The Pacific War: Scenes of Suffering and Portents of Peace
Like everyone at the time, I did not have many options before me when Japan got involved in the Pacific War. I graduated from Takunan Juku in the August of 1942 after which I was enlisted in the Army. I was nineteen years of age the. Following my basic training I found myself a member of the Southern Political Division of Military Intelligence. I was dispatched overseas and arrived eventually in New Guinea with the Marine Corps to serve at the Second Special Naval Base at Rabaul which was under the comand of Vice-Admiral Kamata. During the summer of 1941, I had gone back to my father as my instructors had advised me, to say farewell since it was unlikely I should return. I did not see him again until the war had ended. I set off to join my unit. From Haneda Airport, we flew four hours by a four engine flying boat to Saipan. Two six hour legs followed this with a stop in the middle to refuel and finally I arrived at Rabaul on December the 25th, l942.
Note: Rabaul was captured by the advancing Japanese army on January 23rd,1942. It served as a major base for Japanese operations in the area and played a key role in the early stages of the war in that area. It was used as the base from which the Japanese assault on Port Stanley was made and it was in the lower part of New Guinea that the Japanese advance was first halted by the efforts of American and Australian ground forces who managed not only to stop the advance but also to actually force the Japanese to retreat. Rabaul remained intact until it was surrounded and finally captured by April 1944. The Rev. Yukitaka Yamamoto was part of the Japanese army that was captured at Rabaul and made prisoners of war until repatriation following Japan's surrender to the Allied Powers.
I had no stomach for what was going on and for what I saw around me. I wished rather to work in some administrative capacity and to try to improve living standards in the region. That was the ostensible reason why I had been trained at Takunan Juku and why I had gone abroad. The war began around the time of my graduation from Middle School, and my first reaction on hearing about it was the desire to actually go to the arena of battle and try to convince those there to bring the conflict to a peaceful end. Alas such dreams of youth can be too simple. I remain idealistic, but that dream was too simple! But I desperately wanted to co-operate in bringing happiness into the lives of those who were suffering because of that dreadful war.
When I got to Rabaul, I was there only five days when the Japanese High Command decided to evacuate Guadalcanal, and at that point,I began to feel that in honesty, Japan was defeated. During my time there I observed at first hand and experienced for myself precisely how intense the sufferings and hardships of war can be. The slow painful withdrawal was as arduous and horrific as the bloodiness of combat.
By February 1st 1943, the 8th Division of the Japanese army had retreated to Bougenville on the Solomon Islands. By the end of that March they had retreated further to Rabaul. U.S. forces landed on August 15th and by that time, the Americans and the Australians had overrun most of the islands we were occupying. After Italy's surrender in 1943 (September 8th) following Germany's unsuccessful Russian venture, British and American resources were turning more and more to the Pacific. By the 15th of September, Japan had given up Eastern New Guineas, the Northern Solomon Islands and the Marshal Islands. An unsuccessful assault was launched on the Carolines.
The United States was operating a two pronged strategic line of attack. MacArthur was moving in the south while Admiral Nimitz was organizing sea offensives against Japanese held islands in the north. Once Japanese sea power had been weakened especially after the Battle of Midway. By January 2 of 1944, we were cut off with roads and communications destroyed. Rabaul was now under threat, although we were not directly in danger, or so it seemed. By the 17th of March, the central Japanese naval base in the region had been attacked and immobilized. Things began to look very ominous indeed. Finally, on April 22nd, 1944, the U.S. marines landed and we lost over 2,000 in the initial assault. The surviving 30,000 were ordered to withdraw to the mountains. I was among those retreating.
I thought in anger that I had ben trained not to be soldier but to be an worker in the development of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere that would free the nations of the Pacific from their colonial overlords. But here we were locked in deadly combat with the United States that was claiming to liberate Asia from Japanese rule. We had been completely deceived. Here I was in the midst of a gruesome conflict that was creating meaningless death and destruction . And here I was not, running into the mountains like a fugitive with no foreseeable future in sight. In those circumstances, for all of us, only death was our daily companion.
Coming face to face with the sufferings and privations of war is the best source of motivation to seek peace if you ask yourself honestly to what set of circumstances is war a reasonable alternative. It is in thinking along these lines that the mind comes to appreciate what peace should and can mean to those who claim to advocate it.
The war officially ended with Japan's surrender on August 15th, 1945. Because of remoteness and poor communications after the collapse of Rabaul, we received no further intelligence within that year. When U>S> troops landed and Rabaul had fallen, we were ordered to retreat. Thousands of the Japanese infantrymen in the units that faced the American onslaught died of starvation. It was a salutary and unforgettable experience to watch, helplessly, day after day my fellow soldiers *secumed* emaciated and wasted from hunger and thirst. These memories are a part of me. They are etched indelibly on my mind and I can never forget the bitterness, sadness and horror of those days. It taught me the meaning of the words war and of survival. It forced me to think profoundly about what mankind must do to prevent such a disastrous and diabolical cataclysm from ever taking place again.
With no real direction or information those strong enough and motivated enough headed for the mountains of New Guinea where for a year we struggled to stay alive. For a year and a half , 550 days to be exact,I no rice. I survived on nuts, berries and anything else I could find . I remember those first nights of flight. We could not move by day because of American bombardment. The night was dark, but the moon somehow gave me hope. It was the same moon that I saw in the garden of Takunan Juku that I was in New Guinea, and those moons were the same as I saw at Tsubaki Grand Shrine. It was beautiful and a reminder of the great cosmos, the Great Nature, Daishizen that is the context of our life beyond the particular circumstances of the moment.
I roamed the mountains in search of food. I looked at tempting mushrooms or berries, but I couldn't tell which were safe to eat and which were not.
I remember coming on a group of bushes with red berries that looked appetizing to a hungry mouth. Something told me not to touch them, but before I could communicate my doubts, hungry soldiers began pulling them and eating them. Within about half an hour, sixty soldiers lay dead.
The endless U.S. naval bombardment was tiring and unnerving. Forest areas were razed to the ground. It was terrifying, but not so terrifying as other things I saw.
I suppose that war makes us think in terms of friend and foe which helps us to forget that no matter who wins or loses, everyone suffers in different way. In a sense there are no winners. Everyone loses a bit of his or her basic humanity because war de-humanizes and destroys not just buildings and bodies but also the minds and souls of those who are propelled into its crises and catastrophes. This was particularly true of the Pacific War as I experienced it. It was a war, mean and ugly beyond imagination. I realized as I looked at the devastation around me that war has to be the greatest single evil of all evils on this planet. Japan was defeated, but so often I kept asking myself why we had to be fighting against a nation so powerful as the United States, and for what purpose people on both sides who never even knew each others names could mercilessly kill each other. In war, it is the ordinary people who suffer. They know little of the complications of international politics that drive nations into conflict. They are carried along helplessly and are expected to contribute everything including their lives for the war effort and this is why I found war to be not only miserable but worse still, ultimately nihilistic.
I could not believe it, but I saw human beings eat the flesh of other humans beings. I never thought I would see a human being eating human flesh. I saw alligators eating the unfortunate in a river, but one human being eating another..............
I was shocked. I was stunned in disbelief at the desperation of the situation. I was confused. Oh God.........can this really be? I walked through the jungle trying to flee from the horrors in my mind. But they remained, and then I saw fencing. Was it American or was it Japanese? I rushed forward in desperation and was surrounded by a group of people. Japanese soldiers! I was safe. Those with me wept for joy, but out joy was short lived. A sergeant of that unit, it was the 18th Division from Tohoku, came out and holding a rifle shouted "You cannot enter this camp." "We are Japanese navy" we shouted. "Japanese or not, you cannot enter. Go or we will open fire."
We were like skeletons. They were well fed and healthy and had adequate supplies. They just refused to help us - their own people...."
So that night, our exhausted and frustrated remnant decided to attack. Over one hundred and twenty died from our group and theirs, but a volume of rice was secured and we escaped and lived again.
We went deeper and deeper into the mountains, looking for water, but
there was none. O how I longed for the cool water of Japan's mountain streams. Grown up men cried in desperation, but for lack of moisture, they could not even shed tears. We struggled to make the coast from the mountains. We tried to make a canoe to sail off the island, but we got washed back onto the shore. Wondering what would happen next, we were taken by surprise as two of our group dropped to the ground. we were under attack. On examining them, we saw the reason for their death. Poison darts! The natives were now a threat. We tried for the sea, but ended up again on the beach, and so we decided once more to head for the mountains. We survived native darts, American shells, poisonous fruits and berries, alligators, human cannibals amongst our own number, hostile Japanese units, a merciless jungle and our own doubts, fears and anxieties and finally, of all the group I had been with, we were down to a grand total of six. At Takunan Juku, I was one of 100 out of 2000. Now, for all I knew I was one of 6 out of 30,000. If my survival thus far did not have meaning,
why was I still alive? But at times like these, you don't think too clearly. You feel that it all has some meaning, but one that you will discover up the road. You just keep going and hoping.
Tramping through the jungle, we met the Orimo unit of the 104th Air Support. We expected another "happy " welcome. They were armed and I was commandeered by them because I spoke Malay. The other five were sent back to the jungle. The group who "captured " me decided to dig in and we were ordered to plant sweet potatoes. We actually grew vegetables in the jungles of New Guinea. Would we ever return to Japan? For five months, we lived there, in total isolation. We could see ships sailing, but had no idea what they were doing or where they were going.
Then was saw pieces of paper that said the war was over. That was on August 30th, 1945. It told us to come out from the mountains. But we did not believe that it was authentic. Thereafter, quite frequently, these papers appeared telling us that we should come out of hiding and hand ourselves over to the Americans. Some thought it was a trick. Some said they were afraid to become POWs but others said they might get to go back to Japan. A few said they would live where they were. Finally, we decided to come down from the mountains. We went to the nearest village where we found large numbers of American solders. They looked so clean and smart. They shook hands with us as they welcome us and confirmed that the war was indeed over, and that Japan had surrendered. They gave us all a medical check at once and although I had lost a lot of weight, I was quite fine. This took place on December 2nd, 1945. I was shipped to the port of Hollandia where I was in a military hospital for a week regaining strength.
The only dramatic incident following that was the beginning of the struggle for independence in Indonesia. I was invited in secret one night to join the army of liberation and to bring 3,000 Japanese soldiers with me. I refused and with my colleagues remained a prisoner of war until the 21st of June 1946 when I returned to Japan on a Prisoner of War ship at Tanabe Bay in Okayama Prefecture. Four and a ha;f years had passsed since I had gone to Rabaul. It was a long time in the wilderness. Our experiences were bad but so were those of everyone precipitated into that absurd conflict. This has been one of the decisive factors in my concern for and committment to peace. Of the 2,200 with whom I went to New Guinea, only 12 others returned with me. What a miserable conclusion to a sad tale.