Appendices - Hirohito's War
D: THE JAPANESE EMPIRE - FROM CO-PROSPERITY TO TYRANNY
Cruelty and Suppression: Hirohito’s War is replete with detail about Japan’s wartime atrocities. Though atrocities are the normal stuff of war and the Allied armies were far from innocent in this respect, the massacre of Japanese soldiers at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea is particularly notable, the scale of the brutality across the breadth of Japan’s Asian Empire is nevertheless perhaps unique in the annals of modern history.
Not surprisingly perhaps most of the information has come from Allied POWs.
Few kempeitai (secret police) have ever come forward to discuss torture methods. However, Yoshio Tschuchiya, who joined the secret police in 1933 at the age of twenty-two has been a rare interviewee. Torturing prisoners for information developed a standard routine. Beating would begin with fists but would soon become exhausting. It was followed by hitting the prisoner with a red hot iron bar. That too had disadvantages: “it was hard to stay in the room because human flesh is burned and it smells bad.”30 Hanging torture was frequently endured for hours; as was water boarding, which gave the victim the sensation of drowning. The kempeitai were well aware that a high percentage of the confessions were lies but carried on anyway because that was what was expected of them.
Indian soldiers were particularly badly treated. Being considered racially inferior to the Japanese did not help their case. At Kual Balait (in modern day Brunei) fifty-five Indian soldiers were starved to death for refusing to join Bose’s Indian National Army. Another sixty-five were bayoneted or beheaded. Naik Ram “saw that all of the Indians’ heads had been cut off.”31
Allied bomber crews were dealt with particularly harshly. Most were tortured and executed. Those who parachuted onto mainland Japan were often killed by enraged civilians; “they were extremely hostile and beat me with clubs, rods, rocks and many other objects,” recalled Lieutenant ‘Hap’ Halloran, a B-29 bomber, “I blacked out from the beatings. I felt I would die that afternoon on enemy soil.”32 Paradoxically they were saved form the mob by the kempeitai who were keen to interrogate them. Even if they were not killed, fliers were tortured and humiliated. In one bizarre episode American fliers were stripped naked and placed in animal cages at a Zoo for the Japanese public to view and taunt them.
After the Great Tokyo Air Raid on 8 March 1945, in which 100,000 Japanese perished, a jail holding sixty-two American prisoners was hit. Many were killed but the remainder were butchered as the infuriated prison guards ran amok with their bayonets. Remarkably American flyers at Omori Prison Camp, where they were used as slave labor, survived.
In addition to many first hand witnesses to torture, confirmation of kempeitai techniques came with the capture of a handbook Japanese Instructions on How to Torture. The booklet advised that threats could be as good as torture to extract confessions: “Hints of future discomforts, for example, torture, murder, starvation, solitary confinement, deprivation of sleep,”33 were all recommended. Evidence suggests that ‘hints’ were rarely used as the first step in the torture program.
At Tamarkan camp on the River Kwai, the kempeitai used thumbscrews, sharpened bamboo and whips. Lighted cigarettes would be pushed into the ears and noses of prisoners chosen for punishment. Other punishments included regular beating with open or closed fists, beatings with iron bars and wood, kicks to the stomach, genitals and head, being made to stand for hours holding a heavy piece of wood or stone, kneeling on bamboo poles, forcing POWs to beat each other up, indefinite hand presses followed by beating when they stopped, and solitary confinement in tiny bamboo cages. Toosey would later say, “Nowhere in the world was sadism practiced with greater efficiency than in the Japanese army.”34