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First Taken, Last Released: Overlooked WWII Internment
Remembering When We Did Intern People
It must be spooky to those aware of WWII internment when would-be politicians speak today of locking up some other group of people because of their looks, culture, nationality or religion.
Really? Could we make the same mistake? Was George Santayana correct when he wrote more than 100 years ago that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”? Let First Taken, Last Released: Overlooked WWII Internment fill in missing parts of the internment history as it serves as a memory-jogger.
Why First Taken-Last Released?
Most Americans whose family histories cover World War II are aware of the taciturn manner in which those of all cultures and nationalities who served or were imprisoned speak of what they experienced. It was as if an entire generation clammed up.
Among those who did speak were a few who wrote the history that we have today of those times, just as journalists today are writing what will be the history that following generations will learn as history.
It took years to get American veterans of that war to describe it, and only now are their exploits freely told. Similarly, people of Japanese ancestry forced from their homes in Hawaii and the US West Coast were loathe to talk about their incarceration. Eventually many did and we now have a lot of chronicles about life in what has become referred to in the Japanese community as American concentration camps.
Many of those accounts were written by children, all with at least hyphenated citizenship who were penned up along with their parents. Many books on the subject list all of the camps where those interned families were kept.
Those books and academic accounts, however, ignore at least half a dozen other camps where Japanese were held: Missoula in Montana, McCoy in Wisconsin, Forrest in Tennessee, Livingston in Louisiana and Santa Fe in New Mexico. Nearly all were located deeper into the interior of the US than the better known family camps of the Far West and even Hawaii.
Most of the latter group were arrested under direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 issued on February 19, 1942. The numbers taken grew to more than 120,000 within weeks.
Incarceration of Japanese actually began more than two months earlier, on December 7, 1941 before the smoke cleared over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, nearly a day before the US declared war over the day that lived in infamy.
The first 5,000 Japanese taken into custody were all men, the vast majority Issei born in Japan and no American citizenship, many intending to return to Japan. Along with them were Kibei sons born in the US with dual citizenship, but sent to Japan before the war to be raised in its culture and language in advance and returned.
All 5,000 already had meticulous FBI dossiers, amassed over the previous several months as hostilities between Japan and the US heated up, expanding from words of recrimination to economic sanctions, reprisals and threats.
The men drew the FBI’s attention only because they were Issei, obviously loyal to their home country, but more importantly, they usually were community leaders or religious figures, language teachers or others considered to have influence in Japanese communities.
That was particularly true in Hawaii where 40 percent of the population at the time was composed of pineapple and sugar cane workers of Japanese ancestry, many Issei themselves. Men at the top of the list were the first Japanese arrested even before martial law was declared at mid-afternoon of December 7. As the title suggests, the first-taken also became the last-released from behind barbed wire.
For decades, knowledge of their experiences could be found only in two published books. The first was Life Behind Barbed Wire, by a Honolulu newspaper publisher, Yasutaro Soga, published in 1945 in Japanese and translated decades later into English. The second, which drew extensively from Soga’s work, was Haisho Ten Ten, published in Japanese in 1964 by the Honolulu Japanese language newspaper Hawaii Times. As of this writing it was still being translated into English. The author was Kumaji Furuya, who was among the 160 first-taken and described his experiences as a prisoner held in places that save for one, were different from those where Soga was held.
Furuya spent his entire time in the men-only internment camps in close proximity with Shinri Sarashina, one of the very first to be taken among the 160 as the No. 2 man in Hawaii of the predominant Buddhist sect. His experiences in the camps dovetail with those of Furuya, and his lengthy FBI dossier and detailed National Archives records of his incarceration were obtained for his son, Takuji, through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Other research uncovered recently declassified documents, including transcripts of the meetings of Japan’s highest leaders, including Emperor Hirohito, during where the attack on Pearl Harbor was hatched and discussed endlessly. Furuya’s book and the transcripts were translated by Takuji for Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back, published in October, 2015.
The bulk of this book is excerpted from Tommy’s Wars, which is about three members of one Japanese family of five Hawaii-born children, who were caught up in four of the war’s atrocities: Pearl Harbor, internment, the Hiroshima atomic bomb and Soviet POWs in Siberia.
Pearl Harbor and internment-related research and detailed descriptions gathered for Tommy’s Wars, but omitted for space reasons, are included in this book.
Son Takuji, known better as Tommy Sarashina and among golfers as Tommy Tang, is the primary subject of Tommy’s Wars, his father Shinri Sarashina the primary subject of First Taken, Last Released: Overlooked WWII Internment.
Countdown from Pearl Harbor—Part IX
(excerpts from Tommy’s Wars, and to come, First Taken, Last Released)
That mid-January day of 1942, Shinri Sarashina’s first hearing in captivity, supposedly to give him due process, continued as the Army officers and FBI men continued questioning him.
They then went through his family, establishing that the five children, whose order of birth he got mixed up, were dual citizens. In response to another question, Shinri acknowledged that “until five years ago I was a consular agent for about 10 years.” American authorities viewed that as suspicious because priests, Japanese language teachers and other community leaders often served as go-betweens for Japanese in the United States needing help taking care of whatever family needs or other business they might have in Japan or with the government there. Shinri also acknowledged that he was a helper in one of the language schools, giving him a triple gotcha.
He said in response to questions that since his arrival in Hawaii in 1916, he had returned to Japan three times, the first in 1920 for three months, the second for three months in 1932 when his father died, the third for four months to visit his own family during the 1939 holidays.
He also said he had planned to have them return to Hawaii that year of 1942 because his eldest son Kanji would be completing his high school. The school year would have ended in March in Japan and Kanji was expected as the first-born son to enter Buddhist school, the equivalent of a seminary, in Hawaii. Shinri expected Kanji to be the family’s next priest.
Shinri finished that line of questioning by adding he also wanted the family back in Hawaii “as I am alone here now” and he had not heard from them since the previous September.
Finally, Shinri was asked if his wife had taken valuable papers with her when she left for Japan in 1937, did he have a short-wave radio, did he donate a comfort kit or ask children to press parents to donate one. He answered all in the negative. He was instructed to keep confidential all that was said in the hearing and dismissed.
Later, the board’s findings of Shinri were: “The Board, having carefully considered the evidence before it, finds:
“Citizenship: The internee, Shinri Sarashina, was born in Japan, hence an enemy alien.
“Loyalty: Loyal to Japan only.
“Activities: No specific instances of special activities have been shown, but this man has been a Buddhist priest ever since his arrival here in 1916; he does not speak the English language; he is assistant superintendent of the Hongwanji Mission of the Buddhist sect in Honolulu; was helper in a Japanese language school; and was for some years a consular-agent. All of his children are now in Japan.
“Recommendations: In view of the above findings, the Board recommends that the internee, Shinri Sarashina, be detained.” That meant, even then, that he would be interned for the duration of the war. The final finding: “In view of the above-mentioned recommendation of said board, this case is being closed on the authority of the special agent in charge.”
The decision gained the automatic stamp of approval by various intelligence agencies and the military governor’s office, all concluding: “In the foregoing case of Shinri Sarashina, the recommendations of the Board are approved, and, it appearing necessary, it is ordered that Shinri Sarashina be interned.”
Countdown from Pearl Harbor—Part VIII
(excerpts from Tommy’s Wars, and to come, First Taken, Last Released)
Not long after the infamous year of 1941 turned to 1942, the first of the detainees got their long-promised hearing by an inquiry commission. That meant a welcome trip off the hated island, although back to the Honolulu Immigration Office and at least an overnight in its also-hated upstairs room.
Shinri’s turn came the morning of January 14 when he and several others were taken by scow across the water to the opposite shore and by car up to the Immigration Office to face the “Board of Officers and Civilians.” Not until the day before did Shinri and others receive the arrest warrant led to his being “apprehended” just over a month earlier.
Each prisoner would face one of the three boards, each of which was composed of three interrogators and two others to act as a prosecutor and as court reporter to provide a transcript of “the hearing of evidence and making recommendations as to the internment of enemy aliens, dual citizens and citizens.”
His board noted that Shinri appeared without counsel, not also noting that he probably had not been notified in advance that he could have one or have his own witness testify. He was informed at the beginning of the hearing, however. It began with an army lieutenant serving as “executive and recorder,” a type of prosecutor.
He began by calling FBI Special Agent John Hughes as a witness. Hughes read from the short dossier, adding that the Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin “is said to have a congregation of approximately twenty-two thousand persons, or one-half of the Japanese Buddhists in Hawaii. This sect is said to be comprised [sic] of approximately three-fourths of the Japanese in the Empire of Japan.” Hughes concluded with, “That is the substance of the information we have on him.” Five minutes after the hearing began, it adjourned for two more days.
On January 16, given Shinri’s halting English, he was provided an interpreter, the Reverend George Meinziner, and then was sworn in by the court reporter.
An Army lieutenant acting as prosecutor opened the hearing by showing Shinri the arrest warrant he had been served, which he acknowledged. He was advised of his rights to stay silent and have an attorney, at his own expense.
The routine questions began, including one about the schools he attended in Japan. Shinri said his highest education was at the Buddhist High School in Hiroshima and that he taught kindergarten after graduation. The questioner asked if he had gone to a university, and Shinri said no, without explaining that his last year in high school was the American equivalent of a sophomore in college. Probably because of the translation problem, he also did not mention he was a graduate of a teacher’s college in Japan.
The recorder asked him about any military training he may have had, but Shinri responded that because his school was Buddhist, it did not have the drills common in other Japanese high schools. In response to other questions, Shinri testified he was examined for draft in the army, but was rejected “because of a weak body.” When he was arrested, he weighed 112 pounds on a small frame of 5 feet 4 1/2 inches, sported a faint mustache, a black mole on his upper lip and a scar over his left eye.
Countdown from Pearl Harbor—Part VII
First Internment Christmas
(excerpts from Tommy’s Wars, and to come, First Taken, Last Released)
At Sand Island, the first-taken who would become the last-released, all pillars of Honolulu’s Japanese community, experienced their first collective humiliation of having to stand naked in the chill of the evening December air as their clothing was searched for contraband just because a martinet camp commander found a banned piece of metal on another prisoner returning from a day of work duty.
Sand Island was a hastily arranged tent city to house Japanese prisoners until internment camps could be built, both in Hawaii and on the US mainland where thousands of West Coast Issei and their offspring, Nisei Japanese-Americans, were being incarcerated.
The internment system was in such disarray at the beginning, there was no common name to attribute to the arrested Japanese. They began as custodial detainees, shifted to prisoner, then back to just detainees and eventually internees. Regardless of nomenclature, they were living behind barbed wire with limited movement, rarely allowed outside its confines.
The internees were told early in their incarceration at Sand Island they would be provided a hearing and that some would be released, some held. If Buddhist Minister Shinri Sarashina’s first hearing was indicative of the rest, they were mostly sham.
Their first experience with the bureaucracy of imprisoning internees occurred at their first Christmas in captivity, just over two weeks after their arrest. Their seasonal gift was a visit by a lawyer, not to represent them as a defense attorney, but to be given power of attorney to represent their needs outside the barbed wire where they would remain.
Their lawyer who offered to act on their behalf was accompanied by a Japanese-fluent FBI agent to serve as interpreter. Under those conditions, many of the Japanese men asked the lawyer to get them more clothes from their families. Many also had remained uncharacteristically unshaven since taken into custody, because their razors were confiscated.
Some had packed only a single change of clothes, not knowing what was ahead for them. They ended up having to wash them by hand several times a week just for a semblance of feeling clean. It also turned out the lawyer was appalled by the conditions of the camp and the stories the detainees told, and he set about to get conditions changed.
Otherwise, Christmas day in captivity for men of a society where the day is widely celebrated without its religious aspect meant a turkey lunch in the mess hall decorated with a small, plain Christmas tree.
It may seem strange, but Japanese adopted Christmas as a major event long before World War II. Today, Christmas as a holiday is more of a celebratory event in Japan than anywhere else, even the United States.
Japan’s dominant religions are oriental, Shinto and Buddhist without a Christ, Christianity yet to take hold. But, the nation appears to love a reason to celebrate and the glittery decorations and gift-giving associated with the season has helped feed that love.
Ever since he arrived in Hawaii in 1916, Shinri and his Issei peers were well-aware of their immigrant community’s attraction to the celebration. The annual even became a part of their lives and their families and the lives of those with whom they associated, in Shinri’s case, his congregation.
Shinri’s last Christmas with his family, however, was five years earlier, the family’s last together in Honolulu in 1936. His next with them as a complete group would have to wait for another 11 years.
(Countdown from Pearl continues in January, recalling 1942 internment)
Countdown from Pearl Harbor—Part VI
Sand Island likely had been selected for its emergency task because it was isolated, with no connection to any other land except by open water. As such, the 15-acre island that was little more than a large sand bar was used to quarantine arriving ships believed to be carrying disease-infected passengers.
All that was left of that use was a large administration building now watching over a large area encircled by barbed wire and beyond that keawe trees. Although the island had been selected for holding prisoners, construction of additional facilities apparently waited for hostilities to begin, probably with the anticipation of more notice than Japan’s surprise attack afforded
Soldiers were still stacking tents just inside the barbed wire not far from the large building now serving as camp administration headquarters as the first of the 160 arrived by scow and led on foot through a small forest of the keawes to the detention area.
Inside, they trudged up to an open area in front of the building and waited for the rest of their group to arrive. Once assembled, at what was serving as the administration building and barracks for the soldiers assigned to guard them, they were told by the camp commander, a captain, that the United States and Japan had declared war on each other and that the arrested Issei, while not considered criminals who have done anything wrong, nevertheless were citizens of a country that now was considered an enemy.
They would be treated as wartime prisoners and treated according to military code as covered by the Geneva Convention signed a little more than 10 years earlier, although not by Japan. The word “prisoners” and the new “doom” of the news sent shivers and fears of dread through the internees, for they still did not know what they faced. At least, they were not to be killed. They were told they would have a hearing in due time, some released and others detained.
After the brief address, they were led to one of the other buildings nearby and strip-searched. After dressing, they were led outside to help pitch the tents that would house them, six men to a tent. That work was not finished until after nightfall.
Upon receiving their tent assignments, they were told the strict rules they would be living under, including all prisoners having to be in their tents by 5 p.m. each evening. At that time early in December, nightfall would come about an hour later, but the curfew would be kept even after the days become longer and it was still bright outside.
Each man got a blanket and pillow. Conversations were not to be heard beyond the tent. If, during the night one of them had to use the toilets erected on the edge of the camp, they were instructed to reply “prisoner” upon being told to “halt.” If not, they would be shot.
The next morning, they were awakened and given a deadline of minutes to be in line in the open area for roll call. Being late meant a military-style punishment such as working in the kitchen, known as KP for “kitchen patrol.” Soon, that duty and others would be served by all prisoners in shifts.
Countdown from Pearl Harbor—Part V
First Barbed Wire
After their first two nights, the original one hundred-sixty men taken in Honolulu were moved from that crowded Immigration Office room across the commercial harbor to Sand Island where they were put behind their first barbed wire. It offered an indication of what would become a new life of humiliation, subjugation and half a dozen moves from one part of the US to another with little advance notice. And no personal contact with family.
Their incarceration began as little as a mile from their areas of Honolulu, on an island where their captor changed from one who treated them with civility to one who behaved as an uncivil martinet.
Elsewhere on Oahu that Sunday afternoon, Governor Joseph Poindexter, under military pressure, received President Roosevelt’s approval and declared martial law throughout the territory of Hawaii as of 3:30 p.m. that already infamous day. Now the military was in control of the islands.
That meant, in effect, the governor had abdicated, to be replaced by General Walter Short, whose main fear at the time was a land invasion by a follow-up Japanese army. Lieutenant Colonel Green became Hawaii’s attorney general. (After the war, the US Supreme Court ruled the imposition of martial law was illegal. Too late.)
The military now in charge and with no casualty count yet, but what would be two thousand of its soldiers killed and hundreds of others injured in Japan’s “surprised attack,” could not help but feel anger and hatred toward what it perceived as a race of people who had betrayed them. According to many reports, the benign treatment by the FBI agents who arrested the Japanese descended into incidents of reprisal in the hands of many in the military now in control.
In a country that had a history of racism, the Japanese of that time provided the work force in Hawaii for harvesting the crops of sugar and pineapple. They did so on plantations throughout the state that operated not much differently than the old slave plantations of the South.
Their numbers, nearly half the state’s population, proved to be the salvation for many of Hawaii’s Japanese Issei. The laborers were needed on the home-front for food production and a statewide economy that would collapse without them. Thus, only the most influential among the population, which also meant people who did not labor on the plantations, were the first taken into custody for internment.
That was the reality that Shinri and the rest of the first arrested faced in their new life of no freedom and absolutely no indication of their future. In Shinri’s case, he no longer was a minister presiding over the Buddhist form of christening, baptism, weddings and funerals. Now he was a common criminal.
Many of that first one hundred-sixty had attended sessions with government officials in the Honolulu area just months earlier when they were promised they would not be treated differently if war broke out between the two nations. Life for them could continue as it was. That promise now broken and replaced by barbed wire, their lives were to be forever changed.
Countdown from Pearl Harbor—Part IV
(excerpted from Tommy’s Wars)
Shortly before 2 p.m., as he pondered whether to violate orders to stay off the streets, Shinri Sarashina lost the need to decide. Several FBI agents arrived at the temple carrying lists of names. They asked the priests for theirs and as the names matched the list, each was taken into custody, leaving the temple unattended except for a few staff members who arrived at work before the attack or during it.
The agents, having been informed that martial law was about to be declared throughout Hawaii, descended on that temple and others, delivering warrants that were distributed to various police and military patrols and the FBI the previous day by the Army’s Hawaii Department at nearby Fort Shafter.
As number one and number two of the Shin Buddhists on Hawaii, Bishop Gikyo Kuchiba and Shinri each had an assigned agent with a black government car waiting outside to take him who knew where.
Shinri pointed out the six kids to his agent and asked to be allowed to drive them to their homes before he was taken into custody. The agent said he could, but followed in the FBI car. After Shinri delivered the last one, the agent said he could go home and gather what he would need for at least an overnight stay.
It must have been an interesting and troublesome sight for his housemates, their fellow Japanese citizen under the command of this haole dressed in a suit and tie atypical of Hawaii. In his room, Shinri managed to stuff a couple of changes of clothes and his shaving gear into a small paper bag.
Leaving his own car behind, Shinri got in the FBI car and was taken directly to the Honolulu harbor piers where the huge building of the Immigration Office stood in the middle of its own campus. On the short ride, his captors told him nothing, answered no questions. He was left to stare out the window at a city with black smoke hovering overhead, now turned from a sleepy city into one of chaos.
The FBI car with Shinri inside pulled up to the gate at the Immigration Office where foreign arrivals usually were processed through customs, just as he was when he first arrived twenty-five years earlier. This time, however, he faced two menacing and nervous American soldiers, identified by a white-on-black band around their biceps that labeled them “MPs.”
The MPs lowered their rifles with fixed bayonets at the car as it pulled up and one shouted, “Halt.” Shinri’s FBI man responded, “Prisoner,” and the MPs waved them through. “Prisoner.” So that was what Shinri was now. This could be more serious than an overnight stay somewhere in custody, obvious cause for anxiety and worry. But then, he had done nothing wrong.
Inside, soldiers searched Shinri, processed paperwork and then led him up the stairs of the building and into a dank, dark room to join a handful of others, including his bishop, whose numbers would grow through the day and past midnight to one hundred-sixty Japanese men.
All were deemed potentially influential leaders in their communities, but now they were seen by authorities only as Issei born in Japan and intending to return there, making them the most suspicious of the Japanese who comprised 40 percent of Hawaii’s population.
Countdown from Pearl Harbor—Part III
(excerpted from Tommy’s Wars)
On Oahu Dec. 7, 1941, the Nishi Hongwanji at Pearl City likely tried to telephone the Honpa headquarters during the first wave of the attack, and Bishop Kuchiba was just as likely to try to call the Nishi to see if it everyone was all right and then to try to get a call through to Kyoto, headquarters of the Shin-Buddhist sect, to find out what was going on and what he should do.
Not long after the bombs and machine-gun fire began, the military ordered the local telephone company and its operators to preserve the lines for emergency calls only, most definitely not to put through any calls to Japan. Honolulu and area residents were left in a communications blackout.
Without telephone service, and orders for all but military and emergency personnel to stay off the streets and remain where they were, the priests and those already present at the Honpa Hongwanji, mostly children, were trapped. There were no portable radios in those days, so the children nearing the temple for Sunday school probably kept on going, seeking the safety of the temple.
Those reaching it, along with adults who managed to make it through the streets to reach it, took shelter in the large basement that served as a gathering place for various functions. There was no way to get the word out that services were canceled, as if the notice would have to be made.
Some of the children managed to leave and head for their homes along with some of the adults who dared to defy the orders to stay off the streets. At any rate, Shinri was left with half a dozen of the children who had arrived for his children’s service. All, including the priests, remained in the basement for the duration of the fireworks until they ended shortly before 10 a.m., and all the Japanese planes had left. Most of the gathered were fixed on the room’s radio blaring a blow-by-blow account of the chaos outside.
The instinct for these Japanese men of the cloth was the same as anyone else’s, to gather around a radio to try to learn what was going on and what they may have to do. That might mean having to head elsewhere for safety or, in their case as members of the same ethnicity as that morning’s attackers, to flee from likely recrimination.
That “fight-or-flight” instinct would be natural in their case because all had heard in recent months and years of neighbors and other acquaintances questioned by the FBI about each of them and about the prominent members of the Hongwanji, that knowledge squaring with other tidbits that indicated the priests might be under suspicion as Japanese citizens. At least, they believed, they were under some type of surveillance.
By 10:30 a.m., as doors opened to the outside, the sound of attacking planes had disappeared, but the air remained filled with sirens of all sorts. It also was filled with the acrid smell of gunpowder cordite. All radio listeners now acutely aware their attackers were Japanese, the situation had to be especially unsettling to the Japanese in Honolulu, especially those gathered in a temple that already was suspect in the eyes of authorities.
Countdown from Pearl Harbor—Part II
Racism, Xenophobia, Nativism
(excerpted from Tommy’s Wars)
On December 6, 1941 the FBI, over J. Edgar Hoover’s signature, sent dossiers on Shinri Sarashina and other Hawaii Issei to the Honolulu field office’s Special Defense Unit. The form letter accompanying Shinri’s brief dossier said Hoover recommended he “be considered for custodial detention in the event of a national emergency.” The FBI apparently was acting on the information from the intelligence services about the movement of Yamamoto’s fleet away from shore into the Pacific several days earlier. The agency was preparing its Hawaii agents just in case.
At least thirteen groups of FBI agents and military personnel had dusted off 1939 files with a long list of names, sorted in order of importance in terms of presumed community influence and authority. Some of the information was old. Shinri’s address was listed as the rented house he had moved from after his family left for Japan. But it had his work address at the Honpa Hongwanji.
The dossier said he, “Is an alien Japanese, born in 1890 at Hiroshima, Japan, who first arrived in the United States at the port of Honolulu in 1916 aboard the ship Siberia Maru. He is said to have departed for Japan in 1932 and returned to Hawaii on August 11, 1932,” his FBI rap sheet went on, citing Immigration and Nationalization Service records: “Is assistant superintendent of the Hompa [sic] Hongwanji Betsuin, the controlling force of the major Buddhist sect in the Territory of Hawaii.
“Subject is vice president of the Society for the Support of the Hawaii Betsuin, the organization responsible for the financial support of the Japanese Buddhist sect, Hompa Hongwanji, in the Territory of Hawaii,” citing Chiwa Saburo of Honolulu on August 20, 1941.”He was formerly a priest in outlying sections of the Territory of Hawaii, including Waianae, Oahu, and Laharina [sic], Maui, and is said to have been a consular agent at these posts. He was elected on 2-20-41 as one of the advisors of the Takata County Hiroshina [sic] Prefecture Peoples Society of Honolulu,” citing confidential information received September 20, 1941. It turned out that much of the information on him contained errors in dates, addresses, spelling and such. But the Immigration and Naturalization Service had even recorded that his father’s name was Joun and mother Sato, both living in Japan in 1939.
Apparently that was all the evidence the FBI had to justify the warrant that Lieutenant Colonel George Bicknell at Fort Shafter next to Pearl Harbor issued in the early afternoon of that day, as soon as martial law was declared, putting him in authority.
Bicknell sent the warrants to civilian and military police authorities and the FBI, saying, “You are hereby commanded to take the body of Shinri Sarashina on suspicion of being an alien enemy of the United States, and to detain said person pending final action by the Commanding General, Hawaiian Department, United States Army. This warrant of arrest is issued under the authority of the Secretary of War of the United States by his delegated agent this seventh day of December, 1941.”
As we came to learn decades later, J. Edgar Hoover tended to operate by his own rules, so his agents jumped the gun by a couple of hours, making its first arrests, including Sarashina, before formal declaration of marshal law.
Countdown from Pearl Harbor—Part I
Before Deed Done
(excerpt from Tommy’s Wars)
J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI didn’t wait for the Dec. 7, 1941 deed to be done at Pearl Harbor. The agency already had been gathering intelligence on communists and their US movement as it gathered steam during the depression. The suspicions also extended to other aliens abroad who might pose a threat as belligerency spread in Asia and Europe, not only from a nation perceived as one of those threatening belligerence, but also the non-European-looking who were not the acceptable shade of Polynesians considered beautiful to white Americans.
Unfortunately for Japanese, and by regional propinquity, Chinese, Filipino and other Southeast Asians, all with an Oriental look, they were easily spotted and therefore easier to be placed on a list and later rounded up.
Hawaii then, as now, was not painted with the same colors or hues as the rest of the United States. In the 1940 Hawaii, four out of five people would not be mistaken as Caucasians, haoles of European descent. On the mainland, the non-Caucasian minority was only 10 percent, small wonder they were targeted so easily for discrimination.
Persons of Japanese ancestry numbered nearly 160,000 in Hawaii in 1940, about 40 percent of its total population. It should come as no surprise then that the FBI, along with various military and other government divisions, was accumulating a long list of Japanese in Hawaii. They were sorted according to the same system the Japanese used.
The classification was: Issei, or first generation born in Japan and thus posing the greatest threat as “potential enemies,” Nisei, second generation born in the America of its forty-eight states and territories and thus naturalized Americans with dual citizenship, and then the Sansei, third generation with purely American citizenship.
Obviously, according to that danger scenario, the Issei would be the most suspect as visitors who likely would be returning to Japan and who knows what, followed by the others, in descending order of suspicion.
The FBI list made the Issei the top category of its Alien Enemy Control Program. To define them further as a threat, the Issei were listed according to their likely influence within the Japanese communities in Hawaii. Buddhist priests were put in the top category.
Who knew what these foreign people with local influence were up to when they gathered with other leaders of the Japanese community in Hawaii? Japan had been at war in Asia for several years. Their gatherings could, in fact, be cabals aimed at the US.
The feeling was affirmed by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Green of the US Army Advocate General’s Corps, who wrote in his memoir of the period that the concerns were driven by the fact 35,000 Issei comprised nearly half the Oahu population of 75,000 Japanese. Green’s “aliens” were considered most likely to conduct sabotage or espionage.
The insular Japanese communities included the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and 1,800 other Japanese organizations. There were guilds, Japanese language schools that also taught culture and newspapers with the entire Japanese community as an audience in a language only they could read. All of that contributed to a general racist and xenophobic view of the Japanese that helped make them suspect.
Countdown to Pearl Harbor—Part XI
December 7, 1941
The trans-Pacific coded traffic that took Roosevelt’s letter to Hirohito on Dec. 6, 1941 U.S. time also carried in the other direction what passed for Japan’s prior notice of an attack as required by the Hague Convention of 1907.
The notice, labeled “Memorandum Against the United States” relayed from Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo in Tokyo to his two ambassadors in Washington, D.C. also carried instructions that the notice not be delivered to the Secretary of State until 1 p.m. local time, which was just one hour before the scheduled attack on Pearl Harbor, at 8 a.m., Hawaii time.
The memorandum was wordy, nearly 2,400 words long when translated into English. But it was sent in Japanese and in code, which meant it had to be sent in bits and pieces, each to be decoded by the Japanese Embassy in Washington and then translated and typed in English for delivery to the Americans.
U.S. intelligence, through its “Magic” message-intercepting program, also saw the traffic, intercepted it as moved and sent it through the long process of decoding and translating and another long process of getting it to the proper authorities in Washington. As it turned out State Secretary Cordell Hull received the memorandum before Japan’s embassy completed its translation.
The embassy began receiving the coded message late Saturday, Dec. 6. Two days earlier, Japan ordered certain embassies, including the one in Washington, to begin destroying sensitive documents. Thus, the Washington embassy likely had staff in place to do that work on a Saturday evening, but not those for decoding and translating documents and the secretaries to type them into English.
Thus, they had to be called in to work and ended up working through the night. Whatever else Japan may be doing in the world, the ambassadors’ joint assignment was to continue seeking peace to continuing negotiations.
The memo noting that Japan was ending negotiations with the U.S., considered by both sides and others a notice of a declaration of war, did not say so until the final 37-word paragraph at the end of the 14th part of the 14-part message, and even then it was only suggestive, not definitive:
“The Japanese Government regrets to have to notify hereby the American Government that in view of the attitude of the American Government it cannot but consider that it is impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.”
The rest of the long-winded “memo” that was more like a dissertation accused the United States of being responsible for the problems between the two countries through its adherence to the “Anglo-American policy of imperialistic exploitation.”
By happenstance, the memo cited as an example the subject of Roosevelt’s letter to Hirohito, French Indochina. It said the nations involved in the regional dispute “should undertake among themselves to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of French Indochina….”
That was just one part of the 14-point message that ended: “The Japanese government regrets to have to notify hereby the American government that in view of the attitude of the American government it cannot but consider it is impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.”
That point, however, never reached the embassy for some reason. But, it did not matter; the intent of the memo was clear in diplomatic terms. No declaration of war, no notice of a pending attack, nothing adhering to the Hague Convention.
No actual declaration of anything except a rant and an unclear message that negotiations were over. Both parties knew that breaking off negotiations was tantamount to a declaration of war.
Ambassador Kichisaburō Nomura and special envoy Saburo Kurusu, who had worked alongside staff in translating the document, called the State Department at the appointed hour and asked for an appointment with Secretary Cordell Hull. It being a Sunday, Hull had other plans, but finally agreed to a 1:45 meeting.
The two ambassadors arrived late with their “memorandum” at 2:05 p.m. and were kept waiting until 2:20, at a time unknown to any of the parties that the attack on Pearl Harbor was well underway.
That was of no moment, because Hull already had received the U.S. decoding and translation of the work and had read it. Still, he went through the pretend of reading the 2,400 word memorandum.
Prepared with a response, Hull put the papers down and said to the ambassadors: “I must say that in all my conversations with you during the last nine months I have never uttered one word of untruth. This is borne out absolutely by the record. In all my 50 years of public service, I have never seen a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions—infamous falsehoods and distortions on a scale so huge that I never imagined until today that any government on this planet was capable of uttering them.”
The final high-level insult delivered, thus Japan went to war and the United States joined World War II.
Countdown to Pearl Harbor—Part X
December 6, 1941
President Rooosevelt’s personal 802-word letter, sent by mid-morning to Hirohito in the form of a very long telegram, arrived at the American Embassy in Tokyo and the desk of Ambassador Joseph Grew. Grew had it sent immediately on to Minister of Foreign Affairs Shigenori Togo.
(There was a 14-hour time difference at the time, 11 a.m. in Washington on Dec. 6 being 9 p.m. Dec. 6 in Tokyo, less than a day before the scheduled Pearl Harbor attack.)
In Washington, Japan’s two ambassadors were not informed of the letter and learned of it only after it was reported on American evening news broadcasts that Saturday, the State Department having announced it publicly, stressing that it was trying for a peaceful solution to the standoff. The account the Japan ambassadors heard mentioned neutral Thailand and that they stressed.
Despite being sent over regular telegraph lines because of problems with the intelligence service’s lines, the president’s letter encountered its own delays, not reaching the American Embassy and Grew until after 9 that night of Saturday Dec. 6 in Tokyo. By 10, Grew had relayed it to the Foreign Affairs Ministry where it underwent translation.
When Minister Togo saw its contents, he insisted the emperor be awakened to read it and rushed it over to the Imperial Palace at 3 a.m. Sunday, just 15 hours before the scheduled attack. The Japan ambassadors’ message alerting their government to the telegram, not needing translation, arrived a hour or two after Hirohito had finished the letter.
Somewhere along the 30-year-old trans-Pacific cable carrying telegraph wires the Roosevelt letter that Saturday passed a coded message headed in the other direction from Togo to his ambassadors, its 2,700 words sent in bits and pieces and laying out the “Memorandum against the United States,” in 14 points.
Roosevelt’s letter must have been somewhat of an insult to Hirohito the moment he began reading it. As the latest in a string of emperors, the Meiijis, whose emergence in Japan was itself the result of the nation’s emergence from a 200-year cocoon that sealed it off from the rest of the world, Hirohito was well-aware of how that was brought about, much better so, apparently, than the U.S. president.
Roosevelt wrote: “Almost a century ago the President of the United States addressed to the Emperor of Japan a message extending an offer of friendship of the people of the United States to the people of Japan. That offer was accepted, and in the long period of unbroken peace and friendship which has followed, our respective nations, through the virtues of their peoples and the wisdom of their rulers have prospered and have substantially helped humanity.”
The “offer of friendship,” must have struck Hirohito as a bit odd, knowing the opening of the cocoon occurred at threatening gunpoint from American ships anchored just outside its harbors. And what Japan saw when it emerge led to the maniacal reasoning that brought the world to this point of disaster. The letter went on:
“Only in situations of extraordinary importance to our two countries need I address to Your Majesty messages on matters of state. I feel I should now so address you because of the deep and far-reaching emergency which appears to be in formation.” Again, Hirohito’s immediate reaction must have been that the Pearl Harbor attack’s secrecy must have been blown and perhaps would have to be canceled.
Instead, Roosevelt’s letter talked of the negotiations between the two countries and their roadblock issues concerning China and the peace of the Pacific at large, expressing America’s own desire to achieve peace.
“I am certain that it will be clear to Your Majesty, as it is to me, that in seeking these great objectives both Japan and the United States should agree to eliminate any form of military threat. This seemed essential to the attainment of the high objectives.”
How relieved Hirohito must have been when the letter then went into a dissertation about the France’s Vichy Government under German occupation, the up to 6,000 Japanese troops allowed to operate in northern French Indochina the previous year and now pressure from the Japan in southern half, in the guise of defending the area. From whom, it was not clear.
Roosevelt noted no attacks were made, yet in the previous few weeks Japan had inserted such a large number of war elements in the area, other nations of the region were convinced its intention was not defensive. He called the situation akin to the people of the region sitting on a keg of dynamite.
The note said Roosevelt could assure Japan that none of the countries posed a threat to it, not even China. He again called for something far less than the earlier demand to withdraw from China—”withdrawal of the Japanese forces from Indo-China.”
The letter concluded: “I address myself to Your Majesty at this moment in the fervent hope that Your Majesty may, as I am doing, give thought in this definite emergency to ways of dispelling the dark clouds. I am confident that both of us, for the sake of the peoples not only of our own great countries but for the sake of humanity in neighboring territories, have a sacred duty to restore traditional amity and prevent further death and destruction in the world.”
Countdown to Pearl Harbor—Part IX
December 3, 1941
The 24-ship attack fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagamo crossed the International Dateline into Hawaii time in the early morning and in the afternoon stopped at the 43 degrees north, 170 degrees longitude.
That point is about as remote as a fleet can get, about halfway between the Aleutian islands of Alaska and the northernmost Hawaii islands more than 1,200 miles to the southeast. The spot was a good place to reassemble storm-scattered ships and refuel to capacities.
December 4, 1941
The U.S. Navy office in Washington relayed to the fleet at Pearl Harbor the gist of an intercepted message from Japan to its diplomats in Southeast Asia, London and Washington. They were to destroy all codes except those needed to continue communicating with Tokyo. The Japanese diplomats were to burn all other important documents.
To the U.S. government, that signaled an intention of war, but it still did not know where the attack would take place. Its intelligence units, now decoding Japan military messages as well as the diplomatic codes it had watched for a half a decade still was unable to pick up the destiny of the naval fleet it learned had left the Kuriles on Nov. 26. The best guess was an attack on the Midway Islands closer to Japan than Hawaii.
U.S. intelligence had better luck with its extensive spy posts dotted throughout the South Pacific region, including Southeast Asia, and thus concentrated its expectations of a Japan attack on that area. The very point of belligerence between the two countries and the element that stood in the way of peace negotiations had been Japan’s military occupation of parts of China and its belligerence and expansion of its empire in the rest of the region, particularly French Indochina where it had arranged to have its troops allowed in the north half.
In fact, he U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor also was a target, part of the overall plan of simultaneous attacks in several places. The Japan fleet headed for its stationing point still had its orders to be ready to cancel its attack up until Dec. 6 if it were spotted by non-Japanese ships or planes or a peace breakthrough were reached.
In a Liaison Conference held after the fateful Dec. 1 Imperial Conference that signed off on war, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo was instructed to continue negotiations with the U.S. until the attack. Thus, the “Memorandum” was not to be delivered until an hour ahead of the Pearl Harbor attack scheduled to begin about 8 a.m. Dec. 7 Hawaii time. That would be 1 p.m. in Washington, D.C.
December 5, 1941
Into that U.S. vacuum of information came hints of vast movements of Japan troops and ships through the South China Sea area towards Malaya, French Indochina and the neutral kingdom of Thailand, then called Siam.
In response, Secretary of State Cordell Hull told President Roosevelt during a cabinet meeting that he did not expect advance notice of an attack, nor did he believe Japan would honor any agreement the two countries may reach. “I think it is useless and futile.”
Still in the dark about the point of attack, the focus of concern continued on Southeast Asia, bolstered by the latest news of Japan troop movements. Within that area, the focus was on French Indochina, still weakly held by the Vichy government the puppet of Nazi Germany, alleged friend of Japan in the Tripartite Pact.
Roosevelt saw all of that as his last chance of getting peace with Japan, so he took the unprecedented act of writing directly to Emperor Hirohito.
As it happened, the U.S. intelligence network was having communications problems, so given the urgency of the message, it was sent the next day by regular telegram, although as securely as it could be.
Countdown to Pearl Harbor—Part VIII
8th Imperial Conference Transcript
(from Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back)
Previously at the Dec. 1 conference—The man who spoke for Hirohito wound up the conference:
“Next, subject item under present conditions, I understand it cannot be helped and I trust our soldiers of unparalleled loyalty. I wish to ask for our further efforts in stabilizing the hearts of our people going through a long war.”
Tojo: “The government also realizes the grave importance of the matters brought up in your opinion and views, and has adopted prudent policies.
“All preparations for long war are being done. Efforts for early ending of war are being made by every means. In case of a long war, we will do our utmost to stabilize people’s spirit, especially to maintain order, to prevent unrest, to prevent foreign plots….”
Tojo then added his own closing remarks. “Let me add my final words. This empire is at the first page of fall or rise. We are very grateful to be able to surmise the emperor’s mind. Our responsibility has never been heavier than today.
“Once decision is made to go to war, we will do our utmost by cooperating and making preparations in full. The whole nation together will trust victory and swiftly complete the object of war. We look forward to easing the emperor’s mind.”
The person taking down the verbatim statements at the meeting added, “At this conference, the emperor nodded to each explanation without any appearance of uneasiness. He looks well and we are grateful and deeply moved.”
The children are just a few feet away from the precipice, but momma has not stirred to save them from plunging over the edge.
Thus was the decision made to go to war simultaneously with the United States, Great Britain and the Netherlands on the preplanned date of December 8, 1941 Japan time, December 7 across the international dateline at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Despite his doubts, Hirohito gave his official stamp of approval.
There were only a few days left during which the attack order could be canceled.
Japan’s leadership was not the only dysfunctional body making bad decisions based on bad judgments in the run-up to war.
America had its own dysfunction, partly because, as exists today, an obstructive element of Congress combined with mass confusion within the nation’s intelligence community to hamper vital war planning and preparation.
After World War I, Japan remained on a program of military buildup in advance of its planned moves on the Asia continent while the US quickly engaged in a post-war drawdown and a perceived need to reduce spending on military prowess.
The US military and members of the intelligence community, primarily military-based at the time, continued to carry out their respective jobs in the face of reduced funding and overall reduced interest of the government as a whole in further conflict. That attitude was reinforced a decade after the first world war when the stock market crashed and plunged the nation, along with the rest of the world, into the Great Depression.
America considered Japan a potential adversary at the same time the US’s own policies contributed to Japan’s military buildup, even supplying it with arms.
With that policy conflict as a backdrop, the US intelligence community continued to carry out work begun during World War I, although with severely limited government funding and support of the bureaucracy. Much of that work had to do with a new system of communicating and, to the intelligence community, a new medium it needed to use for spying.
Countdown to Pearl Harbor—Part VII
8th Imperial Conference Transcript
(from Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back)
Previously at the Dec. 1 conference—Tojo: “Thailand itself is at a loss. As for Japan, we want to win them over to our side in a peaceful manner. For this, too speedy must be avoided, and too slow can be harmful. Hence, we consider to begin our talk right before our movement and achieve our demand. Even if it comes to the worst that we have to use force, we will do our utmost to avoid resistance.”
Literally Hirohito’s spokesman, Yoshimichi Hara then speaks: “The effects on homeland were explained previously in details by the minister of Interior, but there is something I am not convinced. That is air bombardment. To minimize damage, basic training such as anti-air-raid drills are conducted vigorously, is very good, but in case of fires and you stay on to extinguish fires, is it possible to do that with buildings such as those in Tokyo? What are you going to do if there is a large-scale fire in Tokyo? Are you prepared? These are a few things on my mind at present.”
Suzuki: “Firstly, we have ample supply of food. I am thinking of evacuating residents who lose their homes by fire to other places. For those who must remain back, temporary housing will be prepared.”
Hara, who speaks for the emperor and expresses his thoughts:
“It is not right if they are only being considered. I am of the thought that preparations are not ready. Adequate preparation is requested.
“With this, I will end my questions. Now I will express my [Hirohito’s] opinion.
“With regard to the negotiations with the US, this empire made concession after concession on hoping for maintenance of peace, but contrary to our expectation, the US attitude is together with Chiang Kai-shek’s remarks from beginning to end. The US is emphasizing idealism as hitherto, its attitude being self-conceited, stubborn and rude. It is very regrettable. Our country can never withstand such attitude.
“Should we endure this, it will not only sweep away the results of the Sino-Japanese, Russia-Japanese [wars], but we will also have to forfeit result of the Manchuria incident. We cannot, by all means, endure it. Especially, I feel unbearable to have the people withstand further more sufferings after overcoming more than four full years of conflict in China. Nevertheless, existence of [this] empire, too, is threatened and vestiges, too, of Emperor Meiji will be completely lost. It is clear that even after all means, they will be useless.
“Therefore, should the negotiations with US fail, then as decided by the previous Imperial Conference, we cannot avoid going into war. Lastly, let me say one more word. I do not doubt that our initial strategy will bring us victory, but should the war last for a long time, it is necessary to keep winning on the one side and obtain stabilization in people’s hearts on the other side. This is a big undertaking since founding of this nation. It cannot be avoided that this will be a long war, but let us overcome it and reach an early settlement.
“For this, it is necessary from now to give thought to how to bring this to an end. I am in no doubt that people living in this fine country have excellent spirits without parallel, but if [war] continues for a long time, at times there will be some with different thoughts.
“Constant schemes will be carried out by other countries plotting internal collapse. It is not impossible that some internal collapse could be plotted by some full of love for this country. It is very hard to control such people. Precaution against internal binding is deemed a big thing. These are things requiring most attention. Please do not fail on matters regarding changing of heart.
“Next, subject item under present conditions, I understand it cannot be helped and I trust our soldiers of unparalleled loyalty. I wish to ask for our further efforts in stabilizing the hearts of our people going through a long war.”
Countdown to Pearl Harbor—Part VI
8th Imperial Conference Transcript
(from Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back)
(Dec. 1—Yoshimichi Hara, as president of the Privy Council, served at these meetings as the voice of Hirohito, even though the emperor was present. After the ministers made their reports, Hara began speaking: “These agenda are of grave importance, but have already gone through an Imperial Conference. Since they are being carried out by every means, there are no particular matters for me to say. However, in view of the graveness of the matter, I’m going to ask a few questions.”)
“One of them is about the really unfair reply from the US state secretary to the two ambassadors. I hear that both ambassadors have explained about demands we cannot accept. Especially, US support of the Chungking regime and demanding [our] retreat from entire China. When US uses the wording ‘China,’ does it include Manchukuo? Did both ambassadors verify this point? What is their understanding?”
Togo said, “At the meeting of the twenty-sixth, I have not touched on your questions. However, as for the question of whether Manchukuo is included in China, originally in the proposal of April 16 it says that Manchukuo will be recognized. So, it will not be included in China. But, like now, things have gone the opposite way by recognizing [Chiang Kai-shek’s] Chungking regime as the only one and eliminate the Wang regime. [Japan puppet Jingwei Wang] Things have progressed like this so they may deny previous words.”
Hara: “According to radio broadcasts, it seems both ambassadors will have another meeting today with Hull. If this is really true, on whose wishes was this meeting for? If it was on our wishes, what was it for?”
Togo: “We have not yet been told of the date of meeting. After examining the US proposal, we cannot accept it. I have instructed the ambassador to ‘tell the US side that our proposal of November 25 is justified and [Japan] cannot understand the past attitude of the US. Ask US for their reconsideration.’ This could have been the reason we may have asked for a meeting.”
Hara: “I would like to ask the general staff, it is really good you have completed preparations for war. According to late information regarding the British and US, they seem to be strengthening armaments in the Far East. If this is true, to what degree is it? Would it be in the way of [our] strategic movements?”
Navy Minister Osami Nagano proceeded to list every type of British ship in the region, not only in the Indian and Pacific Ocean countries and territories, but those at East Africa bases as well. His detailed account showed Great Britain, despite fighting for its survival in Europe, had seventeen cruisers, fifteen destroyers, five battleships, two aircraft carriers and two submarines in the vicinity.
Hara: “What is the condition of the land troops? Is it all right to consider that this strength increase is within the limits viewed by the general staff?”
Hajime Sugiyama, Army chief of staff: “It is true that they have increased two thousand soldiers in Hong Kong as reported by Nagano. Since the previous Imperial Conference, about six thousand to seven thousand soldiers landed in Singapore and there are various information regarding the Burma area, but no definite one. Under our plans up to this day, things like these have been taken into consideration, so even if they increase the number of enemy soldiers, they will not be an obstacle to our strategy execution.”
Hara: “Is Thailand coming with Japan or Britain? Please let us know your thoughts on these things. What if Thailand opposes? Then what are you going to do?”
Tojo: “As for Thailand, we will deal with this problem right before we advance into [Thailand] as per decision of November 5 Imperial Conference. It is fifty-fifty which side Thailand will go with. Thailand itself is at a loss. As for Japan, we want to win them over to our side in a peaceful manner. For this, too speedy must be avoided, and too slow can be harmful. Hence, we consider to begin our talk right before our movement and achieve our demand. Even if it comes to the worst that we have to use force, we will do our utmost to avoid resistance.”
Countdown to Pearl Harbor—Part V
Japan Decides to Launch Day of Infamy
At Japan’s Liaison Conference of Nov. 30, the Cabinet and other participants were convinced the attack on Pearl Harbor would occur as planned, yet they remained hopeful for a last-minute breakthrough to avoid it. They ironed the final details of the decision to launch. It was to be presented to an Imperial Conference set for the next day where Emperor Hirohito was expected to sign off on it.
Meanwhile, the mainly aircraft carrier fleet steaming through a Pacific storm on its way southeast to a staging point about 200 miles north of the Hawaiian islands.
New Prime Minister Hideki Tojo presented the six-man cabinet’s view, although it was still split down the middle for and against the attack and inevitable war. Former Japan statesmen were included in the Liaison Conferences to provide background knowledge and presumably their wisdom. Collectively, they were called genro, or elder statesmen.
One of them present at the Nov. 30 meeting was Tojo’s predecessor, Fumimaro Konoe, who had just resigned from his third round as PM just the month before. He suggested Japan focus on getting lifted the very hurtful economic sanctions imposed by the United States and forget about war.
Tojo, not one of Japan’s most logical leaders, said that would be tantamount to the gradual impoverishment of Japan. As if the war they knew they would lose would not have the same result and thousands of lives on top of it. The attack and war should go ahead as planned, Tojo urged.
The views of participants presented and details in place, the conferees considered the wording of a notice Japan’s ambassadors still in Washington would present to the U.S. government. The notice was to be a negative response to the Hull Note and declaration that Japan was breaking off further negotiations. Such a notice itself would be considered an act of war even without a formal declaration, which the notice avoided. The plan was to retain the element of surprise until the last minute, so the ambassadors were not to deliver the notice until the fleet was on Hawaii’s doorstep.
That in place, the conferees met with the emperor later in the day and laid out the plans and the individual and collective views if each participant. This was to help Hirohito and his advisors prepare for the Imperial Conference set for the next day.
On Dec. 1, Tojo presented the case at the conference with Hirohito present. It was not intended to be, nor was it expected to be anything more than a rubber stamp of decisions and plans already made. But it needed the emperor’s imprimatur.
That two-hour conference determined the course of history.
Emperor Hirohito had expressed his own doubts about a war and wanted a peaceful solution as much, if not more than the private side of Tojo and all the others in the cabinet in spite of their individual reluctance to say so. At this conference, the purpose was not to change someone’s recommendations, but to make sure they still held to them and could support them.
Yoshimichi Hara, as president of the Privy Council, served at these meetings as the voice of Hirohito, even though the emperor was present. After the ministers made their reports, Hara began speaking: “These agenda are of grave importance, but have already gone through an Imperial Conference. Since they are being carried out by every means, there are no particular matters for me to say. However, in view of the graveness of the matter, I’m going to ask a few questions.”
Countdown to Pearl Harbor—Part IV
On Nov. 26, 1941, Adm. Chuichi Nagumo led his amassed Japanese Aircraft Carrier Strike Force fleet out of ports in the show-covered Kurile islands north of the homeland and out into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. He had with him instructions he had received on Nov. 20 to be prepared to turn around and return to Japan if a peaceful solution to pending hostilities were found or his top-secret fleet were discovered.
The next day, the Hull Note was delivered to Japan’s ambassadors to the U.S., essentially dismissing Japan’s best compromise offer. Its best simply was not good enough and fell far short of what Secretary Cordell Hull demanded on behalf of the Roosevelt administration; get out of China.
Thus, no turn-around signal was sent to Nagumo yet and his huge fleet, which included six aircraft carriers laden with more than 400 planes, steamed ahead on its eastward course. Unknown to the fleet, a treacherous Pacific storm was brewing. Unfortunately, it did not become a divine wind for peace and over the next few days as the storm passed, Nagumo was able to reassemble his widely scattered fleet and stay on his schedule.
U.S. intelligence, in the form of Operation Magic, which had long before broken Japan’s diplomatic codes, had begun to focus on the separate military ones as well. Aware of the unlikelihood the latest Japan peace offer would be accepted, and aware of various Japan ship movements, the U.S. Army and Navy chiefs warned their field officers on Nov. 24 to be alert to surprise attacks on several fronts, the stress was on the Southeast Asia area.
Three days later, on the 27th, similar alerts were sent to U.S. commanders in Hawaii, San Francisco and Panama. The Navy warned its commanders of an attack somewhere in the next few days in the South Pacific region, but did not mention Hawaii.
In Tokyo, meanwhile, the leadership, minus the emperor, met in another Liaison Conference on the 27th. Although everything around them pointed to war about to break out, the participants rejected the Hull Note, but instructed Japan’s ambassadors in the U.S. to continue discussing alternatives with American officials, just in case a breakthrough occurred and the attack could be called off. Another liaison conference was set for two days later, on Nov. 30.
Today, with the Earth encircled by satellites with high-resolution lenses, the Japanese fleet and other troop movements of the size being readied by Japan in 1941 could not possibly go unnoticed. But in 1941, technology barely had a name, much less much capability, particularly when it came to communications.
As with today’s National Security Agency, the capabilities of capturing information far outpaced the ability of humans to gather, sort, decrypt, translate, analyze, interpret, re-sort and deliver an abridged version along with various interpretations or analyses.
By mid-1941, there was a lot of radio traffic for US intelligence at various Pacific stations and in Washington, D.C. to listen to and translate. Japan’s encrypted radio traffic involved different modes and codes for diplomatic and military traffic and within the military, navy and army. But, not at war yet, America’s focus was on diplomatic traffic.
Time For Obama and Abe To Apologize for Atrocities–Part I
Old ideas are like old shoes; they are comfortable and we hate to discard them, regardless of how they look. Metaphorically, however, the United States has been strutting around in worn-out combat boots since World War II. It’s time to walk the walk in respectable shoes.
Beginning with the G-7 summit of the world’s largest economies in May, several high-level international meetings offer opportunities for President Barack Obama and Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discard old shoes and shibboleths and apologize for their nations’ atrocious actions in the war.
The failures of both countries to acknowledge their war-time atrocities, much less apologize for them have been long-festering and highly unnecessary nettles that get in the way of solving myriad issues in the Asia-Pacific region.
For the United States, the long-overdue apology would be for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obvious war crimes as well as crimes against humanity. Resistance to an apology is based on a 70-year-old belief the bombs ended the four-year-long war. They did not. At best, they were contributing factors.
For 70 years, the U.S. government has allowed to go unchallenged falsehoods it originally proffered, including one that the bombs ended the war, saving half a million lives. Presumably, that many American soldiers would be lost in an invasion of the Japan homeland had the first atomic bombs not worked.
On its face, the claim was preposterous. That number is more than double the 405,400 Americans who actually did die in all of WWII, which itself was second only to the Civil War and its 750,000 lives lost in our costliest war. A more reasonable figure was the military’s estimate of 20,000, fewer than the Revolutionary War, more than the War of 1812.
Even that estimate was pooh-poohed within a year of the war when the U.S. military’s own review concluded the atomic bombs were of no military use because Japan would have surrendered in another month or two without them. The island-based nation already had been under siege for nearly all of 1945, with essentially no maneuverability on water or in the air. It was isolated and starving.
As recent as 1993, scholars with access to recently declassified papers reached the same conclusion, yet the claims justifying the a-bomb drops continue to this day. Any doubts should have been put to rest by recently available transcripts of high-level meetings of Japan’s leaders, all the way up to Emperor Hirohito, who finally made the call to surrender in mid-August of 1945.
Those transcripts and research into Japan’s history in the first half of the past century led to the conclusion in Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back that Japan surrendered because just minutes before midnight and the end of Aug. 8, 1945 in Moscow, the Soviets declared war on Japan.
Japan already was on its knees because of a months-long rain of U.S. bombs, including incendiary bombs that also are no military use except to kill civilians and demoralize the survivors.
At the Yalta Conference in February of that year, the three powers of the U.S.S.R, U.S. and Great Britain decided that within three months after Germany’s surrender, the Soviets, which had a neutrality agreement with Japan, would break it and declare war. Germany’s surrender came on May 8, starting the countdown to Aug. 8. At the last minute, about seven hours before the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Joseph Stalin so declared and his troops began crossing into Manchuria.
Countdown to Pearl Harbor—Part III
November 5, 1941
November 5, 1941 was a another date critical to Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor, an act that pull the United States into a war, launch the Pacific theater of World War II and, as all parties agreed would happen, lead to the attacker’s destruction.
Heidichi Tojo was named prime minister and foreign minister on October 16 in addition minister of Japan’s army. In those three roles, the civilian ones conflicted with the military one and his foreign minister job was well above his head. Tojo had no experience in or flair for with diplomacy, a job that requires tact.
Tojo participated in the Nov. 5 Imperial Conference that featured the presence of Emperor Hirohito, who spoke through his “keeper of the privy seal.” Wearing his foreign minister hat, Tojo presented to the conference for its approval a plan he felt could obviate the Pearl Harbor attack now far along in the preparation stage.
Bluster as he did, Tojo knew as well as the rest of Japan’s leadership that there was no way Japan could be victorious in a war against the United States.
The Roosevelt administration remained steadfast in its demand that Japan withdraw its nearly a million troops from China. Ambassadors in Tokyo and Washington, D.C. met almost daily with their assigned government to seek peace.
Tojo’s plan offered some concessions to the U.S. and if that failed, a fallback position with even more concessions, both short of total withdrawal from China. The conference agreed on presenting the plan, which illustrated Japan’s desperation in avoiding a global war.
Even as the ambassadors talked, however, Japan was full-bore preparing not only for Pearl Harbor, but also a massive simultaneous attack on Asia’s underbelly.
Tojo already had sent as special envoy Saburo Kurusu, a veteran diplomat familiar with the United States, to Washington to help Ambassador Nomura present what became known as Plan A and, if that failed, Plan B.
Tojo also must have been incredibly naïve about negotiations, because he gave his two representatives a short deadline for a U.S. response. That is hardly a realistic act in the world of diplomacy that often requires a lengthy give and take. This matter already had demonstrated that addressing details took weeks, not hours or even days.
The day after Kurusu arrived in Washington in mid-November, the ever-conflicted Tojo delivered a harsh war-mongering speech against the United States. Still, the next day and aware of the two sides of Tojo, Secretary of State Cordell Hull met with Kurusu and Nomura, who presented their Plan A.
Unfortunately for the two ambassadors, the United States had been reading Japan’s coded diplomatic dispatches for the past several years and knew about Plan B as well as A and all other Japanese plans at diplomacy. Thus armed, Hull presented the pair with what became known as the “Hull Note” that again insisted on Japan withdrawal from China. The U.S. had openly aided China since mid-summer. Even Plan B did not offer immediate unconditional withdrawal, so both plans were dead on arrival.
First Taken, Last Released
To most of the world, World War II ended with Japan’s formal surrender on September 2, 1945. It was just beginning for Tommy Sarashina and still far from over for his Buddhist minister father, Shinri Sarashina, still behind barbed wire in Santa Fe, N.M.
On September 11, the number of internees from Hawaii had dwindled to just 420 and each of those left in camp was surveyed again to determine where he wanted to be sent, Hawaii or Japan. Fifty, Shinri and Bishop Kuchiba among them, chose Japan, the rest Hawaii.
A month later, those bound for Hawaii, Alaska or elsewhere on the mainland were kept busy filling out forms, checking bags and making other preparations to end their long incarceration behind barbed wire at the end of October. Nearly two months after his home country surrendered, Shinri received yet another application for repatriation, which he filled in. He put an x on line 7 reading: “I desire to be repatriated to Japan unconditionally and without qualification.”
Applications seemed to be more dangerous to the Issei than the petitions. While the petitions were simple, the applications, as did this one in mid-October, 1945, always inserted similar information: “He has never renounced Japanese citizenship, he has no American-born wife, he does not have any relatives serving in the Armed Forces of the US.”
The comments he was allowed to make on his behalf also were consistent: “I desire repatriation for the reasons that as I have family in Japan, I would like to join them and I wish to live in Japan. I have five American-born children who are in Japan.” The reviewing officer added at the bottom three more damning notations:
“Loyalty to Japan.
“All of subject’s family is in Japan.
“Desire for repatriation.”
Rubber stamps noted the petition’s movement through the bureaucracy even though the war had been over for more than six weeks by then. Within three more gloomy weeks, however, Shinri learned all those applications and petitions were not for naught, or at least not the most recent ones. He and the rest in his barracks learned they were about to be sent on a ship to Japan. Finally, they were to be repatriated to the nation of their birth.
On October 30, the last of Hawaiians returning to the islands departed the camp. Shinri said his last goodbye to the only man left whom he had known while assigned to Maui. He was the beekeeper from Molokai, Takehachi Makihira, who chose to be repatriated there where his family remained. The original group left behind in the camp numbered only the forty-two who chose to be taken back to Japan and their own families. It turned out that the first taken were the last freed. Most filled out their forms, underwent a final physical exam and packed what they were left with in their American lives.
When the day came to leave the camp in mid-November, they took their last US train trip, this of four days, north to Seattle and a hotel where they waited for the ship to take them home. They were not allowed outside the hotel unless they were accompanied by guards.
On the morning of November 25, 1945 Shinri and the last internees boarded the USS General Randall, a troop ship assigned to repatriate Japanese citizens from the US to Japan. The ship had just delivered diplomats and their families to the port of Yokohama and returned to the US at Seattle to pick up the remnants of Japanese internment.
Shinri and his fellow internees for the past four years, who probably should now be called “returnees,” had plenty of time during the two-week journey on the Randall to ponder their circumstances.
Shinri had arrived in Hawaii from Japan at the age of twenty-six. He would arrive back home in Japan to stay for good twenty-nine years later at age fifty-five. He knew not what kind of situation he was returning to in Japan. He had followed news reports and knew that all was not good at home and he dreaded what he might face. After all, his five children and wife were there throughout the war and its bombings, but he had no word of them for more than four years except for a post-card exchange.
The Randall docked at Yokohama December 10 and the returnees stepped onto their homeland soil as free men no longer held by the nation that had vanquished their beloved country, beloved in spite of the havoc it had wrought.
Now freed, the men boarded trains to their individual parts of the country. Shinri, Bishop Kuchiba and a few others departed on the overnight train to the still rebuilding city of Hiroshima. There he shook hands and bowed to the bishop and the rest of his party. Shinri boarded another train for the hour-long trip to the Yoshida-Guchi station near his temple and family at Oda-mura.
When he arrived, he was greeted by his wife and only four of his children. His youngest exhibited symptoms of what he would find out were natural reactions to witnessing an unbelievable horror, and his middle child, Takuji, was missing, not to be seen or heard from for another two years.
Countdown to Pearl Harbor—Part II
October 16, 1941 was another key date in Japan’s reluctant stumbling toward its decision to attack Pearl Harbor, launching the Pacific Theater of World War II. Events that led to that day were set in place two days earlier at the informal meeting of Japan’s leadership.
The October 14 discussion turned ugly when temperamental Army Minister Hideki Tojo, who dominated the session, turned to Foreign Minister Teijiro Toyoda and lectured him.
“It is not the Army, but the diplomatic negotiation is the one that is being the obstacle. Why don’t you do it as promised? You are slow, so the matters are brought about. You must understand these things. Be sure public sentiments are controlled well. Do it under the responsibility of the Information Bureau president.
“The issue of troop retreat is like touching our heart. The Army considers it to be a grave problem. Accepting all of the US demand will wipe out the results of the China war. It will put Manchuria in danger, too. Even the region of Korea will be endangered. In this war, we are not seeking for annexation and indemnity. In the China war, several hundred thousand men died with numerous numbers of families left behind, numerous numbers of injured, over several hundred thousand men.
“At home, millions of people are suffering hardships. If this was another power it would demand annexation. But we are taking a tolerant position. It is only natural to win favorable results by stationing troops. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We need not submit to US’s ingenuous pressure.
“What will happen in Northern China and Mongolian region without a strong attitude? What will happen to the foundation of Manchukuo? We will only be passing on big problems to our posterity. If you want Japan to return to a small Japan like before the Manchuria war, then it would be a different story. We cannot pull our soldiers back. That’s a retreat. We must make them understand why our troops are there. The men will lose morale if they are told to retreat. An Army without men of morale is like nothing. They are bringing in the problem of retreat so that we will gradually change our demand, but we cannot accept this.”
Emboldened by his own speech, Tojo then began to tell Toyoda how to do his job: “Maybe we should change our method and attack them [in negotiations] through the Tripartite Pact. The US is paying attention to peace between Germany and Russia. Maybe we could hit their weak spot. Otherwise, I cannot accept your attitude.”
Apparently ambivalent himself, Tojo in private was one of those beseeching for peace and avoiding outright war, even saying the troop movements into a war position “must be stopped.” He was a man of strict adherence to rules and his duty was to represent and back the military at all costs even though his two hats and two positions were contradictory.
Tojo also had played an old card: “Our soldiers must not have died in vain,” an illogical attitude that has since led to many bad decisions elsewhere in the world. But his assertiveness at this meeting probably made him the cream set to rise to the top. But, the top of what?
It seemed everyone wanted a reversal of the September 6 decision setting a go-no-go deadline of mid-October for deciding on war, but no one seemed to know how to reverse it. Apparently no one wanted it more than Tojo, but he drew the line on concessions.
Such was the individual dysfunction driving a nation’s leadership towards an abyss. After that October 14 meeting and despite his insistence that nothing militarily be changed, Tojo desperately sought a solution to avoid impending war and felt Konoe was a barrier. Tojo pressed Konoe to adopt his position.
Konoe said there was no solution short of withdrawing from China as the US insisted. Tojo suggested Konoe step down, not knowing Konoe himself had wanted out of the job he did not believe he had handled well. Apparently mindful of his own fecklessness, he blamed himself for the current mess.
Tojo to the Top
Two days later, on October 16, Konoe resigned the prime minister post again, necessitating formation of a new cabinet. The day after, Tojo’s duality would soon be put to a test. Hirohito, endorsing his top adviser’s position, apparently had concluded Tojo was the most likely man capable of ironing out the differences and putting into gear a reconsideration of the September 6 Imperial Conference decision nobody seemed to want to follow.
Hirohito summoned Tojo to the palace to tell him he would be the next prime minister. Tojo would have two other hats as prime minister. He also would serve as home minister and his somewhat conflicting job as minister of the Army. Shigenori Togo would be his foreign minister.
Tojo now of many hats continued his public bluster while expressing his private doubts and almost pleading for a solution that would keep his country out of a war it most definitely would lose. The issue reached the level of another Imperial Conference on November 5 when a proposal with concessions, along with a fallback position, was agreed on.
Countdown to Pearl Harbor—Part I
Few people not born or married on October 14 would consider it a significant date, but it was the day in 1941 that set the clock running on the countdown to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the opening of the Pacific Theater of World War II.
This has been the year for commemorating the end of World War II 70 years ago, but by this time next year the news media and various groups will focus once again on another five-year anniversary of that war, a more meaningful one.
In the early October of 1941 Japan and the United States were getting nowhere in what already had been a year of discussions and negotiations at the ambassadorial level. Japan refused to give up the land grabs it had made in China over the previous four years of war between the two. The U.S. government insisted Japan withdraw from China and cease its incursions elsewhere in South Asia.
Japan Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe noted that the formal Liaison Conferences involving the cabinet and the military, and the higher-level Imperial Conferences that usually included Emperor Hirohito showed no signs of reaching a consensus, as required by Japan’s system of government at the time. Hirohito was present at the September 6 conference that set a go, no-go date for deciding when to launch the attack if a resolution of the stalemate was not resolved.
Konoe called for an informal and private meeting of a handful of government leaders to see if they could hammer out a solution for the divide that headed the nation toward a world war by default.
The meeting to be held on October 14 would include Konoe, his new foreign minister, Teijiro Toyoda, Army Minister Hideki Tojo, Navy Minister Koshiro Oikawa and Teijiro Suzuki, minister of the Cabinet Planning Board. Konoe apparently thought the five of them and their leading staff could speak candidly with one another without posturing, find an end to the stand-off and avoid a war with the United States.
The high-level group discussed possible solutions, but Tojo, the Army man in the room and leader of the military operations in China, flatly rejected a suggestion by Konoe and Toyoda that they give in to America’s chief demand and withdraw from China.
Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back obtained a transcript of that meeting. The transcript was seized along with tons of papers by U.S. occupation forces after the war and remained classified until 2007 when the National Archives and its Japan counterpart, the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records, made them available. Tommy “Tang” Sarashina, the book’s subject, translated the transcript into English.
Tojo, who began to dominate the meeting early on, noted the group’s frustration when he said, “Negotiations have been [going on] for six months since April. I appreciate the foreign minister’s hard work. But already I think we are at the end. To continue the negotiations, we need confidence we will succeed….
“The Army has been doing its preparation based on the decision of the Imperial Conference of September 4 [sic], which was attended by all ministers. The decision was, ‘If there are no hopes of winning our demand through negotiations by around early October, war against the US, Britain and Dutch will be determined immediately.’ Today is October 14. It says early part of October and this is already the fourteenth. The conditions state that ‘at least by October.’
“We base our preparation of our operations on this decision. The Army with its target set on the latter part of October is mobilizing several hundred thousand men. Even from China and Manchuria…. Even at this moment when I’m talking, men are being moved. Should there be a solution diplomatically, I will stop it. It must be stopped. Your full understanding on this matter is appreciated.”
Konoe asked Toyoda for the foreign minister’s position.
Toyoda: “You want us to be certain, but three main items not resolved with the US are troops stationed [in Indochina], defense of the Tripartite Pact, China problems and some other matters. US demands that Japan make clear about retreating from China and French Indochina. They also mentioned about troop movements in French Indochina. Withdrawal of troops is the main demand. If we do this, they may accept our demand.”
Tojo responded, “You say that the Army’s movement in north French Indochina is interfering with negotiations, so I’ll explain the actual situation.
“True, there are some Army troops in there. It is tactically necessary and, for future secret plans, we are pretending another strategy. We are moving in line with the imperial command. The Army is doing its best not to anger the French. It can be said that we have responsibility for joint defense that allowed Japan to garrison six thousand men and for another twenty-five thousand to cross through the territory. The Army operation is proceeding on the basis of the Imperial Conference, but the diplomatic negotiation is falling behind.”
Internment Experiences of Tommy’s Father, Shinri
Sauna Camp Livingston, LA to Big Skies of Missoula, 1943
By the end of May, 1943 in steamy Camp Livingston, LA, Shinri Sarashina had to watch with envy as packages arrived from the prisoners’ families in Hawaii and on the mainland, some of the men somewhat disappointed to see their mail included some winter clothing they thought they no longer needed. But, the packages brought many welcome items and mail call was the most popular part of their routine.
Although international organizations eventually arranged to inform relatives in Japan of their internment, and Shinri’s had been informed, mail did not flow in the other direction.
Golfer Shinri was involved when, as spring blossomed, a group was allowed to build a small nine-hole golf course in the space between the fence and the barracks on one side of the camp. Another group did the same along another side and soon the two courses were joined to form an eighteen-hole facility.
Regardless of the wide latitude given the internees in Camp Livingston, even with brief escorted ventures outside the barbed wire of camp, they were still prisoners far away from families and a former way of life, so tempers often became short-fused.
Once, some of the prisoners went on strike over the camp commander’s order to do some work intended for the US military. The protestors refused to help the enemy at war with their home country. The commander’s retaliation was to lock the gates and shut down the two softball fields and golf courses until the Japanese protesters gave in. They soon did.
The internees did not know it, but the US military had learned after keeping Italian and German prisoners in POW camps during World War I, that detention in the same place for more than a year often led to mental illness. Since that experience, US policy called for POWs and other internees under military authority to be moved at least once a year to different quarters.
Camp Livingston’s internees were surprised that day in late May to learn they were going to be moved again and no longer would be under the custody of the military. Instead, they were to become wards of the Justice Department in one of its new detention centers. Since the beginning of the war, the center operators were busy building several facilities, usually at some existing type of federal facility, such as Conservation Corps work camps or even a facility used to house German prisoners during the first world war.
Now, those facilities would house Japanese Issei men while the War Relocation Authority built facilities to house Nisei Japanese-Americans and their families. The detention centers also offered a far more relaxed policy than Shinri and his fellow Issei had experienced so far, friendly commanders or no. Their new bosses were to be non-military, called superintendents.
By now, the prisoners were inured to the constant moves, but this time the original two groups taken into custody learned that not only would they be split up, the first group itself would be split. Sixty of them were removed from the group that began its odyssey with 170 internees and the remainder, who happened to be among the highest 114 on the list of the first arrested and also the eldest, were sent to Fort Missoula in Montana.
The sixty joined another thirty-five internees to be shipped to Santa Fe, New Mexico while Livingston’s POWs remained in military custody and were returned to Camp McCoy. That meant that submariner Sakamaki, who was interned since Sand Island with the original 170 from Hawaii, was now to be treated as a real POW and sent back to Wisconsin to be with his kind.
The Montana-bound group that included Shinri had learned from other internees who had been transferred from there of the favorable conditions of the huge camp far to the north. On June 2, out came the blue duffel bags stuffed with belongings.
Back on a train, they road for three days back up the Mississippi River and over to Missoula in southwestern Montana. From there, trucks took them on an hour ride to the “Alien Detention Center,” which they reached at 11 p.m. on June 5.
Instead of being met by men in army uniforms, the internees arrived at the twelve-foot-high gates of Fort Missoula, a long-unused military base, to be greeted by men bathed in the glow of search light and dressed more as policemen armed only with a standard hand gun.
Inside the fences of Fort Missoula, which was built as an outpost during the Indian Wars of the 1870s, stood large and unusually long buildings, with a two-story section flanked on both sides by one-story wings just as long.
The camp included a hospital, laundry, mess hall, several administration buildings and large housing structures. Nearby was the softball field built by the Japanese whom Shinri probably had played against earlier in Camp Livingston.
The new Missoula inmates soon settled into a routine under the command of a civilian, P.H. Frazer who ran a relaxed camp. One of his first acts was to remove the requirement they use their prisoner number on all correspondence. He told them their return address for their correspondence would simply be their name, P.O. Box 1538, Missoula, Montana.
The men were required to take turns at KP-like duties and keep the facilities cleaned, but otherwise allowed to enjoy their days as if on vacation, although still behind barbed wire with guards.
Their year at Fort Missoula would be the highlight of their incarceration, softball contests in particular, but even fishing at a small river outside the fence. In the evenings, they could watch movies on a regular basis.
For the golfers from Camp Livingston, there was no golf course at Camp Missoula, so soon after their arrival, the avid golfers, including Shinri, asked if they could have one. There was no room inside the camp fences so they were not hopeful, but the response was an immediate “no problem.”
Just outside the camp, a bulldozer leveled enough ground to accommodate a nine-hole golf course, the golfers were given the equipment they needed and they went to work to build one under the not-so-watchful eyes of guards on horseback who soon tired of their surveillance and drifted out of sight.
The Japanese internees also had two softball diamonds and enough enthusiasts to form three teams, divided into the aging Hawaiians, those from the mainland and the third from Peru. The Hawaiians won the championship and celebrated with picture-taking and victory parties featuring beer, just as if they were typical Americans enjoying a typical summer, if typical could include being surrounded by barbed wire.
In September, the Hawaii priests were called on to perform another funeral, one personal to Shinri, for they shared the same dormitory room. Masao Sogawa, editor of the Shukan Hawaii Shinpo weekly Japanese newspaper in Honolulu, was among the first to be arrested along with Shinri.
Sogawa died of a stroke one evening after dinner. This time, the funeral was led by Bishop Gikyo Kuchiba, Shinri’s boss and the highest-ranking Buddhist priest in the group.
In that camp, the relaxed atmosphere even allowed internees who had them to listen to their short-wave radios. War news was still being censored in American newspapers and broadcasts, and on the Japanese side as well. The internees capable of hearing Japanese broadcasts thus were privy to conflicting censored news.
Sept. 23–Great Depression
Throughout the 1930s, Americans were focused solely on their own internal problem: the Great Depression and widespread joblessness. It took years to recover from the Wall Street crash of 1929 that caused a collapse of the banks, loss of the deposits of average Americans and other falling economic dominoes.
Industry collapsed and with it jobs. Without a job there was no money to be had and many people were starving or spending much of many days in bread and soup lines. Who cared what was going on halfway around the world in either direction, Europe or Asia?
What was going on was a situation that was increasing from simmer to low boil and headed for full boil. The average American knew little and cared less about the complex machinations that were going on as political factions on far-away continents arranged and re-arranged alliances well in advance of what would erupt into World War II.
Europe and Asia also were affected by the depression, and it played into the hands of most of the main actors involved in the boil. The Bolshevik Revolution that toppled the tsar and led to rule by the communists of Vladimir Lenin took place near the end of 1917.
Just a dozen years later, five years after Lenin died and Joseph Stalin took control, the global depression began, making a great contribution to Russia’s plan to expand its successful communism and its use of Marxist terms to make its dogma appeal to the rest of the world. In 1934, Mao Tse-tung began his now-famous “Long March,” covering six thousand miles through China over two years, taking territory in China on behalf of the new communism.
Russia and its expansion into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that became known as the Comintern was now viewed as the great global threat in many minds, but it also offered a way to survive the depression in the minds of many others who were aware of its doctrine. To counter the Comintern, various international alliances were struck among nations, including the one Japan and Nazi Germany signed with each other in 1936.
In the late 1930s in China, Chiang Kai-shek’s army and that of Mao Tse-tung fought back and forth with each other in stalemate while Japan attempted to amass and train an ever-larger army to add to the more than a million men it already had on China soil. Japan’s eventual grand plan was simultaneous invasions on a massive scale throughout the Pacific region, including nations in and around the South China Sea, to encircle Southeast China.
A less grand plan already was in the works to take what Japan wanted in China, but the delay in taking the rest of western Manchuria that Mao’s forces still held, and the work at uniting its holdings in the center of China along its key rail line was frustratingly slow.
Still, America was not yet at war with Germany, but was expected to be, creating a situation that would help distract what Japan’s leaders considered a “sleeping giant.” But, the US already was a vocal belligerent complaining of Japan’s moves and threatening responses. In addition, in Japan’s eyes, sleeping or not, the United States had to be prevented or at the very least, discouraged from attempting to block its invasion plans for South Asia.
America also had a large presence in the center of the region with several military bases in the Philippines. That was going to serve as enough of an obstacle to Japan’s invasion plans and it did not need the interference of the rest of the US Pacific fleet positioned much closer now in Pearl Harbor. Back and forth went the undecided in Japan’s leadership as the war plans most nations make and maintain for potential foes were dusted off, studied and updated.
Japan’s grand plan needed a revision in mid-1941. A war college scenario had been drafted for the likely outcome of a Japan attack on America, for whatever reason, now encouraged by what was, in effect, an American embargo on certain exports to Japan. The war games scenario forecast Japan would not have the resources to carry on a war with the United States for more than three years, meaning defeat if it lasted that long.
Other members of the military objected to starting any other wars as they attempted to defend the vast territory they held and were trying to hold in Southeast Asia.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who had attended Harvard and was steeped in US history, also opposed the idea. But, emblematic of the somewhat contradictory behavior of many Japanese military leaders, if there were to be an assault on Pearl Harbor to cripple the US fleet there, Yamamoto said he would lead it.
(Second in a series of daily blogs on the lead-up to the Pacific Theater of World War II)
Well before the turn of the nineteenth century, nearly a dozen nation states that comprised the western half of Europe had outpaced most of the rest of the world in modernization and development.
After fighting among each other for centuries, it was almost as if they attempted to out-compete each other by vying to see how much of the rest of the world they could control.
Early in the 1900s the British Empire in Asia included what is now Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore as well as three nations on the north coast of Borneo, part of New Guinea and Hong Kong. It also held several islands in Polynesia, the northernmost of which were the Gilberts, and of course, New Zealand and the entire continent of Australia.
The Netherlands controlled what became known as the Dutch East Indies, consisting of what is today Indonesia, most of Borneo, and the Celebes and Moluccas Islands and about half of New Guinea. France controlled Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, together what it called French Indochina. It also controlled a few islands in the South Pacific. Thailand, until recently the monarchy of Siam, was left alone to serve as a neutral nation.
The United States controlled the Philippines, Guam and Wake Islands, Russia the Liaotung peninsula of China’s Manchuria section and Germany had pieces of China, the northernmost islands of the Central Pacific, the Marianas and the Marshalls.
Japan had Formosa off the China coast and the Ryukyu Islands between, as well as Korea, the southern half of the Kurile island chain and some of the Pacific islands closest to home.
One would have to be naïve to believe these were friendly mergers. As vastly superior military powers, most of the European acquisitions were relatively easy at gunpoint. By the end of the century there developed another, seemingly more gentlemanly method of ninety-nine-year leases with China, also at gunpoint.
The British had one of the gunpoint leases for Hong Kong and adjoining islands, Russia the Manchuria peninsula and France had China’s Hainan Island next door to its Indochina holdings. Various other arrangements allowed Japan to hold Formosa and claim Korea as a protectorate. It was as if a bunch of ravenous animals were biting off pieces of China’s crust. Small wonder that Japan and other millennia-old nations of Southeast Asia felt surrounded by white Europeans who paraded around with an air of superiority, subjugating and looking down on the indigenous people as ignorant and uncivilized, even savage.
In the years leading up to the “The war to end all wars,” the world’s biggest empire, Great Britain, was concerned about Germany’s expanded holdings in the Asia-Pacific area. In one of the Machiavellian machinations of history, the controller of all lands Indian and nearby enlisted Japan’s help to protect vital sea lanes in two oceans, the Indian and Pacific. Japan happily complied, seeing a way to gain an advantage over its decades-old foe, China.
In yet another of history’s ironic twists, Japan was the refuge of China’s often-exiled revolutionary, Hawaii-educated Sun Yat-sen, and aided his early revolutionary efforts in China at the beginning of the century, unwittingly contributing to his creation of the Kuomintang government and military in China that Japan would face in the second world war.
The Japan Navy took advantage of a few army failures to convince the government to give the Navy a greater share of military funds, and set out to gain more than just Germany’s holdings in the region of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The Navy kept the military upper hand until the Army regained some of its influence and set out on its invasion of China in the 1930s, first taking China’s Manchuria section in 1931 and then slowly picking away at other parts of China until the two countries went to war in 1937.
After WWI ended in 1918, business interests appeared to trump geopolitical differences as Asian nations cooperated in building a railroad system that took the Trans-Siberian Railway across central Manchuria and back into Russia at Vladivostok. Another railroad line led from those tracks all the way to Hong Kong on the southern coast, with a branch into Vietnam and the rest of Indochina controlled by the French Empire.
Given the centuries-long instability of Asia, the Japanese Empire in the making would need to control all of the railroad and set out in 1937 to do so. By mid-year, Japan had managed to reach a military arm from Manchuria down, around and back up from the southwest to Beiping and control of a rail center at Fengtai ten miles southwest.
China was a relatively easy mark at the time because it was in the midst of a year-old civil war between the Communists led by Mao Tse-tung and the Nationalist Party, Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang now led by Chiang Kai-shek. However, the Japan threat on Beiping was enough cause for the warring parties to call somewhat of a truce and unite to prepare and repel the Japanese advance.
A few Japanese soldiers, supposedly looking for one of their own, moved northeast from Fengtai and crossed the ancient Marco Polo Bridge over the Yongding River and on to the equally ancient walled village of Wanping, then on the outskirts of Beiping. Shots were fired, a skirmish became a battle, a battle became a major armed conflict and the Second Sino-Japanese War began.
Japan’s military, particularly the Army half of it, considered expansion in China and the nearby Asia continent necessary in part to create wider buffer zones around land Japan already controlled. Its taking of Manchuria in the northeastern point of China was conducted, at least in part, for that area’s riches in ores and agriculture.
By that time, the Korea peninsula had become a Japan protectorate. That gave Japan a rail connection from the Japan Sea to the Manchuria border where it was at China’s mercy until 1931. With the taking of Manchuria, Japan opened rail access from the sea into Russia and on to Europe. Rail access to Europe was fine, but Japan’s empire-building also envisioned access to the north-south line that stretched from Soviet Russia through China and into Vietnam and the rest of French Indochina with its own valuable natural resources.
Most importantly, Japan wanted a rail link to British Malaya (now Malaysia and Singapore), at that time the source of nearly all of the world’s rubber, one of the two commodities most central to waging war in that period. The other was oil, but that was controlled by Western nations, Japan relying almost entirely on the now-unfriendly United States for its supply.
Throughout the 1930s, the more than seven thousand-mile rail connection that circled from India through Indochina, China and Russia through the newly acquired Soviet republics of Eastern Europe and on across that continent had served as an important supply line to Germany’s own nascent Hitler-led empire. The supplies moved unimpeded with the acquiescence of the USSR, China and now Japan with its control of Manchuria.
By the end of the 1930s decade, Germany appeared to have become a threat to just about everybody, including the Soviets who began to block its rail access across Russia, severing Germany’s supply connection to French Indochina. That coincided with the plans of Japan, which set out to grab the island nations touching the South China Sea, each rich in one commodity or another. Japan’s increased belligerence, including its early expansion into China beyond Manchuria, led the United States in mid-1941 to embargo oil shipments to a nation reliant on its black gold.
Machiavellian machinations and geopolitical arrangements that would cross a chess master’s eyes were in full bloom. Until the rise of Mao Tse-tung and his Communist Party in the mid-1930s, his arch-foe, the Kuomintang Army, was allied with the Soviet Communist Party and its Communist International (Comintern).
In November, 1936, Japan and Nazi Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, a Germany-driven move to spotlight the Communist International as the world’s greatest threat. Although the words did not link the Comintern with the Soviet Union, it was a neutrality pact between Japan and Germany in case either went to war with the Soviets. Japan viewed it as a way to win favor with Chiang Kai-shek, but he didn’t bite and rejected an invitation to join Germany and Japan in the pact.
Italy joined the pact a year later and near the end of September, 1940, the three joined in what became the Tripartite Pact covering neutrality for each of the three if it became involved with a party not already in the war, in this case the United States at the forefront.
Various nations that would become first friends, then enemies, or first enemies and then friends, signed neutrality pacts during that period, few turning out to be meaningful. The various pacts tended only to inflame their enemies and others who would become their enemies.
Before the Tripartite Pact was signed and sold to the Soviet Union as an agreement aimed at the United States, Germany already had broken its anti-Comintern pact with Japan and Italy by signing a neutrality pact with the Soviet Union, which Japan always had considered its greatest threat.
Such was the mish-mash of pacts near the end of 1940 that the Soviets actually proposed that it join the three Axis powers. But Joseph Stalin demanded more land concessions in Europe than Germany was willing to concede, so that Soviet offer was rejected.
Whoever was allied with whom, the Axis Powers became unified in a stand-off with the Allied powers of Western Europe countries and the United States in what became World War II with its European and Pacific theaters of operation.
September 20—Open Cocoon Policy
Ah September and then the last quarter of the year best known for nature’s fall display of colors. What a lovely time of the year: the bright yellows, greens, oranges and all shades in between, and especially red. Red is particularly apropos, for this time of the year also is the favorite time for making a world war in which millions return nature’s favor by painting it with blood.
Over the next several weeks, we hope to post daily anniversary accounts of Tommy’s overall war, World War II. We begin by setting the stage for the Pacific portion of the war by assembling excerpts from Tommy’s Wars.
Japan and China have been at loggerheads since Mongols began forming an empire in the Orient with dreams of beyond. Before Kublai Khan became the leader in 1260, the Mongols had begun invading other countries in the area.
The Mongols got Korea to capitulate to threats and become an ally in ruling their part of Asia and eventually parts of China. Then Kublai Khan launched an invasion of Japan, which by now was a bit snooty about such threats since it had spent the previous 1,500 years without being conquered. Japan snubbed all requests for acquiescence.
The forces of the three Asian allies tried twice to conquer Japan, the second one consisting of a Navy of nine hundred ships with forty thousand men sailing from Korea and 3,500 more ships with 100,000 troops from China to invade their neighbor island nation across the Japan Sea. An invasion force of that size might have worked, particularly since it initiated use of a new China-discovered weapon, gunpowder.
The invasion was ill-timed. A few early ships got through, but were repelled by the forces of a vastly outnumbered Japan army. In those days, invasions of that size could not claim a D-day. Landings would have to take place over weeks, or even months.
In this case, the Chinese force that was to attack from the south was delayed by logistical problems. It didn’t much matter, for the entire Mongol fleet of ships encountered a massive typhoon between the Asia mainland and Japan and ended up at the bottom of the sea, well short of its goal.
Thus was born the now-famous Japanese word, “kamikaze,” which means “divine wind.” Unfortunately, “divine” also would be used by emperors who convinced their flock that they were divine, thus invincible. So, it was a divine act to carry out a suicidal act in the service of one’s emperor, becoming a kamikaze.
That concept was braced by more than a millennium-long history of not being defeated by a foreign power on Japanese soil. Apparently, that did not necessarily apply to Japan’s own invasions of other countries, particularly the one launched by the samurais who always had battled among themselves until they decided to unite and wage a war in foreign waters. They lost, and badly. Given that long history, it should not be surprising that Japan entered a complex series of alliances with a certain mix of divine arrogance and belligerence, mainly against an old enemy.
After repelling many attempts to seize it, Japan withdrew into a two-hundred-year cocoon in the 1600s, isolating itself from the rest of the world, save for minor trade with the Dutch and Chinese allowed at Nagasaki, the only port open to selective foreigners. That lasted until the mid-nineteenth century when US Commodore Matthew Perry and his gunships arrived to talk trade. Perry’s mission was much better armed and eventually got the Shogunate government of Tokugawa in charge at the time to give in and sign the “open door” agreement. To Japan, the opening helped bring an end to the two-century cocoon rule of a Shogunate.
Feudal lords squabbled among themselves, but one group allied with the emperor to overthrow the government and establish what became known as the “Meiji restoration.” The emperor was returned to actual rule in 1868 to lead Japan with the aim of becoming a more modernized government the equal of the surrounding European empires.
The opening of Japan to the rest of the world also served to expose the country to just how far the rest of the world had developed, primarily in technology, during the two hundred years of Japan’s isolation cocoon. The Meiji governments set about to change all that and bring Japan into the late nineteenth century where the Europeans were. The military also followed the modernization theme with the help of the government, which hired advisors from several Western nations to bring its forces up to speed, in tactics as well as technology. In 1882, Japan adopted the imperial rescript the military would follow for the next seventy-plus years.
Adopting modern society apparently also meant meddling in other countries. The first under the Meiji government became a muddled meddle as it almost decided to invade Korea in the mid-1870s over a perceived slight on the part of the Koreans in receiving a Japan diplomatic delegation.
Japan could have taken the high road and played out what it had long given lip-service to, the idea that as the dominant power in Southeast Asia, it should take on the role of leading a long-unstable Asia into the new century, which meant ousting all the Western powers from the region by diplomacy or force. Instead, the Japan military became a force that not only other countries would have to deal with, it had become a force for the Meiji governments and their successive emperors to deal with.
Ever since Japan began its empire-building on the Asia continent in the mid-1890s, it and China were mortal foes, yet by the late 1930s, the invader had no plan to defeat and occupy all of China. Japan did not have the manpower or other means to defeat and hold a country that large, not even a China that at the time was weak militarily and distracted by its own threatening civil war. Japan certainly did not have that much military strength at a time it faced an always potential northern adversary, the Soviet Union. The Japan Army focused instead on what it considered its strategic needs.
Next: September 21–Empires
74th Anniversary, Sept. 6
Day Japan Set in Motion the Pacific Theater
Sept. 6, 1941, Japan’s dysfunctional government held another in a summer-long series of cabinet-level and emperor-level conferences, this one to consider if and when to begin the Pacific theater of operations of World War II.
The dominating Japan military had ambitious plans to use the 6 million-man army it had built over the previous two decades to invade and gobble up most of the territory touching the Pacific Ocean, from Russia south and around and west to India and all the island nations in the region.
Japan had been at war with China since 1937, fomented in part by its 1931 taking of Manchuria, the northeast section of the unstable island nation. The United States became increasingly belligerent about what it saw as the island nation’s desire to carve its own empire out of the colonies of the vast number of European colonies in the region.
Only a year earlier, the U.S. had moved its Pacific naval fleet from its West Coast to its territory of Hawaii, a move Japan considered provocative. It also put the U.S. Navy close enough to interfere with Japan’s empirical plans.
But, Japan also was highly dependent on the U.S. for the supplies it needed to build and maintain such a large army, including 90 percent of its oil supply needed to operate the war machine.
The U.S. maintained a steady drumbeat of criticism of Japan’s expansion plans and a demand it withdraw from China. The criticism continued into the summer as Japan ignored the protestations. Finally, the U.S. first froze all Japanese assets in the U.S., then began banning exports to Japan.
Eventually the U.S. ban included all oil exports to Japan. Meanwhile talks at the ambassadorial level were getting nowhere.
At the Sept. 6 emperor-level meeting, called an Imperial Conference and attended by Emperor Hirohito, the civilian half of his government was reluctant to expand its war with China. The military half argued that a Pacific war was inevitable, and if Japan were to win it, it must begin by the end of October, just ahead of the coming winter that would make it difficult for the long-feared Soviet Russia to intervene.
The Sept. 6 conference decided to prepare for a war that would begin by mid-October, but at the same time seek a peace agreement with the United States that might avoid broadened WWII, but leaving Japan with at least what it already had conquered, mainly chunks of China.
Although the decision may sound bland—prepare for war that would begin by mid-October while seeking peace—it was considered the nation’s guiding command and cited later as setting the stage for war and justifying the kickoff with an attack on the U.S. fleet docked in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Several other Imperial Conferences and cabinet-level Liaison Conferences were held over the ensuing weeks, all exploring ways to avoid the Pacific theater of WWII as ambassador-level talks continued, some including consideration of a summit meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prince Konoe, Japan’s prime minister at the time.
The rest, as is said, is history.
Why the U.S. Wasn’t Represented in China’s Celebration of End
Its Government is Not the One the U.S. Helped Defeat Japan
Doubtless, if we were sentenced to cruel and unusual punishment and required to watch FOX News, we’d be hearing a sturm and drang over President Obama’s refusal to join other national leaders at the event. As usual, the complainers wouldn’t have the facts behind them.
The U.S. was a supporter of China during World War II, sending some planes made famous by the Flying Tigers, primarily P-51 Mustangs, to fight the Japanese who controlled much of China and adjacent countries from the Russia border around to India.
There were two governments in China throughout the war, the world war itself merely delaying what would have been then and afterwards was a civil war. The contending parties were Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party, which had most of the power and the backing of Allied forces, versus Mao-Tse-tung’s Communist Party, which, with one exception, did more to hamper than help Chiang’s attempts to defend the country.
After the war, Mao’s communists, with the backing and aid of the Soviet Union, defeated Chiang and he fled to what is now Taiwan to begin a non-communist government there. It’s no surprise Russia President Vladimir Putin attended.
Today’s China is still run by a communist government, and proudly so. If it were Taiwan instead of mainland China putting on a show big enough to attract national leaders, Obama would be there.
Blame Europe for Today’s Conflicts
Remains of Dissolved Empires
Remember the folk story about the little old lady who swallowed a fly? Keep it in mind as you ponder the 70th anniversary of the formal end of World War II when Japan signed surrender documents aboard the USS Missouri docked in Tokyo Bay.
Also consider today’s mess in the Middle East and the always-present turmoil in Asia and Africa, and let’s face it, festering boils pretty much everywhere. How are they connected and what the hell does the old lady and her culinary proclivity have to do with it?
Today’s turmoil in the Middle East is the “horse” the little old lady swallowed to catch the “cow.” The region is such a powder keg someone mostly likely will come along with an “elephant” for the old lady to swallow next.
But, for now the “horse” was the U.S. overthrow of the Saddam Hussein in Iraq, an incredibly stupid act that served only to destabilize the entire Mideast region. The region of the dawn of mankind never had a clue of democracy, much less creating one overnight, yet governments were toppled throughout the region in the name of ridding the people of various tyrannies.
The last of the falling dominoes held fast and Syria is still aboil today as various terrorist organizations led by maniacs take advantage of the instability to spread their own forms sadistic lunacy.
Let’s go all the way back to the “fly” and why she swallowed it in the first place.
Mankind is the latest development of evolution from a set of mammals three million years ago. As were our mammalian parents, we are genetically driven to be territorial to ensure that we have adequate access to food. We also have a natural distrust of other animals not of our gene pool. Those are protective qualities that allowed our species to survive.
Survive we have, so far, up to a brief period of enlightment three and four millenia ago before descending into the dark ages until the middle ages and then a new age of enlightment that bloomed with the renaissance circa the 12th century.
As a species, we became thinkers once again, as if those genes had been recessive for the previous thousand years. Instead of receding during that time, the genes of our territorial psychy and xenophobia only grew stronger. The idea of enslaving others we consider inferior never left us, not in the Greek enlightment, the dark and middle ages or in the European renaissance all the way to the present.
Those traits, married with the renaissance, gave us a race of white people who considered themselves superior to all others of their species. Their enlightenment was ahead of others, giving them a head start in development and a physical superiority (including weaponry) and dominance over the trailing species now considered vastly inferior.
The renaissance enlightenment came about on a continent not much larger than the smallest, Australia, and with a population density second only to that of Asia. That, and a lust for newly discovered ores led to a desire to expand. Those with the greatest seapower led the parade of empire-building. Spain and Great Britain were grand marshals. Those two countries were, in effect, the “fly” the little old lady of mankind swallowed, but in their case, we know why.
Other European nations joined the parade, including Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Italy, which considered itself the center of the renaissance, already had been there and done that, effectively ending the previous period of enlightenment, and appeared satisfied to keep its dominations closer to home.
Tommy’s Wars notes the empire building as it stood in the mid-1800s when Japan acquiesced at U.S. gunpoint and ended its 200 years as a closed country: http://tommyswars.com/featured-excerpts/
The United States became a large “spider” and began the revolutionary method of freeing itself from an empire seven decades earlier, but its population consisted of early generations of the same white Europeans and began its revolt on about the same level of enlightenment and power. Revolutions would be far different for any of the other colonies of empires to attempt an overthrow.
Japan was not one, so once it emerged from its cocoon, ironically at U.S. insistence, it saw what surrounded it, it became somewhat of a “bird” going after the dormant spiders of the Asia-Pacific region.
After settling what was basically its own family war, again ironically, the original spider set out to protect its own fly as well morphing into the “cat” the little old lady swallowed to catch the “bird” and thus throwing this analogy into disarray, since it has become too messed up to account for the “dog” to catch the “cat” and the “goat” to go after the “dog.”
Immediately after World War II, the Western Europe victors and their own savior, the United States, made one of several bad decisions at Yalta and Potsdam. Essentially, all of the European empires in Asia-Pacific were restored except for a few circumcisions here and there.
International trade began after the Sept. 2 signing and empires no longer were necessary at the same time they became too expensive to rule with war-decimated armies, so they began slowly disbanding in the ensuing two decades, some helped along by local “spiders,” such as those in Vietnam where the French were sent packing.
The British were among the first to leave the region, most notably from India within two years of the war. The British and the French, the dominant empires, during their two centuries of rule had combined various ethnic minorities into single nations, including those of what are now Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka into India, and Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam into French Indochina.
Just as the Russians found with their Soviet empire in Europe, and the often well-meaning, but foolish creation of Israel in 1948 by taking land from one ethnic/religious group and giving it to another it had warred with for centuries, the dissolutions occurred with little or no thought to preparing the populations for their own modern governance, let alone democracies they had never experienced.
The European empires left behind a mess in their former colonies as the two most powerful nations of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. sided with particular populations based solely on whether they favored communism or democracy. After the cold war dissolved in the 1990s, again little thought was given to what had become puppet populations, left to fend for themselves and against each other.
Somewhere in all that dissolution lurks the “goat” and the “dog,” but after the little old lady swallowed the horse, she was dead, of course.
August 22, 1945
Sentence to Siberia
A week and a day after Japan’s announced surrender and a day short of two weeks since the Soviet Union declared war on the country and began overrunning defensive forces in the region, Japanese troops in central Manchuria surrendered.
Tommy, a.k.a. Takuji Sarashina, was among them, pleased that the war was over and expecting. with the Soviets’ encouragement, soon to be repatriated to Japan.
Instead, they and 500,000 other Japanese soldiers and anyone else in Manchuria, Korea and surrounding regions held by Japan, were loaded into boxcars after the official surrender on September 2 to serve at least two years of hard labor as “reparations” for a segment of World War II the U.S.S.R. had fought for fewer than three weeks.
Little did they know that the Soviets’ declaration of war shortly before midnight, Moscow time, just after midnight on August 9, Japan time, and seven hours before the second atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki, had been prearranged at the Yalta conference among the U.S., Great Britain and the U.S.S.R. as early as February of 1945. The trigger was Soviet entry into the war within three months of Germany’s surrender, which occurred on May 8.
The Soviets, even then not well-known for keeping promises, waited until the last hour to declare war. Since before the Pacific theater of WWII launched with Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the two countries had a neutrality pact for that part of the war, and the U.S.S.R. stayed out of it.
That neutrality agreement expired in mid-summer, 1945 and Japan, not knowing of the Yalta agreement, pressed the Soviets to renew it, but received no answers, just stalling.
The U.S.S.R. always had been Japan’s biggest fear, a decades-old concern, and it was that, not the atomic bombs, that finally triggered the move by more sane leaders then in charge in Japan. They arranged a political maneuver to have Emperor Hirohito break a deadlock of an evenly split and dysfunctional government that relied on consensus for any action, and give in to Allied demands for an unconditional surrender.
The Why Of the Pacific Theater of World War II
How We Got There
History tells us that World War I began with the assassination of Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Klaus Ferdinand by a Serbian associated with the Black Hand military movement. As usual, history as presented is not precise enough to ascribe those dates we love to have for a beginning and end, for there was far more roiling in the background that allowed a simple, climactic act such as an assassination to spark the first global war.
Similarly, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the one that followed the “war to end all wars” that didn’t, it is easy to fix the dates surrenders were signed. It’s much harder to fix the how, when and why they began in the first place and even how they came to be over.
In Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back, we learn that many of our conclusions about WWII, particularly its Pacific theater of operation, are just plain wrong, yet they have persisted for all of these decades.
Here are some of them:
–The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because it thought it could defeat the much more powerful country. In truth, the war scenarios all national militaries keep and restudy even during peaceful times overwhelmingly concluded there was no way for Japan to defeat the United States anywhere. Japan’s leaders were convinced of that up to the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, and there are transcripts to prove it.
–The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and three days later Nagasaki, to force Japan to surrender, saving the lives of as many as 200,000 soldiers. That idea persists to this day even though less than a year after that Aug. 6, 1945, the same U.S. military leaders who planned and carried out the attack concluded that nuclear bombs were of no military use. Nor would they ever be. Japan surrendered for other reasons.
–Heideki Tojo, Japan’s government leader through most of the war, the one caricatured as a buck-tooth, bald maniac leading “the yellow peril” indicative of “Japs,” was actually schizophrenic about the war because he had conflicting jobs. As head of the Japanese Imperial Army before the war and a member of the cabinet, he boasted and plumped for war in public and in government meetings, but in private appealed to his fellow leaders to do something to seek peace the prevent the madness. Tommy’s Wars has the evidence to prove it.
Let’s take the last case first and follow:
Japan’s pre-WWII government was one that required a consensus to make any decision. If it were split evenly, there could be no consensus, so someone would have to break ranks and cave to one side or the other. Fat chance. The titular head of the government was the emperor, but Hirohito was as clueless as the rest of the nation’s leaders as to how to express leadership and give orders.
Tojo’s thinking, clearly expressed in cabinet-level meetings called Liaison Conferences and in Imperial Conferences at which Hirohito was present, but never spoke except literally through his mouthpiece his Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, Yoshimichi Hara. There were a few incidents in which Hirohito, who was Japan’s equivalent of God, spoke directly to someone who wasn’t in his inner palace circle. It isn’t well known, but Hirohito was a man who always preferred peace, favored the democratic system of government, and if he were not born to become emperor, would have chosen an advanced degree in natural history.
But, as Tommy’s Wars reported, “Hirohito may have contributed to his not being taken seriously by Japan’s non-imperial leadership. He appeared to believe that merely expressing his disappointments and giving vague orders should have been enough in a country that deified him. But publicly, he also exulted in Japan’s victories in China….”
One of Tojo’s winning arguments for heading down the path of war was one still often used despite its insane central assertion: we have to carry on or those who have died in our cause would have been lost in vain. In other words: lose more lives to atone for lives previously lost in the cause, an assertion with no end.
Well before Pearl Harbor, Japan sought peace with the United States, but the Roosevelt administration insisted there could be no peace until Japan withdrew from China, meaning giving up territory it had gained since using a wmd or Tonkin Gulf type of excuse to declare war on China in 1937.
A succession of conferences at both liaison and imperial levels were held beginning in the summer of 1941, months before Pearl Harbor. A Sept. 6 conference set a go-no-go on the planned attack that nobody present wanted. It set a final decision “by October” and at an Oct. 14 conference, Tojo said in a painful dialect translated by Tommy:
“The issue of troop retreat is like touching our heart. The Army considers it to be a grave problem. Accepting all of the US demand will wipe out the results of the China war. It will put Manchuria in danger, too. Even the region of Korea will be endangered. In this war, we are not seeking for annexation and indemnity. In the China war, several hundred thousand men died with numerous numbers of families left behind, numerous numbers of injured, over several hundred thousand men.”
In other words, Japan should continue waging a war, likely losing hundreds of thousands more men (as it did) as part of a war it would lose so that those already dead would not have died in vain. When have we heard that argument in recent years? All deaths in an unjust war not won are in vain, like it or not.
Next, Pearl Harbor, the result of those conferences Tojo attended, and which happened because no one in Japan’s leadership would step forward to say what was on the minds of all of them: “No. It’s suicide.”
Intentionally, Japan had been isolated from the rest of the rest of the world for 200 years up to the mid-1800s when U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Japan with his gunships to enforce the U.S. “open door” policy, meaning the island country had to open itself to trade. Perry won, an internal revolution of sorts took place and the position of emperor was restored, beginning with Hirohito’s ancestors.
As Japan opened its doors and looked around, it discovered that over those two centuries when its ports were closed to all but one or two countries, it was surrounded by European Empires. Again, from Tommy’s Wars:
“Early in the 1900s the British Empire in Asia included what is now Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore as well as three nations on the north coast of Borneo, part of New Guinea and Hong Kong. It also held several islands in Polynesia, the northernmost of which were the Gilberts, and of course, New Zealand and the entire continent of Australia.
“The Netherlands controlled what became known as the Dutch East Indies, consisting of what is today Indonesia, most of Borneo, and the Celebes and Moluccas Islands and about half of New Guinea. France controlled Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, together what it called French Indochina. It also controlled a few islands in the South Pacific. Thailand, until recently the monarchy of Siam, was left alone to serve as a neutral nation.
“The United States controlled the Philippines, Guam and Wake Islands, Russia the Liaotung peninsula of China’s Manchuria section and Germany had pieces of China, the northernmost islands of the Central Pacific, the Marianas and the Marshalls. Japan had Formosa off the China coast and the Ryukyu Islands between, as well as Korea, the southern half of the Kurile island chain and some of the Pacific islands closest to home.
“One would have to be naïve to believe any of these were friendly mergers. As vastly superior military powers, most of the European acquisitions were relatively easy at gunpoint. By the end of the century there developed another, seemingly more gentlemanly method, ninety-nine-year leases with China, also at gunpoint.
“The British had one of the gunpoint leases for Hong Kong and adjoining islands, Russia the Manchuria peninsula and France had China’s Hainan Island next door to its Indochina holdings. Various other arrangements allowed Japan to hold Formosa and claim Korea as a protectorate. It was as if a bunch of ravenous animals were biting off pieces of China’s crust.”
Japan could have followed its original intention of becoming a power and going the aid of its occupied neighbors on the Asia continent and ousting the European empires, but that required a strong military that when strong enough decided it was powerful enough to create Japan’s own empire.
Finally, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two of the most atrocious acts of mankind, ranking close to, if not next to the Holocaust. For 70 years, they have been sold to us as necessary to get Japan to surrender and save hundreds of thousands of American lives that would have to have been sacrificed in a land invasion of Japan.
Tommy’s Wars, again drawing on long-classified documents declassified in recent years, tells us that none of that was true. As the U.S. military in a study issued a year later concluded, along with tons of other evidence, there was no need for the bombs. Japan already had been selected as the primary target by a unit of the super-super-secret “Manhattan Project” developing the bomb as early as 1943, just a little more than two years into the war.
Before the war, during the waging of it and right up until the end, Japan’s biggest fear was not the United States, whose planes bombed its biggest cities (except Hiroshima and Nagasaki) for the last two years of the war. The primary fear of Japan always was the Soviet Union, which bordered Japan’s colony in China’s northeastern corner of Manchuria that it seized in 1931. Japan also had controlled Korea for decades, the entirety of its empire until it seized its first land in China.
Japan and the Soviets had to that point warred with each other for half a century, Japan at first the victor. Its Kwantung army assigned to guard the multinational railroad interests in Manchuria often fought border skirmishes with the U.S.S.R. during the 1930s. Japan was well aware that the Soviets hungered for the Japan colonies in a key trade and security area.
The two nations had a neutrality agreement signed even before the region became part of World War II, but Japan was ignorant of the fact that the Soviets early in 1945 signed an agreement with Britain and the U.S. at the Yalta Conference that the Soviets would declare war on Japan within three months of Germany’s surrender, which occurred a few months later on May 8.
For the previous year, Japan had sought peace with the United States while fearing the Soviets more, even under some bizarre circumstances. One was the intervention of two Catholic priests, former missionaries in China, to seek peace. Amazingly, they got access to the highest levels of both governments, each apparently believing they were emissaries of a back-door approach by the other. After both sides wasted time on it, it fell apart for various reasons.
For its part, the United States stuck to its guns that Japan had to quit China and surrender unconditionally. Japan wanted concessions, mainly that its emperor would be saved. Near the end in the summer of 1945, Japan wanted to send an emissary to Moscow to appeal for it to serve as a mediator, not knowing of the Aug. 8 deadline for the Soviets to declare war on the hapless nation. Secretly, Hirohito told the would-be emissary to tell the Soviets that Japan was willing to surrender without any conditions, even his safety.
The meeting did not take place because the Potsdam Conference was imminent. Great Britain and the United States, the Soviets not taking part in Japan discussions because of its about-to-end neutrality agreement, for the last time insisted on unconditional surrender.
The U.S. military, long privy to Japan’s secret messages, knew what its situation was and that it had been seeking an end to the war for peace for more than a year, but was frustrated that Japan kept on fighting despite devastation of its major cities. Still, the American military planners figured a land invasion might be necessary at some point and made plans, figuring it might cause as many as 15,000 lives. It figured that a land invasion would have to happen in October or November if Japan had not surrendered by then.
Those same leaders also were aware that for years, U.S. scientists had been working on creating an atomic bomb, and for the past two years had planned to drop it on Japan to test its lethality, never a consideration on all-white Germany. To be fair, dropping it on Germany in the middle of Europe would cause far more widespread damage than on an isolated island nation.
Nonetheless, the military had a new type of bomb and needed to test it. Planners back in 1944 selected a few Japan sites with ideal landscapes for testing its destructive power, to property and lives. The first test of the bomb was Trinity, in New Mexico on July 16. By then Hiroshima was selected as the main target for the first bomb, Kokura, backup for the first and the main target for the second. The second one was the only other one built, an improvement on the first. Nagasaki was the secondary target in case cloud cover obscured Kokura, which did, it turned out.
By August, not knowing of the A-bombs, Japan still feared a Soviet invasion. Their neutrality pact expired in mid-summer, the Soviets even withdrew its embassy people from Japan and still Japan beseeched the Soviets to intervene and mediate on its behalf.
On Aug. 6 the bomb fell on Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki. Both were troublesome for obvious reasons, but by then the government had suffered firebombing and near destruction of most of its major cities, including its capital, Tokyo.
Shortly before midnight Japan time on Aug. 9, just after in Moscow, the Soviets declared war on Japan and the million men it had stationed across the border in Mongolia began moving into Manchuria, outgunning Japan’s Kwantung soldiers numbering half that many.
Loss to the Soviets was inevitable at that point, so Japan’s leaders finally found a way to convince the consensus government to allow the emperor to cast the deciding vote. He went on radio throughout Japan for the first time five days later, on Aug. 14, to announce that Japan accepted unconditional surrender, formally cementing the surrender aboard the USS Missouri on Sept. 3 Japan time, the 20th birthday of the Tommy of Tommy’s Wars.
President Harry Truman and the military sold the propaganda to justify the atomic bombs as bringing about the end of the war and saving 200,000 American lives that would be lost in an invasion. That lie is believed today, anchored in the propaganda of the day that even Dr. Seuss engaged in, that Tojo, although ousted in July of 1944, was maniacal and nothing but extreme measures would defeat Japan.
Now we have the declassified U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey that concluded in mid-1946 that Japan would have surrendered by October without the atomic bombs, and that militarily, such bombs were of no use. Tojo was convicted of war crimes and hanged, the United States for nothing and left to scare the bejeezus out of the entire world during the Cold War proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Will We Ever Learn?
Not Looking Like It
As this is written, lame-duck President Barack Obama, contrary to all of his instincts and promises, has bowed to pressure from his critics and gotten the United States re-involved, not only in MIddle East conflicts in general, but in the most senseless of its millennia of conflicts, the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
We and our allies keep repeating the same mistakes, over and over and over again.
Most of us heard repeatedly over the past decade of how the United States armed and trained the Taliban of Afghanistan, who sheltered Osama bin Laden, to oppose the nine-year occupation by the Soviet Union in the 1980s. My goodness, how could that go wrong?
It was dubbed Charlie Wilson’s war because the main proponent, and even actor on the ground of the plot subterfuge was a lanky Texas congressman by that name with cowboy ambitions.
Many would excuse the behavior because we were still in the Cold War with the Soviets, a maniacal and hysterical faceoff of two nations armed to the nuclear teeth with the ability to annihilate each other not once but for what, a few times over, 10 times over. After the first, what would be the point of the rest?
All of that spending to ratchet up the time-over counter-threats finally broke the Soviet’s economic back at a time it had a leader sane enough to recognize that it could not keep up with American spending.
Well, it turns out that was not the first, or last time we would aid of our own future enemy.
Remember that little dust-up in Vietnam that cost 58,220 American lives during a fruitless conflict that lasted nearly 10 years?
Born a bit too soon to be drafted for the Vietnam War, I nonetheless became interested early one as a young reporter who ended up covering domestic aspects of it.
Bernard Fall’s “Hell in a Very Small Place, the Siege of Dien Bien Phu,” the battle that caused France to give up and walk away from the place altogether, provided my first background information on the debacle, but I must have forgotten about or never learned from the book, much about the history before then.
It turns out the United States was instrumental in helping the eventual victor of that war, the North Vietnamese led by Ho Chi Minh.
That help became a pattern of U.S. involvement that turned out to bite it in the rear end, based on several beliefs, including “the enemy of our enemy is our friend,” “we back anyone who professes to be anti-communist, no questions asked.”
While researching that part of history for Tommy’s Wars: Paradise to Hell and Back,” I already had learned that the Yalta and Potsdam agreements among the Allies that divvied up the spoils from World War II, foolishly allowed the European Empires that had made colonies out of much of the Eastern Hemisphere, to reclaim them after the war was over.
France had what it called French Indochina, its merged colonies of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Vietnam was strategic because a 7,000-mile loop of railroad lines extending all the way from India around and up through China, into the U.S.S.R. and on to Europe passed through Indochina, connecting at the China border with Vietnam.
Japan began what was to become the Pacific Theater of Operations of World War II by engineering an excuse for invading China in 1937 (a la Tonkin Gulf, WMDs; you know the drill).
The United States and some of what became the Allied nations of WWII, stepped in on the side of China even though they were not yet at war with Japan. Pearl Harbor (itself result of an amazingly insane debacle) , had not occurred yet, but would, in part, to cripple the U.S. fleet so it could not come to the aid of a slew of Southeast Asia countries Japan planned to invade at the same time near the end of 1941.
Earlier that year a Vietnamese revolutionary espousing communism who had lived in exile for the previous 30 years or so, returned via China to start a revolution in his home country then on the verge of turmoil.
On Dec. 7 U.S. time, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor at the same time they launched invasions throughout Southeast Asia and were overall victorious. They did not have to fight for Vietnam, for the French acquiesced to Japan’s occupation, at least of the northern part of it.
As the war went on, the Viet Minh, whose revolutionary plans had to be put on hold given Japanese occupation, began harassing the occupiers. Well now, here was an enemy of our enemy, so the United States, operating through its forerunner of the U.S. CIA, the Office of Strategic Services, helped Ho Chi Minh his cause.Throughout the war, even before the United States officially declared its role, U.S. fliers aided the Chinese in combatting the Japanese in the area. The OSS also had that as a reason to help “Uncle Ho.”
Finally in early 1945, as things began going badly for the Japanese overall in the war, it seized control of the northern part of Vietnam from France and installed its own puppet government.
Within a few months, Japan had become feckless in war efforts, so at the Potsdam Conference at the end of July, the Allied leaders as one of their last, and what they considered minor acts, divided Vietnam at the 16th parallel, allowing China to grab everything north, France to retain everything south.
How could that go wrong?