discovered:

Sept. 30 1942 (still on Guadalcanal) We took a short rest in the grove, when we found a figure of a man in a bush. Had he escaped from a crashing plane or infiltrated from the sea? Two or three soldiers chased and caught him after five min or so. He was a young American soldier.

He got a bayonet cut on his forehead and was bleeding. He sat down on the ground leaning on coconut trunks and had his hands tied behind his back. He looked thin, unshaven and wore a waterproofing overcoat.

He pleaded with me to help him, ‘General, Help me! ‘General, Help me!’ He thought I was senior and an officer of higher rank. In the rain, I stood hesitant about what to do with this American soldier. It was impossible for me to set him free. We couldn’t take him with my party. . . . We had not roughed him up after capturing him, but the moment I had deported him, the men of the HQ treated him violently. I thought later I should have released him.

I regretted what I had done to him. He didn’t make me feel any hatred as an enemy. It was a strange feeling for me. He looked quite young and mild-mannered, and didn’t look strong or ferocious at all. He was gentle but fully composed and never disgraced himself. I can’t say what befell this young soldier. I am sure he was not a soldier who would easily leak out a military secret. And I am afraid he never returned to his camp.

With the dawn of peace, men and women of good will finally found the strength and courage to revisit the awful crucible they had recently escaped from. Some, in shame, cast off the old prejudice and hate that they once had so eagerly embraced, and seek a reckoning, an new and honest understanding of the past that they had played a part in.

Such was the case of Edgar Jones. A veteran himself, first in Europe, then in the Pacific, Jones struggled mightily to make sense of the many senseless things he had seen, heard and perhaps even done. When he was through, when he truly understood what had occurred, the veteran exploded in anger . . . and honesty.

We Americans have the dangerous tendency in our international thinking to take a holier-than-thou attitude toward other nations. We consider ourselves to be more noble and decent than other peoples, and consequently in a better position to decide what is right and wrong in the world. What kind of war do civilians suppose we fought, anyway? We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled the flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones into letter openers. .  .  . [W]e mutilated the bodies of enemy dead, cutting off their ears and kicking out their gold teeth for souvenirs, and buried them with their testicles in their mouths. . . . We topped off our saturation bombing and burning of enemy civilians by dropping atomic bombs on two nearly defenseless cities, thereby setting an all-time record for instantaneous mass slaughter.

As victors we are privileged to try our defeated opponents for their crimes against humanity; but we should be realistic enough to appreciate that if we were on trial for breaking international laws, we should be found guilty on a dozen counts. We fought a dishonorable war, because morality had a low priority in battle. The tougher the fighting, the less room for decency, and in Pacific contests we saw mankind reach the blackest depths of bestiality.

Fortunately, the passionate, heartfelt words of Edgar Jones now speak for millions more around the globe. Alas, if only such words as his could be emblazoned across the sky in fiery letters before each and every rush to war and before each and every “holy crusade” to slaughter an “inhuman” enemy, then certainly the world would be a better place because of it.

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