AUGUST   2020


Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I have to wonder what the thoughts were of the Japanese emissaries, as they arrived back in le Shima Island. Were they seeing their lives as sacrificed in the service of their country? Were they daunted by what the future might hold for Japan? Were they encouraged by the firm courtesy they had found in Manila? The long flight back to la Shima must have been a flight in the dark, across the sunny central Pacific.
Then, upon landing back at at le Shima, there was bad news. The Betty damaged upon landing was not yet ready for a return flight to Japan. Suspicions were raised about possible American sabotage and all documents related to the surrender arraignments were divided between the two groups. Late in the afternoon the Betty carrying the head of the delegation, General Torashiro Kawabe, and seven other members of the group, lifted off from Birch Airstrip. They were accompanied by American fighters for a short time before continuing the flight back to Japan alone.It had been an emotionally exhausting forty-eight hours. There had been, and remained, the constant fear of being shot down – by both sides – and the uncertainty of what to expect from the enemy and their own countrymen, and the shame and humiliation of having to help their nation surrender to the hated Americans. It is no wonder that shortly after the plane left the ground General Kawabeall and the other passengers fell asleep. And then, just after midnight, August 21, one the pilots woke up his passengers to inform them that a fuel tank had sprung a leak, and one engine had begun to miss, and they were losing altitude and they were about to crash into the dark ocean. Life jackets were quickly pulled on and all the valuable surrender documents were given to Foreign Ministry representative Katsuo Okazaki, because he had once been in the Olympics (in 1924!). Then, before they were really ready, the plane slammed into the ocean. The passengers were thrown about the cabin. The plane bounced, and again, off the wave tops, until suddenly the plane stopped and seemed to settle for a moment into the waves. Both pilots rushed from the cockpit and while one tried to calm the passengers, the other ripped opened the rear door. Water rushed into the cabin and the pilot leaped out…into waist deep water. Somehow the crew had managed to bring their injured aircraft back right to the shore line of Japan.
Through twenty feet of surf was the beach in front of the tiny village of Hamamatsu, about 130 miles south of Tokyo. The passangers quickly waded to dry land. A fisherman was rudely awakened and reluctantly enlisted to show the soaked delegates to a telephone. A call to a nearby air base provided transport back to the capital, where, at last, half of the required documents arrived just seven hours behind schedual. The next morning the second Betty, carefully repaired by the Americans, made an uneventful flight back to Japan with the other half of the surrender documents. And on September 2nd , 1945, crash survivors General Kawabe and Katsuo Okazaki stood on the deck of the USS Missouri to sign the surrender documents, another emotionally exhausting day.What had been settled in Manila, in simple direct conversations, was that all Japanese soldiers would be disarmed by their own officers all across China and Burma and Japan, before Allied troops arrived in their area; another compromise.It was not the draconian surrender required in the Potsdam Statement, but rather a compromise, because suddenly peace was more important than complete and unconditional surrender. The Russians had not abided by the U.S. ceasefire, and were still grabbing Japanese territory, right up until the occupation was achieved. So the speedy U.S. occupation of Japan was in the interest of both parties. Still, it was decided that the actual landings would be postponed for three days, taking place, now, on August 28th, to allow local commanders to prepare their junior officers and civilians for the shock. The hunger to humiliate the Japanese was sublimated by the practical pragmatic desire to end to the war as quickly as possible.On August 25 the U.S. planes dropped food and medical parcels on the POW camps. And at 9AM, on August 28, an advance party of 150 communications engineers landed at Atsugi Naval Airfield, 20 miles southwest of Tokyo. They were the first Americans to land in Japan, and they were met by disarmed and obedient Japanese. Three hours later 38 transports arrived with security forces, supplies and equipment required to prepare the airfield for the arrival of U.S. forces. And then, on August 30th, the main occupation began. One C-54 carrying 44 men landed every three minutes, bringing in over the course of the day over 4,200 combat ready troops of the 11th Airborne division. At the same time men of the 6th Marine division landed without opposition at Yokosuka Naval base. The entirely peaceful occupation of Japan had begun two days before the peace treaty would be signed.
The war was really over. The mass murder had stopped, for awhile. And it had been brought to an end by courage and conversation and compromise, despite what you might have heard elsewhere.
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I believe the long argument about just what would have been the human cost for an invasion of Japan in 1945 can be settled by knowing that the United States has not had to order a single new Purple Heart decoration to be manufactured for a wounded United States soldier, sailor or airman since 1945; the tolls from Korea, Vietnam and Iraq have not emptied the stockpiles intended for presentation to causalities suffered during an invasion of Japan in 1945-46.

General Douglas MacArthur, eager for glory after having been chosen to lead the invasion of Japan, tried to convince President Truman that it would cost "only" 500,000 causalities. But Truman had his own estimate, produced by former President Herbert Hoover. Hoover, using his old skills as an economist, and backed up by an independent study group estimated the real cost would be closer to a million dead and wounded. And with the example of the death toll from Okinawa as supporting evidence, Truman became a believer in Hoover’s numbers. (In my opinion, that deceptive reduction in causality estimates justified Dugout Dug’s immediate recall. Only his political clout with Republicans in Washington saved his command until another day.)

So the horrific casuality estimates for an invasion of Japan, plus the threat posed by the Soviet Union, which was gobbling up Asian real estate, were both factors encouraging Truman’s decesion to get out of this war as quickly as possible. This was what was driving the half hidden compromise offered over the emperor. And oddly enough they were the same factors driving the Japanese decision to accept the compromise and the occupation. The U.S. then issued the prompt instruction to the Japanese Government to “…Send emissaries at once…fully empowered to make any arrangements directed by the Supreme Commander….” And, as a sop for MacArthur’s deflated ego over the glorious armageddon he would not get to lead on the beaches of Kyushu, “…General of the Army Douglas MacArthur has been designated as the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers…” The universe had finally recognized Doug as a supreme being, and that was all that he really wanted – that and some mass genuflection. His mother must have been very pleased.Contact was quickly made with the Japanese government via radio. First. General MacArthur ordered the immediate cessation of hostilities and then asked the Japanese what time convienent time they chosen for the ceasefire to begin. MacArthur's staff did designate the radio frequencies to be used in all future communications by the Japanese (13705 and 15965 kilocycles). And when they got to the emissaries journey they were very specific: They should leave Sata Misaki, on the southern tip of Kyushu, “between the hours of 0800 and 1100 Tokyo time” on the morning of August 17th in two Douglas DC-3 type transport planes, painted white with large green crosses on the wings and fuselage. In communications regarding this flight, the code designation "Bataan" will be employed.” It was anticipated the Japanese would get the irony. They did not. But American voters certainly would, and Doug was always thinking about what the American voters would think.

The Japanese replied that the Emperor had ordered the ceasefire for all Japanese forces at 1600 hours on August 16, so the Americans did the same. There were, of course, sparks of flame that refused to die. Sixteen suicide bombers attacked U.S. warships off Japan hours after the ceasefire had been ordered. All were shot down. I wonder if their commander even told the pilots of the ceasefire order. In fact, Tokyo shamefacedly informed MacArthur that members of the royal family were being dispatched to deliver the cease fire order in person. That admission told the Americans volumes about the volatility of the situation in Japan, and probably accounted for the leeway granted to the Japanese in timing the whole thing.

In fact this incident also highlights how important it was that the two sides were now talking, even by radio, and could thus explain events that previously could only have been interpreted in the most antagonistic way. If they had simply started talking earlier, even while the fighting continued, thousands of lives might have been saved.Finally, on August 19th, the Japanese were able to notify the Americans that, “The planes carrying the party of representatives have left Kisarazu Airdrome (in Tokyo) on 0718”. Again, there was fear on the Japanese side that a diehard might attempt to disrupt this mission for peace. So the planes took off secretly, with sealed orders. Only after becoming airborne was the flight plan revealed. Following the American instructions as closely as possible, the two aircraft, one a Mitsubishi G4M1-L2 (Betty) transport aircraft, and the other a Mitsubishi G4M1 (Betty) bomber (complete with a few bullet holes) which had been hastily modified for seating the 8 emissaries that flew in each plane. Each aircraft had been painted white with large green crosses on the wings and fuselage. They were known hereafter in Japanese history as the Green Cross Flights. They reached Sata Misaki on the southern tip of Kyushu at about 11 A.M. They then flew a course of 180 degrees to a point 36 miles North of le Shima Island, and began to circle at about 6,000 feet.Almost immediately the two aircraft were intercepted by twelve Lockheed P-38 twin tailed fighters, from the 49th fighter group under Majors Jack McClure and Wendal Decker. The two Bettys called out to the Americans in English on the prearranged frequency of 6970 kilohertz, repeating the password “Bataan”. Jack McClure responded, “We are Bataan’s watchdog. Follow us.” As the 14 aircraft continued on toward le Shima, the P-38’s began doing acrobatics to thumb their noses at the defeated enemy. On the way they were joined by two 2 B-25’s from the 345th . The Americans were not going to let any die hard kamikazes or hot headed Americans, interfere with this operation. Jack McClure landed first at Birch Airstrip on la Shima, followed by the two Betty’s. The first Betty landed safely but the second made a rough landing on the crushed corral strip and ran off the end of the runway by several feet, damaging the plane's landing gear. Still the strange white machines with large green crosses were down safe, and immediately surrounded by armed guards.

On this island, where the gentle genius Ernie Pyle had been killed by a Japanese sniper just a few weeks earlier, heavily armed men from both sides who had spent three long years bathed in violence and fear, who by training and experience despised their enemy, murdered him on sight and viewed him as less than human, would for the first time since Pearl Harbor physically touch each other in peace. One witness remembered the first man out of the Betty wore shorts.

Formalities were quickly performed and 20 minutes later the 8 commissioners were guided up a ladder into the four engine C-54 transport, a luxurious accommodation compared to the war worn Betty’s. The C-54 climbed off the coral and headed for Manila while the Betty’s crewmembers were guided to a holding area.On the flight to Manila the Japanese delegation was served box lunches with pineapple juice and coffee, with sugar. It was a lunch the front line soldiers rarely if ever saw, but it was common travel meal for senior American officers, and it had the intended effect upon the emissaries. They were impressed with the American determination to transfer their lifestyles even to a war zone. And like the Japanese visitors to my fourth grade class some fifteen years later, the emissaries offered to tip the Americans. They were politely refused. After arriving in Tokyo the delegation was driven through the streets of a still devastated Manila to the Rosario Manor hotel, where they were provided with a Turkey dinner; again an unexpected treat. Meat had been unavailable in Japan for over a year. And, wonder of wonders, the Japanese were each given a can of hard candies.What followed was a further surprise. Taken next to the Manila city hall, the Japanese sat at a conference table opposite the Americans, and found that all the Americans were interested in was in solving problems; where were minefields in Tokyo Bay, could they be quickly cleared, could we help? Where were the American POW camps in Japan, could we drop supplies to them, and where and when could the occupation troops arrive? There were problems, but most were rectified. Nineteen hours later the emissaries left Manila, each with a can of hard candies. It had all be easier than they had worried. The Americans were firm but not gloating. And the emissaries returned with the message that, by and large, a defeated Japan was going to be treated fairly by the Americans. And the war was going to end as quickly as possible, because of it.But it was after they returned to le Shima, that their mission of peace was almost derailed, right at the very edge of success.

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I was surprised to learn some years ago after actually reading the famous "Potsdam Declaration", issued in July 29, 1945, that it says nothing about Japan. The public statement released concerning Japan was the "Potsdam Statement", which was issued on July 26th.The confusion is an easy mistake to make. The tone of the "Declaration" and the "Statement" are similar as they were both issued in triumphant from amidst the rubble of a vanquished and occupied Nazi Germany. But where the "Decrlaration" is also a working blueprint for the shape of Europe's future, the "Statement" is pure politics: part a political initiative, part boastful victory display, and part pure posturing for the voters back home. It was signed by the U.S., Great Britain and China, but really it only mattered to the Americans. The Pacific was our war. And in the statement you will find none of Lincoln’s wise magnanimity. It began with a warning, “The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry…of the whole German people…” .
In the 44 months since Pearl Harbor the United States had largely supplied the allied victory in Europe, and at the same time we had built eight new battleships, 13 heavy cruisers, 2 large cruisers, 33 light cruisers, 18 heavy aircraft carriers, 76 light or jeep carriers, more than 600 destroyers and destroyer escorts, plus 4,000 large landing craft and 79,000 small landing craft. The Marine Corp had grown to over half a million men and the U.S. Army to one million men in fighting divisions. And it was this force, supplied in abundance and seeking revenge, which was descending upon Japan in August of 1945.That explained to a degree the haughtily tone in which the U.S. informed Japan that the “Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay. There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest. Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan's war-making power is destroyed …Japanese territory…shall be occupied…Japanese sovereignty shall be limited….as we determine…(and) stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals…We call…(for the) unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces,…The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.” It could almost have been written by George Bush’s speechwriters.
The Japanese, reading this statement, noted two things; first, the Russians had not signed it, and two, there was no direct mention of the Emperor. But they had also noticed that American propaganda often included hateful images of the Emperor. And the section about removing “...those who have deceived and misled” seemed to the Japanese, and to most American readers, to refer directly to the Emperor. Seventy years later there are still Americans who believe Hirohito should have stood trial for war crimes. But in 1945 the average Japanese would die to prevent him standing trial like a mere mortal.
From the 1890’s on, all Japanese children were indoctrinated in the belief that the nation and the Emperor were synonymous, that Japan began and ended with the Chrysanthemum Throne. According to the Imperial Cult, a brand of the Shinto religion widespread in Japan, the first Emperor had been Jimmu, supposedly born in 700 B.C.E.. He was the child of the sun goddess Amaterasu, whose spirit resided in the dormant volcano Mount Fuji. Her spirit was the mountain, just as the spirit of Hirohito, more properly know to his subjects as “Emperor Showa”, was Japan. Emperor Showa was thus a spiritual leader, closer to a warrior pope than a king. His subjects fought “for the Emperor” but they took orders from lesser men who ran the government, men like Tojo.

Hirohito certainly approved of their wars against China, England and America, but they were not "his" wars. He had not ordered them and was often a mere prop for the war makers. Besides, Japan had a long and ancient history of ignoring or “working around” invonvienent imperial wishes; which was the problem the Emperor now faced in ending the war. Like all Kings and Presidents, he was a prisoner of his office, be it Edo Palace or the White House. And without a free press Hirohito only knew what his staff and advisors told him. And he could only act through them. He, like everyone else in Japan, believed the nation could not survive without the Emperor. And he had come, finally, to believe his throne could not survive unless the war was ended immediately.The Americans agreed, for their own reasons. And on August 11, just one day after the Swiss communicated the Japanese note to the Americans, they replied, again speaking through the Swiss to the Japanese. The Americans were still firm and still boastful. After all they were the winners of this war. “From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government… shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Nations. The Emperor will…authorize and ensure the signature by the Government of Japan…of the surrender terms…The ultimate form of government of Japan shall, in accordance with the Potsdam Declaration, be established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.”
And there, hidden in all that brash macho braggadocio lay the compromise that ended World War Two in the Pacific. The U.S. was telling the Japanese (for the first time) that if they wanted the Emperor, they could have the Emperor, as long as he had no direct authority - something he had never really had anyway. Problem solved.To which the Japanese Government replied as quickly as the stilted etiquette and security of the Palace, politics and diplomacy would allow, on August 14th, and again via the Swiss: “His Majesty the Emperor…is prepared to authorize and ensure the signature by his Government…of the necessary terms for carrying out the provisions of the Potsdam declaration. His Majesty is also prepared to issue his commands to…surrender arms and to issue such other orders as may be required…”Done and done. Now all they had to do was separate the opponents, which would be a bit like separating two amorous porcupines - a very delicate procedure. Tomorrow, the very delicate procedure.
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