Japan's Secret Weapon



IT IS not the American way to load planes with only enough fuel for a one-way trip, or to build buzz bombs which require suicide pilots, or to expect men to tie dynamite to themselves and dive into enemy pillboxes. The Japanese will do anything to kill their enemy. Because they have what they consider to be a superior fighting spirit, the Japanese believe they can turn back the superior power of the American forces. From Guadalcanal to Okinawa they consistently have been defeated; yet the Japanese have not lost faith. Win or lose, they still prefer death in battle to surrender.

Although the eventual outcome of the war in the Pacific is certain, inasmuch as no amount of courage and self-sacrifice can destroy an overwhelming amount of planes, ships, tanks, and artillery, it is essential nevertheless that we Americans understand both our own troops and those of the Japanese. The war in Europe was gentlemanly in comparison with that in the Pacific, where every battle is fought to the finish, with no holds barred.

The Pacific war is not so much between two armed forces as between two peoples. Even those Americans who may not consider themselves a part of the war effort are involved in the present conflict, because it is a war of extermination between Americans and Japanese. The showdown battle is not being fought for political, economic, or social theories, but for survival.

Now that the Federal Communications Commission has listening posts close enough to Japan to intercept the radio programs intended only for Japanese home consumption, we have a clear and rather disturbing insight on the Japanese. Although the programs naturally present only official views, they nevertheless represent openly expressed Japanese thinking. We can hear everything the Japanese hear, ranging from advice on harvesting grain while it is still green, so that the Yankee flying devils cannot set the crops afire, to lengthy quotations from the leading editorials of the day. The programs may contain criticism of Japanese plane production or of the feeble efforts of the fire departments to curb conflagrations, but no divergence of opinion in regard to Japanese feeling toward Americans is apparent.

The Japanese hate and fear us. Nearly one hundred million Japanese consider themselves besieged by a cruel, merciless, unmoral, and all-powerful enemy who will spare them nothing in the conquest of their country. The more often Americans voice their OWN hatred and reiterate their demands for unconditional surrender, the more certain the Japanese are that their only salvation is to die in defense of their homeland.

At the beginning of the Pacific war, the Japanese thought of us as uncultured, soft-living, materially-minded, greedy people who publicly exhibited photographs of murderers being electrocuted, who lynched unfortunate Negroes, fought bloody riots among ourselves, and exploited the “inferior” peoples of the East to obtain the silk to clothe our women, the rubber to soften the passage of our expensive automobiles, and the rare foods, ornaments, and precious stones to satiate our jaded tastes. We were the insidious Western sensualists who threatened to subject the Eastern peoples to economic slavery, and the Japanese were the crusaders who would fight to free their Asiatic brothers from bondage.

Regardless of what self-interested motives prompted Japan to wage war against Western civilization in the name of Greater East Asia, that dream is over NOW. Gone are the boasts of a united and prosperous Eastern world; the Japanese now fight for survival.

Hatred for Americans, plus terror, pulsates through nearly every Japanese home radio program. Spokesmen repeatedly emphasize how American planes have leveled thousands of blocks of civilian homes in residential Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and other large cities, killing untold numbers of women and children, and indiscriminately demolishing hospitals, schools, sacred shrines, holy buildings, and museums. According to the Japanese, seven mass raids on Tokyo alone destroyed more than half a million homes and rendered shelterless or killed their inhabitants. Survivors are brought to the microphone to describe how in one night we ringed seventeen square miles of Tokyo with fire, and how our pilots waited overhead to watch the fire departments and rescue squads try in vain to get through the burning rubble to rescue the trapped citizenry.

The Japanese people have been told and believe, just as we believe of them, that they are facing an enemy capable of committing the most ghastly atrocities on record. In recent broadcasts they have been told that an American soldier boiled the flesh from the head of a Japanese soldier and sent the skull to the late President Roosevelt as a desk ornament; that the Americans on Guadalcanal ran their heavy tanks over the helpless bodies of wounded Japanese soldiers; that the Americans sank a Japanese mercy ship which was returning home after delivering Red Cross packages to American prisoners; that American pilots have strafed women and children in small towns and bombed large cities without any pretext of distinguishing between military and non-military targets.

From firsthand study of the fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, EDGAR L. JONES, the Atlantic’s correspondent in the Western Pacific, has learned much about the motives and methods of the Japanese soldier.

In current broadcasts the Japanese spokesmen frequently compare us with the Mongolian hordes who tried to invade their country in the thirteenth century. The Japanese foot soldiers were no match for the lightning tactics of the Mongolian cavalrymen, but the Japanese people formed a human wall of living flesh which stopped the advance of the Mongolians. Finally, tired of the bloody battle, the Mongolians returned to their ships, and then the Kamikaze, or Divine Winds, came forth and destroyed the Mongolian fleet.

Japanese spokesmen point out that on the last occasion when the Japanese people were besieged by a barbarian enemy, the Kamikaze did not come to their rescue until after they had sacrificed themselves in battle. They maintain that if at present the Divine Winds do not seem to be blowing in Japan’s favor, it is because the people have not given enough of themselves to the war against the American invaders. Even if the Yankee devils actually land upon the shores of their homeland, the Japanese are told that they should not be disheartened, because the invaders will be stopped by a human wall of living flesh, and then the Kamikaze will wipe out all American ships. The Japanese daily are exhorted to condition themselves for the time when they must form that human wall of flesh. Every person able to walk and use his hands, from five to seventy-five, is tilling the fields, working in a war plant, or contributing in some way toward the defeat of the damned Yankees who seek to exterminate them. And the Japanese fight not for themselves alone, but for their gods.


THE Japanese no longer have an effective naval force, and their air force is negligible in comparison with ours, but they still have the one force upon which they place their greatest reliance: their spiritual power. Japanese troops are endowed, according to their spokesmen, with the Yamato Spirit — Yamato being their sacred name for Japan. Infused with the Yamato Spirit, the Japanese troops are walling to hurl themselves against a more powerful enemy, ram their dynamite-laden motorboats against the high sides of battleships, and attack tanks with bayonets. Spiritual rather than mechanical force wins wars, or so the Japanese keep telling themselves.

Until early in 1945, when the American forces in the Pacific acquired complete mastery of the air and seas, the U.S. Navy refused to allow any public mention of the so-called Kamikaze, or suicide, attacks of Japanese who were determined to kill their enemy even if they had to die in the process. On the ground that the Japanese might learn that their self-destructive tactics were not altogether an unprofitable expenditure of men and machinery, any official acknowledgment on our part of the existence of Kamikaze warriors was banned.

Although suicide is an inadequate word to describe the exploits of men who are willing to make human bombs, torpedoes, and explosive charges of themselves, the so-called Japanese suicide attacks are as old as the war in the Pacific. The Japanese have not yet won a battle with such tactics, and there is little likelihood they ever will in a war against superior mechanized forces. Despite their Yamato Spirit, the Japanese never have been so formidable an opponent as the Germans.

The war in the Pacific has been long and bloody not so much because the Japanese have a magnificent army as because American troops have been forced to storm a long series of small, well-fortified islands where there was no room for large-scale land maneuvers, The Philippines campaign proved that the Japanese could not hold territory which was level and flat enough for the Americans to make full use of their mobilized might.

The willingness of the Japanese to die, however, does compensate materially for their lack of many of the tools of modern warfare, such as an adequate bombsight, motorized artillery, heavily armored vehicles, and construction equipment. Unquestionably a Japanese plane diving at a speed of five or six hundred miles an hour toward a ship is a more difficult target to hit than a plane which makes a horizontal bombing run. And no enemy artillery could be quite so accurate as the Japanese who places a dynamite charge against a pillbox and holds it there until it explodes. The goal of the Japanese soldier, as proclaimed by the Japanese Commanding Officer during the siege of Iwo Jima, is not to survive the battle, but to kill ten Americans before he himself is killed.

According to our own laws and moral codes, suicide is illegal, immoral, cowardly, and foolhardy. But we cannot judge the Japanese by our own laws and moral codes. The Japanese have a different set of values. Just because they throw their lives away in battle, we cannot consider the Japanese stupid runts. We can neither win a war nor achieve a lasting peace in the Facific if we continue to underestimate and misunderstand the Japanese.


THE JAPANESE are short on the massive, highly technical accouterments of war and long on self-sacrifice. Take, for instance, the Japanese Special Attack Corps, which to the American mind are suicide corps and are mistakenly referred to as Kamikaze units in news releases. Without benefit of long black robes or any special trappings, the Special Attack Corps are composed, say the Japanese spokesmen, of men assigned on a voluntary basis to special one-way missions. The pilots who flew from Japan with just enough fuel to crash their flying coffins into American ships off Okinawa were members of the Special Attack Corps of the Air. The Japanese sailors who smashed their suicide boats against the sides of American warships were members of the Special Attack Corps of the Sea.

Heroic as self-destruction may be, the Japanese military leaders have had to curb the impulses of their men to die the quick way, because the first years of war proved that impromptu suicide tactics were not always profitable. After a prolonged bombardment, the Japanese soldiers were inclined to abandon their heavy guns and charge their foe with bayonets and flags. The Japanese soldier, who knew that he was going to be killed eventually, wanted to get it over with hurriedly. The last mass Japanese banzai attack occurred more than a year ago on Saipan, where at least five thousand Japanese, who might have continued killing Americans for another week, suddenly charged American machinegun positions and were wiped out in less than an hour.

Since Saipan, except for isolated instances, the Japanese have stuck to their guns to the bitter end. The battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa prove that the Japanese have substituted organized suicide raids, under the heading of Special Attack Corps, for spontaneous and unauthorized impulses to win the war, and death, quickly. The Japanese leaders found that there was such a thing as having troops too eager to attain an honorable death in battle. Unless they were well organized, banzai attacks were inefficient; and the leaders had to discipline their men to wait until it was their turn to die.

Japanese pilots so far have not been restricted in their will toward self-destruction. Regardless of whether or not he is a member of the Special Attack Corps of the Air, a pilot is assured of an honorable death if he decides to crash into a ship instead of trying to drop bombs on it. One pilot who recently dived his plane through the deck of a warship was foiled when neither his plane nor the bombs exploded.

Standing on the deck of a ship and watching a Japanese plane circling just beyond range of the ack-ack batteries, one sometimes can feel the pilot’s indecision. Some pilots never do get up nerve enough to take the final plunge, while others falter after they have started their dive and turn away.

Naturally the Japanese will step up Special Attack Corps activities, especially in the air, as the going gets tougher. Crash diving is no more effective than accurate bombing, but the Japanese never have had an adequate bombsight. At least a year is required to train an efficient bomber crew, while comparatively inexperienced pilots may be employed on one-way missions. American pilots who knocked down wave after wave of Japanese suicide planes headed toward Okinawa have reported that the quality of the pilots was far below the usual Japanese standards. Further indication that the Japanese were using green airmen in the Special Attack Corps was found in a broadcast of a Japanese Army official. In publicly acclaiming the heroic actions of ten Japanese pilots who, the spokesman said, sank or damaged an equal number of American ships in Leyte Gulf by crash-diving their planes, he proudly but incautiously mentioned that seven of the heroes were student pilots.


FACED with a shortage of new planes, the Japanese have put special armor plating on many of their older aircraft and utilized them, along with inexperienced pilots, for suicide missions. The obvious flaw in such a plan is the fact that a young and hastily trained pilot in a slow plane has an extremely small chance of fulfilling his mission. Unschooled in effective evasive maneuvers, most of the Special Attack Corps pilots are shot down by American fighters before they reach the target area, and even if they do break through the fighter screen to a position above a ship, only a highly skilled pilot could send his plane into a fast dive and come close to hitting a moving pinpoint target.

Even if experienced Japanese pilots escort their death-bound comrades through the screen of American fighters — a tactical plan which the Japanese borrowed from the Germans, who had to provide an aerial convoy for Stuka dive bombers to assure their reaching the target area — the American ack-ack gunners have found that suicide planes usually can be blown apart before they reach a ship. The death squadron trainees appear to be limited in approaches, many of which are known to U. S. Navy gunners. As the Japanese sacrifice more and more experienced pilots on Special Attack missions, the potential threat of the suicide planes will increase. The Japanese already have come out with a special pusher-type suicide plane with a nose filled with TNT, but even these planes, of which only a few have been seen so far, have limited effectiveness. A plane crashing into the superstructure of a major warship may cause considerable damage, but it cannot sink the ship.

Whether or not suicide planes are more effective than standard bombing procedure, they do serve as an indication of how little value the Japanese attach to their own lives when the opportunity for killing Americans arises. According to the Japanese radio commentators, whenever pilots from a squadron are selected for Special Attack Corps assignments (an indication that the pilots now are drafted for suicide jobs), the remaining pilots in the squadron hope that it will be their turn next, and are afraid that the American fleet may be wiped out by their comrades before they themselves have an opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty to the Emperor.

The self-sacrificing spirit of the Special Attack Corps is held up to the civilian population as the sort of supreme loyalty which everyone should try to emulate. The Japanese people have been urged to adopt the theme song of the Special Attack Corps of the Air as a battle hymn to carry them through the trying days ahead. This theme song, composed by members of the Philippines-based Japanese Army Special Attack Corps of the Air, is sung by suicide pilots as their last farewell. With the falling petals of the sacred cherry blossoms utilized as a symbol of the inevitableness of death, the song is a haunting mixture of delicate sentimentality and determination: —

If cherry blossoms were but men,
The loving butterflies are their wives;
Bloom, cherry blossoms, spiritedly,
In eight petals or in singles.
With the dawn you will be gone tomorrow,
Another cherry blossom shall fall;
Bloom, cherry blossoms, spiritedly,
For I will be following you.
Branch out over Asia,
Blossoming in profusion;
Bloom, cherry blossoms, spiritedly;
The dawn of victory nears.
Peerless wild eagles, reliable,
Sear the blossom-filled blue —
Bloom, cherry blossoms, spiritedly —
Special Attack Corps of the Air.

There is something disconcerting, at least to my mind, about people who think of violent death in terms of falling cherry blossoms; who worship the beauty of their natural surroundings and with comparative calm prepare to form themselves into a defensive wall of human flesh; whose art, literature, music, and interior decorations reflect an innate, sensitive, and rather humble love for living things, yet who can hold a hand grenade to their own chests or disembowel themselves in a traditional ceremony which requires that all the entrails must be spilled into a bowl, not on the clean floor.

To those Japanese who are followers of the Shinto religion, sin is a matter of personal defilement, rather than an offense against an ideal. Their sin may be atoned, or the sinner may become cleansed, through a ritual of personal, physical sacrifice. Their religion reminds one of the ancient Hebrews sacrificing a lamb or a young son to appease the anger of their God, except that the Japanese believe that when they have failed completely in the eyes of their Great Heaven Shining Deity, the only way they can expiate their sin is to kill themselves. Through death they become clean once again.

Certainly the fighting quality of the Japanese manning the inner defenses of the Empire is far superior to that of troops, particularly labor battalions, which Americans previously have faced. The battle for Iwo Jima revealed that the Japanese Army today is well equipped with heavy artillery, with large numbers of mortars more powerful than any possessed by Allied troops, with a variety of rocket-type weapons, and with an abundance of small arms.

The battle for Okinawa revealed that the Japanese, fighting from a prepared defensive position, could utilize their weapons and the natural terrain so efficiently that six American divisions, supported by the greatest concentration of artillery and naval gunfire yet employed in the Pacific, were needed to defeat an estimated 85,000 enemy troops. During forty consecutive days of fighting on the southern sector of Okinawa, American troops gained only three miles against Japanese who not only were badly outnumbered but were cut off completely from their source of supplies.

Estimates of remaining Japanese military strength indicate that the Japanese can utilize approximately four million troops in the defense of their homeland and still maintain their garrisons throughout China. Large numbers of those four million troops, like the ones who defended Okinawa, are well-trained, experienced men who already have seen action in China. We know how well they can fight, and we know that they hate and fear us so much that there is nothing they will not do to kill us.

We know, too, that a hundred million civilians in the homeland are being urged daily to take their places beside their fighting men in the event that the Americans attempt to land on their shores. We know the Japanese are fighting a holy, defensive, bitter war to prevent extermination, and that there is little hope of their surrendering unconditionally while men still live who can fire a rifle or throw a grenade. To a greater extent than at any other time during three and one-half years of war in the Pacific, Americans know the thoughts and feelings of the Japanese.

Certainly at least the Japanese military leaders realize that their country faces total destruction. They know that the Americans intend to destroy as much of Japan as possible from the sea and air and then move ashore with all their mechanized military might. These leaders could have surrendered and still saved face at the time of Germany’s downfall, because they could have pointed out to their people that the Axis, not Japan, had been defeated.

Instead of preparing their people for surrender, however, they daily have exhorted them to condition themselves for the day when they must repulse the enemy with their very bodies. No matter how badly they are bombed, the Japanese apparently are determined to fight until they are defeated in hand-to-hand combat.

Continuous bombing may force the Japanese home islands to surrender, although no amount of preinvasion bombing on Japan’s outer island strongholds has weakened her troops’ will to resist. Regardless of the outcome of the aerial offensive now being waged against Japan, American leaders are proceeding with their plans to make a landing in force upon the Japanese mainland. Unless the unexpected happens, the final battle therefore will be between our own American servicemen and the death-minded, bitter, hardened Japanese soldiers who think they are fighting for a sacred cause.

(In an article to follow, Mr. Jones will discuss the effect of our psychological warfare as we have been able to measure it so far in the Pacific war.)