Diary of Leon Ma. Guerrero

22nd March 1945

In a communique dated noon yesterday imperial general headquarters announced the loss of Yiojima. The announcement quoted the last telegram from the garrison: “All the officers and men with the supreme commander at the head launched a dauntless general attack at midnight of March 17, praying for Japan’s sure victory as well as the tranquillity of the imperial land.”

Prior to this last report the supreme commander, Lieutenant-General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, sent the following farewell message: “The war situation has finally reached the last stage. At midnight of March 17, I, your humble officer, at the head all those under my personal direction, shall carry out a final general attack, praying for the sure victory and welfare of the empire. I am satisfied that the Japanese forces have kept up their defense against the enemy offensives from the land, sea, and air, with numerical superiority beyond imagination since their landing. The brave fighting of the officers and men under my command is worthy enough to make even the gods dumbfounded. However our fighting men have fallen one after another before the persistent enemy attacks. I am extremely sorry that circumstances have caused us to let this key position fall into enemy’s hands, for which I offer my thousand apologies. Thinking especially of the fact that the imperial land shall not be placed in a peaceful situation without taking back this island, we expect that we ourselves, though dead, shall herald the coming back of the imperial troops to this island. All our bullets are gone now and no supply of water can be had. One the eve of conducting the last assault by the entire body of men we cannot but be reminded of the gracious imperial benevolence. With this in mind we shall never regret having done our utmost for the cause of the empire. With loud and respectful banzai for the imperial eternity, I, together with the officers and men, offer my last farewell. I hasten to present for your inspection some 31-syllable Japanese poems I have found time to compose:

“1. It grieves me that I have to die, having used up my supply of bullets, it having not been my lot to perform the function I had to the country.

“2. I will not decay on the plain without taking revenge. I will take up arms each of the seven times I come into the world.

“3. My sole thought is about the course of my country at the time when unsightly plants have covered the island.

Lieutenant-General Kuribayashi”

What a fantastic compost of arrogance, humility, incompetence, heroism, pettiness, and greatness, is this farewell message, which combines military advice with poetic sentiment, boasts that the gods have been dumbfounded and then prostrates itself with a thousand apologies. Yet, to take the poems as an instance, one can see through the quaint conceits and unfamiliar metaphors the workings of the essential military spirit, the gleam and fierce splendor of an ageless armored ghost. Churchill would have said “blight” or “fell disease” for “unsightly plants”: MacArthur said “I shall return” instead of “I will not decay”; in every language spoken by man, in every war that has been fought, soldiers have regretted that they had only one life to give for their country, have grieved to leave the job undone, have called for remembrance and revenge. Kuribayashi on Yiojima might have been ten thousand other defeated captains letting out one last angry yell to life.

Meantime in a radiocast to the nation last night Koiso, while admitting that the loss of Yiojima meant that for the first time an integral part of the homeland had been invaded, denied that the defeat was a defeat of Japan’s “spiritual power” by material power. “In taking that small island of about 23 square kilometers, the enemy had not only to bomb it for 70 days but also to concentrate his entire fleet of 800-odd vessels, three divisions and 900 tanks and pour several thousands of tons, of shells from the sea and from the air. When I consider this fact,” said Koiso, “as well as the losses inflicted on the enemy, I cannot but take pride and feel exhilareted at the peerless strength of the spiritual power of the Japanese forces.” But Yiojima fell. And the government itself is making less spectral preparations for the next stage of the campaign.

In addition to a supplementary budget calling for four and a half billion yen, a special military measures bill has been submitted to the diet. According to the official explanation released simultaneously, it provides that “land, buildings, other structures and objects, as well as people, juridical persons, and other public bodies may be mobilized to execute plans for fortifications, fill military needs, and effectuate the other strategic purposes to be designated by imperial ordinance. In other words the government asks authority to take over anyone and anything for war purposes and the official statement blandly grants that this is “likely to affect the constitutional rights of Japanese subjects”.

It is doubtful however if it will lead to anything. Comparing notes with a Spanish diplomat, we agreed on the incomprehensible waste of time, manpower and materials in Japan. The precautions against air-raids had all been eminently futile, the Spaniard complained. They had compelled him, for instance, to build a concrete water-tank in his garden that was never used and failed to save his house. They had conscripted, his servants and cook once a week to dig trench-shelters that probably killed as many people as they saved. He had seen other sighs of disorganization. In spite of an all-embracing mobilization law, the trams and subways were chock-full of able-bodied young men — during working hours. The big munitions companies were still operating on a strictly private basis, producing what they wanted when they wanted, even planes that did not fly. An insane bureaucratic jealousy paralyzed every official measure —- the home office ignored the foreign office and the army sneered at both while the different police bodies cut each other’s throats. The Spaniard was a man with a grudge but every foreign diplomat in Tokyo, without exception, agrees that the “most disciplined” country in the world is the most inefficient and disorganized.

The most dramatic instance of Japanese inefficiency can be found in the heaps of scrap-iron rusting on the streets. More than a year ago all the radiators were torn from homes and offices in a frenzy of enthusiasm; they are still on the sidewalks. Often even the buildings from which they were taken have since burned down and the rusty masses of old steel files, radiators, safes, rot in front of newer heaps of tin and galvanized iron, quickly turning from the fresh bright orange of yesterday’s fire to the older more somber crimson of today’s ruin and desolation. The authorities talk loudly of “powerful” plans and strong measures. But apparently no one can stoop to the details of clearing the debris and shipping off the scrap iron or no one has thought of it. The Japanese have fallen under the baleful spell of their own propaganda on spiritual power. They think they can squat on straw mat, stomach sucked in, fists at their hips, “the soul of the sword” before them, and just stare down a B-29.