Hara-kiri lessons and The Bombs

Central Leader - - News -

In its way, it’s a form of nu­clear fall­out.

Men­tion the atom bombs on Ja­pan and you’ll get con­sis­tent re­ac­tions.

Peo­ple ap­plaud them as a tac­ti­cal ne­ces­sity to end the war against a vi­cious en­emy.

Oth­ers see the bombs them­selves as in­hu­man and im­moral.

Let­ters put both view­points af­ter this col­umn told how New Zealand sol­diers se­cretly head­ing for car­nage as in­vaders of Ja­pan were saved by The Bombs and the im­me­di­ate Ja­panese sur­ren­der.

Bernard Mo­ran, Glen­field, was in Kobe in 1971 teach­ing English in a Ja­panese busi­ness school to man­agers head­ing off to over­seas post­ings.

While out so­cially, he told a 41-year-old stu­dent that many peo­ple in the West felt very guilty about Hiroshima and Na­gasaki.

“I was un­der­stand­ably shocked when he said he was very glad the Amer­i­cans dropped the bombs.

“In fact, he had seen the dis­tant flash in the sky while walk­ing to school.

“He ex­plained that af­ter the Amer­i­cans took Iwo Jima and Ok­i­nawa, every­one knew the as­sault on Ja­pan would soon be­gin.

“In his area of Kobe, all the res­i­dents, in­clud­ing the el­derly, were is­sued with pikes – long staffs with a sharp­ened spear­head – and in­structed that when the Amer­i­cans closed in, they were to be at­tacked street by street.

“My stu­dent was 15 at the time.

“One day, their teach­ers handed out a small knife to each stu­dent in the school.

“When the Amer­i­can sol­diers came near the school, they were to kill them­selves – to die for the Em­peror. No one must be taken alive.

“Sev­eral times a week, a bell would sound and the stu­dents in class would take the knife out of their drawer and prac­tise a form of harakiri.

“When I felt the steel on my skin, I was very scared, but I couldn’t show my fear.

“Years later, at a school re­union a group of his class­mates talked about the knives.

“They had all been drink­ing and he con­fided how ter­ri­fied he felt at the prospect of com­mit­ting hara-kiri.

“You were scared? said one. Yes, yes! he replied.

“Well, I was ter­ri­fied too!

“They all con­fessed their se­cret ter­ror and agreed that if the Amer­i­cans hadn’t used the atomic bombs to force sur­ren­der, they would all be dead.

“The atomic bombs were ter­ri­ble, but they saved our lives.” Not the only ones. John Jones, 88, of Taka­puna, was a post of­fice wireless op­er­a­tor and coast­watcher re­cruited by an of­fi­cial who trawled for vol­un­teers at the Post Of­fice train­ing cen­tre in Welling­ton.

Cap­tured at 20 in Be­tio, now Kiri­bati, only a few days af­ter Pearl Har­bour, he spent four years as a POW in Ja­pan:

“On Au­gust 15, 1945, I was work­ing on a rail line with five US marine POW friends at a small town, Sukaide on Shikoku Is­land, about 70 miles from atom­bombed Hiroshima.

“We were made to stand in the street with the many Ja­panese civil­ians. At noon, we had to make a 45 de­gree bow to­wards Tokyo and re­main there for the length of the em­peror’s sur­ren­der speech.

“Sev­eral weeks be­fore, at the Zentsuji prison camp, we were made to dig a wide and deep zigzag trench of some 30 or 40 me­tres out­side our bar­racks.

“As time went on, all of us – in­clud­ing five New Zealan­ders – be­came sus­pi­cious that what we had dug was, in fact, our own graves.

“This was con­firmed by the oc­cu­py­ing US forces who re­leased us weeks later.

“This was not the first time Kiri­bati coast­watch­ers had re­alised that ex­e­cu­tion was close.

“Sad to re­late, 17 men of our unit cap­tured at their posts were be­headed.”

Three of his mates later be­headed by the Ja­panese are among pho­tos he took on deck as the steamer Viti car­ried them north to their is­land posts, all smiles with their hair newly shaven – price­less and mov­ing re­minders those years.

In­cluded too in John’s files are those grave­trenches he and oth­ers dug at their POW camp, a Ja­panese iden­tity photo of him and an in­scrip­tion Amer­i­cans wrote for a memo­rial at Be­tio:

“In mem­ory of 22 Bri­tish sub­jects mur­dered by the Ja­panese ... stand­ing un­armed at their posts, they matched bru­tal­ity with gal­lantry and for­ti­tude.”

John Jones is very crit­i­cal of fail­ure to brief the vol­un­teers on just what was in­volved in their “off-shore” work, and later New Zealand gov­ern­ment fail­ure to evac­u­ate the coast­watch­ers when their peril be­came clear af­ter Ja­pan at­tacked Pearl Har­bour.

He be­lieves that US com­man­ders of­fered to res­cue them and a few un­armed New Zealand sol­diers be­fore they were cap­tured, and that the then Prime Min­is­ter Peter Fraser, for what­ever rea­son, chose not to take up the of­fer.

Ev­i­dence in the coast­watcher of­fi­cial his­tory sup­ports his the­ory:

“Al­though the Ja­panese in their treat­ment of the pris­on­ers did not take a stand upon the prin­ci­ples of in­ter­na­tional law, it would have

of been pos­si­ble for them to have jus­ti­fied the ex­e­cu­tion of the seven wireless op­er­a­tors (but not the sol­diers) on the ground that they had been civil­ians do­ing work of an es­sen­tially mil­i­tary char­ac­ter.”

And added to that is a very sig­nif­i­cant foot­note signed by Ma­jor Gen­eral Sir Howard Kip­pen­berger as ed­i­tor-in-chief of New Zealand War His­to­ries.

He had ear­lier been in charge of repa­tri­at­ing New Zealand POWs from Ger­many.

“The po­si­tion of re­main­ing coast­watch­ers had ob­vi­ously be­come des­per­ate.

“They can only have been aban­doned be­cause it was con­sid­ered that the in­for­ma­tion they sup­plied was worth the sac­ri­fice.”

Stephen Sharpe, NZ 4210006, RNZAF air­crew, Pa­cific the­atre: “Thank you for your col­umn. It should be widely dis­sem­i­nated and added to all recorded his­tory of New Zealand’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in World War Two.

‘Sto­ries of our war are fo­cused on Europe and the desert and Crete. The Pa­cific barely rates a men­tion.

‘I sup­pose it may be be­cause New Zealand- ers were given lit­tle in­for­ma­tion about how near we were to be­ing over-run.

“And let us al­ways re­mem­ber that we were saved by the US in the Pa­cific. Let’s hope your re­sume will put to rest those bleaters who be­moan the drop­ping of The Bombs.”

Mac MacDon­ald: “Most in­ter­ested to read your ex­cel­lent col­umn A Medal They Didn’t Get – Thank God.

“I’d very much like a copy of the war his­tory you men­tion and would be grate­ful if you could ad­vise where it can be sourced.

“I was in Burn­ham af­ter re­turn­ing from leave (16th Re­in­force­ments) when The Bombs went off. While ru­mours were rife, I never did get the full story un­til your col­umn.” • Late news, Mac, the pre­vi­ously se­cret records show you and your 16th re­in­force­ment very much in the mix for the planned in­va­sion. Now you know what you es­caped.

The sources for the col­umn facts were The Of­fi­cial His­tory of New Zealan­ders in the Sec­ond World War, Vol­ume Three and the 1782page The Sur­ren­der and Oc­cu­pa­tion of Ja­pan.

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