President Obama made a single, vague reference to “evil” during his prepared remarks in Hiroshima: “We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations and the alliances that we form must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.”
He spoke at length about the horrors experienced by the populace of Hiroshima:
We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow.
Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.
“Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil,” he said, when reading the inscription on a monument at the Peace Memorial Park.
He somehow forgot to mention the evils perpetrated by Imperial Japan or the unspeakable suffering it inflicted upon POWs and civilians who fell into its clutches.
Let’s correct that oversight, to help the President understand why moral equivalence is the dim refuge of lazy minds, and equating American troops with the Axis forces they defeated is an outrage.
We can start with the one everybody knows about: the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. That was a war crime, Mr. Obama, as very clearly stated in the relevant international laws of the day. It was accompanied by equally illegal bombings against Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines, as part of a very deliberate Japanese strategy. In Hiroshima, Obama’s sole criticism of the Empire of Japan was some mumbled mush about “mistakes of the past,” and that wasn’t even exclusively directed at the Japanese. Nothing they did was a mistake.
Mr. Obama, who claims to be a lawyer and devotee of international law, may be interested to know that every single one of the 3,581 casualties at Pearl Harbor (according to the National WWII Museum tally) were considered non-combatants, including the 2,403 military personnel who were killed, because Japan did not declare war before the attack. If it happened today, it would be rightly denounced as a terrorist attack.
The Bataan Death March
Here’s another one every American school kid should know about: the Bataan Death March. There was no swift death for the thousands of Americans and Filipinos under siege by Japanese forces in the Philippines. They were already sick and starving when they surrendered to the Japanese.
In an act of pure, deliberate sadism, because they were enraged by stiff American resistance during the siege, the Japanese forced their prisoners to march a hundred miles to a prison camp on foot. Many of the prisoners were killed out of hand, including anyone who dared to ask for water… and anyone who collapsed from dehydration. POWs reported Japanese soldiers taking away their meager supply of water and feeding it to horses while they watched. Starving men were tortured with false offers of food. Prisoners who accepted gifts of food from civilians along the route were murdered.
Some were murdered merely for possessing Japanese items, including currency. They were killed by beheading and run through with bayonets, as well as gunshots. Bayonet victims died from orgies of frenzied stabbing, not clean and swift impalement. Some of the captives were reportedly driven insane by exposure to the sun. They were also crammed into barbed-wire pens were malaria, dengue fever, dysentery, and other diseases ran wild.
It has been estimated that between 5,000 and 11,000 of Japan’s prisoners were killed during the Bataan Death March. That wasn’t the only death march the Empire perpetrated, either. The prisoners of Sandakan were subjected to multiple forced marches, once the Japanese lost interest in using them as slave labor. By the time they were finished, only six of the original 2,390 prisoners were still alive.
One of the Japanese torture methods recounted by survivors of Sandakan involved pouring water down a prisoner’s throat until his stomach became distended, and then kicking him in the stomach.
About half of Japan’s captives in the Pacific died before the end of the war. Brave men who survived the experience spent the rest of their lives refusing to talk about what they went through.
The Rape of Nanking
Citizen of the World Barack Obama doesn’t much care for the idea of “American exceptionalism,” so he might want to consider the atrocities Imperial Japan perpetrated against the people of other countries, too. In Bataan and other POW atrocities, for example, the Japanese were even more brutal toward Filipinos than Americans. China, of course, still remembers the Rape of Nanking.
That was a literal rape, involving up to 80,000 sexual assaults. The once-prosperous city of Nanking, capital of Nationalist China at the time, was laid waste. Japanese conquerors murdered men, women, and children by the thousands, leaving bodies piled up along the streets. The Yangtze River turned red from all the blood.
The death toll ran into the hundreds of thousands, leaving some modern observers to speak of genocide. The exact body count remains a matter of political dispute between Japan and China to this day. The figure generally accepted at post-war trials was over 200,000, but some think the total number is closer to 400,000.
Imperial Japan approached its Chinese foes with the same strategy ISIS uses against its enemies today: maximum carnage and savagery, to terrorize the foe into submission. They used some of the exact same methods ISIS does, including burning captives alive, beheading them, and burying them alive in slaughter pits.
Also like ISIS, the Japanese occupiers were fond of taking triumphant photos of their atrocities, which is the only reason we know about many of them. They didn’t have Twitter or YouTube, of course, but Chinese working in photo shops smuggled out copies of photographs the Japanese government later attempted to destroy.
International visitors to Nanking tried to establish a safe zone for Chinese civilians, but it didn’t hold the Japanese at bay for long. One important chronicle of the occupation was the diary of an American woman named Minnie Vautrin, who wrote of girls as young as 12 being dragged away for rape, and piles of corpses burned to erase evidence of Japan’s crimes. Vautrin was one of the last victims of the Rape of Nanking. She killed herself in 1941.
Also horrified by what he saw was the man who wound up leading the unsuccessful effort to maintain an international safe zone in Nanking, John Rabe. He was the head of the local Nazi Party.
Unsurprisingly, China’s state-run media is very upset that Barack Obama didn’t mention Nanking, or other Japanese offenses against China, during his Hiroshima speech. “The death of Japanese civilians in the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack deserves global sympathy, but the tragedy was of Japan’s own making. Its then militarist government turned the city into the site of military headquarters, arsenals and camps and a vital part of its war machine that killed tens of millions in other countries,” writes Xinhua in a fiery editorial.
The Empire’s war on women was not limited to Nanking. For decades afterward, Japan has dealt with the legacy of the “comfort women,” girls forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army. Only last year, Japan and South Korea reached an agreement for roughly $8 million dollars in reparations to South Korean victims.
Murdering Doctors and Nurses
Working in a hospital afforded no protection from Imperial Japanese forces. When 65 Australian Army nurses tried to escape from Singapore ahead of Japanese occupation, Japanese planes blew their overloaded boat out of the water, then strafed the survivors. Many of those who made it ashore to Bangka Island were shot or bayoneted by Japanese troops, despite the nurses showing their Red Cross armbands when they surrendered.
The nurses had an opportunity to escape, but matron Irene Drummond would have none of it, because they had injured men to take care of. “Girls, we have run away from the wounded once,” she declared. “We are not going to do it again.”
Drummond’s last words, as she and 21 of her nurses were marched into the surf on Bangka Island for a machine-gun massacre by Japanese soldiers, were: “Chin up, girls! I’m proud of you all, and I love you all.”
We know this because one of the nurses, the Vivian “Bully” Bullwinkel, survived her gunshot wound and testified against the murderers at their war-crimes trial. She was captured by the Japanese again after she walked off the beach, and realized they might slaughter all of their prisoners if they knew she was eyewitness to such a war crime, so she hid her bullet wound from her captors and quietly treated it herself… even though she had been shot in the back.
At St. Stephen’s College in Hong Kong, which was serving as a relief hospital, Japanese troops murdered doctors, slaughtered their injured patients, and raped the nurses. The massacre at St. Stephen’s began on Christmas Day.
Cannibalism and Medical Experiments
Imperial Japan was infamous for torturing and killing its prisoners, in defiance of all international laws. Sometimes execution was the best-case scenario for its prisoners.
In the 1990s, documents were uncovered that described widespread cannibalism by Japanese troops. The Japanese academic who collected these papers, Toshiyuki Tanaka, said the cannibalism was not primarily due to a shortage of food, but “to consolidate the group feeling of the troops.”
Tanaka documented at least 100 cases of cannibalism against Australian and Indian soldiers, and forced laborers in New Guinea, plus evidence of more such atrocities in the Philippines.
“A Pakistani, who was captured when Japan overran Singapore and taken to New Guinea, testified that in his area Japanese soldiers killed and ate one prisoner a day for ‘about 100’ days. The corporal said he saw flesh being cut from prisoners who were still alive,” reported the UK Telegraph in 1992.
A later Telegraph article cites research that suggests that four of the eight American airmen captured after bombing raids on Chichi Jima island, south of Tokyo, were cannibalized after all eight were tortured and executed with swords, bayonets, and bamboo stakes. A ninth pilot who had to bail out of his plane during the raids managed to evade capture by the Japanese. His name was Lt. George Bush.
Imperial Japan also conducted horrifying medical experiments on its prisoners, including the removal of their organs while they were still alive, without anesthesia. Some of these crimes were concealed with false claims by the Japanese government that American test subjects had been transferred to Hiroshima as POWs and vaporized in the atomic bomb blast.
The now-infamous Imperial Army Unit 731 conducted medical experiments on thousands of POWs and civilians, including chemical and biological warfare research. These weren’t just laboratory experiments – they field-tested “plague bombs” on Chinese towns. Plans were made to deploy these biological weapons against American cities with balloons and kamikaze attacks. Imperial Japan was very interested in developing and using weapons of mass destruction.
A veteran of Unit 731 recounted the story of vivisecting a live Chinese prisoner in 1995, as recounted by the New York Times:
The fellow knew that it was over for him, and so he didn’t struggle when they led him into the room and tied him down. But when I picked up the scalpel, that’s when he began screaming.
I cut him open from the chest to the stomach, and he screamed terribly, and his face was all twisted in agony. He made this unimaginable sound, he was screaming so horribly. But then finally he stopped. This was all in a day’s work for the surgeons, but it really left an impression on me because it was my first time.
Unit 731’s headquarters was straight out of a horror movie, with pieces of POW displayed in jars labeled by their nationality.
This list could be ten times as long as it is. Apologies to all those who lost family to Imperial Japanese atrocities that were not listed individually.
The purpose of this list is not to keep score on the horrors of war. It is the business of madmen to debate whether dying from radiation exposure is “better” than dying in a firebomb attack, or live burial alongside a few dozen friends and family members.
This is also not an assault on Japanese citizens of today. Japan is a good friend of the United States now, and that is the happiest ending one could ask from a story this horrible. The Empire of Japan is gone. It had to go. People who think like Barack Obama have no idea how to fight a war like that. God help us all if they are in power when the next such war is forced upon us.
This is, rather, an effort to help understand what was destroyed by the right, proper, and absolutely necessary bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is the horror that would have claimed countless more victims if Japan had not been forced to surrender. It is very easy for callow politicians in 2016 to say that more Americans, and more Japanese, should have died in battle during a conventional invasion of Japan, to spare it the fury of the atomic bomb. Not many people felt that way at the time, especially if they were aware of the atrocities chronicled here.
Barack Obama treats the bombing of Hiroshima as a unique “evil.” No, sir. It was the end of an evil.
Some brave men – tragically, some good men – died fighting for Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Memorial Day is about showing our gratitude and respect to the heroes who had no choice but to kill them, including the crew of the Enola Gay. They saved a hell of a lot of lives, and souls, on that terrible day.