Appendices - Hirohito's War
D: THE JAPANESE EMPIRE - FROM CO-PROSPERITY TO TYRANNY
The Psychology of Brutality: One officer, Ken Yusasa recalled, “In 1941, I became a doctor and specialised in infectious diseases. I believed that under the Emperor we were the greatest country in Asia… I was proud to be under direct control of the emperor, and I was taught that if I believed in the Emperor, my own happiness would come as an extension to that.”57 “…women’s bellies were cut open, homes were burned. If you couldn’t do this, then you weren’t a loyal soldier of the Emperor.”58 During his wartime ‘medical’ career he dissected a total of fourteen Chinese. He eventually spent eleven years in prison after the war. Later he wrote a book called Unerasable Memories.
Murder was nearly always committed in the name of the Emperor. Kenichiro Oonuki, a Japanese schoolboy in the 1920s, was taught that Hirohito was a ‘living God’: “We were taught that the emperor was a god in the form of a human being. That was the education that we received.”59
Masayo Enomoto admitted to entering a Chinese village and shooting a father who was protecting his 15 year-old daughter. He then raped and killed her. When interviewed he admitted, “I didn’t feel any sense of guilt then… because I was fighting for the Emperor. He was a God. In the name of the Emperor we could do whatever we wanted against the Chinese. Therefore I had no sense of guilt.”60 It was a commonly repeated response. Thus Hajime Kondo similarly believed that “if you kill a person then it’s good for the Emperor.”61 He admitted to gang raping a Chinese woman who with her child they took with them on a mountainous trek, which she had to complete naked. In the mountains the baby was thrown off the cliff. The mother then leapt to her death. Kondo “felt sorry for them for a while, but I had to carry on marching.”62 As to rape, Kondo admitted that there was peer pressure to join in. Officially rape was a crime but throughout the war only a few men were held to account.
Peer pressure was a powerful motivator. Yoshio Tshuchiya admitted, “I didn’t have courage at the beginning (to murder captives), but I couldn’t escape from it. I would be labelled as ‘Chicken’. So I had to do it.”63 Tshuchiya also noted that troops were taught to look down on Chinese as a lesser form of life equivalent to animals: “I felt like I was just killing animals, like pigs.”64
Toyoshige Karishima, a Taiwanese guard who accompanied POW porters on Borneo admitted to killing the many prisoners who couldn’t keep up. On occasions POWs, already sick before they started, begged to be shot. Karishima refused to accept personal responsibility for his crimes saying, “I don’t feel guilty now about what I’ve done because in a war people cannot be normal… when we joined the Japanese Army, we were told that we were the soldiers of the Emperor and all we needed to do was to obey orders…”65 Being one of the Emperor’s soldiers did not protect Karishima. As a Taiwanese Karishima was on the lowest rung of the ladder and was himself often beaten and abused. Japanese soldiers would often be beaten themselves for showing lack of spirit. Afterwards they would be forced to apologise and to bow to their fellow soldiers. The culture of brutality was endemic in the whole system of Japanese military discipline.
An even more distasteful aspect of the treatment of captured prisoners was cannibalism. This became a widespread practice in New Guinea. In part it was thought that the complete breakdown of Japanese logistics was the cause. At first instances of cannibalism were believed to be just isolated occurrences. However Professor Yuki Tanaka, on deeper investigation of the subject, has concluded, “cannibalism was an organised group activity.”66 Victims could include their own dead, natives and most frequently Australian soldiers. New Guinea was not the only place where cannibalism was practiced. One Indian POW, Hatam Ali, a soldier in the British Army, spoke of Japanese guards selecting a soldier every day for eating. On some occasions flesh might be hacked from their bodies while still alive before they were flung into a ditch. During the Battle of Kokoda Trail, Bill Hedges, an Australian soldiers, found one of his best friends whose body had been stripped of flesh: “We found them with meat stripped off their legs and half cooked meat in the Japanese dishes.”67 Some prisoners were eviscerated for their livers and hearts – Japanese delicacies.
Survival was the prime motive particularly in New Guinea where some 93 percent of the 160,000 Japanese soldiers stationed there, died – mainly from starvation. However in some instances Professor Tanaka found that cannibalism was practiced even when there were alternative supplies. He explains the practice in these cases as being part of a group ritual that ensured solidarity – a similar phenomenon to group rape, another practice that was widespread in Japan’s conquest of China and Southeast Asia. In the face of defeat, Japanese moral and social values became completely disorientated.
War has always been a morally disorienting force, and Japanese soldiers were not the only ones to do things in the Pacific War that in peacetime would have been considered despicable. Some Marines would take the skulls of Japanese soldiers as souvenirs. Mutilation of dead Japanese soldiers was common. So was the extraction of their teeth – often full of gold. Air Force pilot, Paul Montgomery recalled, “I saw Marines that had a paper sack of gold teeth – it weighed 10 to 15 pounds… the Marines I met were just kids – seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old – they appeared to me to be a bunch of animals.”68 Similarly American soldier Michael Witowich admitted: “I shot him [one of the Japanese dead] in the head with a .45 and automatically the mouth opens up. Man! All them gold teeth just staring at me. And I didn’t knock them out with a rifle, but I used pliers. I had a whole canteen of gold teeth… during the war everything is so horrible.”69
In one sense the idea of post death mutilation was understandable. After US Marines’ first wartime land engagement at the Battle of Tenaru on Guadalcanal, it was found that wounded Japanese troops would lie doggo. Passing US Marines would then be shot in the back or bayonetted. It therefore became standard practice to bayonet all Japanese bodies found on the battlefield - just to make sure. From here, the mutilation of bodies for purposes other than survival was not such a great stretch.
However in the post-war period it is interesting to note how many Japanese and American troops alike looked back incredulously at how their inner consciences evaporated in the collective madness of war. Allowing for the fact that in most histories of the period American atrocities in the Pacific War are under reported (See Chapter 20 The Battle of the Bismarck Sea p569), it is clear that Allied atrocities were widespread. It cannot escape comment that probably one of the reasons that there were so few Japanese prisoners was not just that they committed suicide but that many of them were shot. It has to be asked whether this practice was more widespread in the Pacific War than in Europe where the Allies were fighting Caucasians. The comments of senior commanders such as Admiral Halsey, who famously described the Japanese as ‘monkey meat’ to warm applause in the US, would suggest that there was a large racist element in the perception of the Japanese as enemies. As for the Japanese, the scale, almost psychopathic brutality and universality of their wartime atrocities in the Pacific is perhaps unprecedented in modern history.
The ethical values and norms of Japanese social behaviour at the time taught that Emperor Hirohito was a God and that Chinese people were sub-human. Western POWs, who were never indoctrinated to give their lives for the state, had meanwhile forfeited their rights to be treated as humans by their cowardly surrenders. By contrast Japan’s citizens, in ritual school incantations, were required to proffer their lives to the state as embodied by their Godhead – the Emperor. Surrender was therefore unacceptable. Many captured Japanese troops begged American soldiers to shoot them. As Jonathan Clements points out in Samurai: A New History of the Warrior Elite  “With conflict between nations now involving all the participants in those nations, not merely the military class, the government of Japan called upon its citizens to sacrifice their all in the manner of their soldiers at the front.”70 In effect, in a perversion of the ethos of the Samurai, the cult of death at its lowest common denominator was passed to the common soldier. Not surprisingly perhaps crude brutalism ensued. It is a not unfamiliar pattern of descent in today's world where the high ideals of Islam have been perverted in ISIS’s death cult.
Some senior officers, as expressed by General Adachi before his death (See Hirohito’s War p.791), may have seen the war in terms of some great Wagnerian quest that bespoke the chivalric honor and sacrifice of the mythological Samurai, but these were sentiments way beyond the comprehension of the standard junior officer or foot-soldier - it was beyond many of their Generals too, some of whom explicitly encouraged brutality toward the conquered - natives and POWs.
The concept of bushido, literally the way of the fighting knights, was intended for a cultural and social elite not for a modern army of enlisted men. The cult of the Samurai was a semi-modern mythology based on texts such as the 11th Century The Tale of Genji, just as 19th Century romanticism in Europe idealised the warlike Arthurian, Norse and Teutonic sagas. The mythology of bushido was buffed up in the 1930s by Eiji Yoshikawa’s fictional account of the life of Miyamoto Musashi, the famed 16th Century ronin, a wandering Samurai warrior who has no master - like Sir Lancelot of Arthurian legend or Billy the Kid in Wild West mythology.
Musashi wrote Go Rin No Sho (The book of Five Rings) , one the key texts that sustained the romantic idea of the Samurai long after the demise of this social class. It is symptomatic of the importance of mythology in the Pacific War that one of the two super-battleships built by Japan, the Musashi, which was sunk at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, was named after this semi-mythological figure. The idea of the Samurai and its relevance to modern Japan was as fake as Hollywood’s depiction of the heroic ‘gunman’ of the Wild West. Indeed in reality in most Western shoot-outs the victims were shot unawares in the back – the honourable quick draw contest was strictly for the movies.
Some Japanese academics in the post-war period, less coy and guilt ridden about World War II than their German counterparts, have been enthusiastic to see the linked influence of Japanese and German saga mythologies. Indeed there are similarities in the war their respective totalitarian regimes used mythology. Faux romanticism helped engender a real militarism that descended into barbarity in the 20th Century's age of total war. War now belonged to the masses, not a cultured and spiritual elite pining for a noble mythological warrior past. While in the liberal Anglo-Saxon nations Arthurian romanticism found its outlet in the Arts & Crafts movement, the 19th Century paintings of the pre-Raphaelites, the parodies of Mark Twain [A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1889] and ultimately in the comedy of Monty Python, in totalitarian Germany and Japan the path of mythological romanticism took a darker course.