This morning I saw the girls who work in the army offices and hotels on Kudan hill lined up in front of the Yasukuni gates. Across the street from them a group of officers were delivering a lecture, apparently on fire-fighting because there were three or four paper screens set up along the sidewalk and, as I passed by, a soldier was opening a tin cylinder smelling strongly of gasoline. I was tempted to stop and watch but I received so many inquiring glances that I moved on.
The vernaculars carried a photograph of the wife and daughter of the Japanese commander on Yiojima. They were praying in the snow outside the inner shrine of the Yasukuni and the caption said that they had prayed that some of the snow on the streets of Tokyo might find its way to the arid caves of Japan’s newest volcanic battlefield.
But it will take more than prayers to reassure the people. The outspoken Yomiuri lashed out today with an editorial teetering dangerously oh the rim of discontent. “The situation at Yiojima is growing ever more pressing. It is no longer the time to talk of favorable or divine opportunities. Frankly speaking, we have been driven into a corner in spite of the valiant fighting of the men at the front and all our efforts at home. Where should we look for the reason of all this? Certainly it is not merely accidental. It is no longer permissible to use the material resources of the enemy as an excuse. The production capacity of America was known from the outset and it has not shown any surprising increase of late…. All our information and preparation concerning this point must be supposed to have been completed from the time of the imperial, rescript declaring war…” The paper then goes on; “It is being said that even though the enemy may land on these shores, we can surely win if we encounter him with the fierce determination of each one of us killing one enemy soldier… But can we rely safely on that determination alone? That is what the people are sincerely feeling…. We must reflect on the past and present and thoroughly probe the reasons why things have come to this pass. Without finding and eradicating the reasons, we cannot face the enemy landing and turn the divine opportunity into reality.”
Meantime even official circles are beginning to think that the Yomiuri’s unspoken “reason” is that the people are not united behind the war. Yesterday Premier Koiso invited Admiral Seizo Kobayashi, president of the Imperial Rule Assistance Political Association (the government party), and some 300 others engaged in organizing a new political party, to his official residence. Admiral Kobayashi struck his breast penitently and confessed: “The political association heretofore in existence aimed chiefly at the management of the diet and was lacking in its efforts to connect the people directly to war politics. Now is the time for us to give up the old ways and set up a sure-victory no-defeat structure at once. Herein lies the reason for our proposal for the creation of a great political association…. What is badly needed today is that the whole people should become subjects of the imperial land in a thorough-going sense, irrespective of vocations, and offer their lives for the sake of the state. Our forefathers at every national crisis forgot their small differences and worked for their great objectives, overcoming difficulties in a firm blood league. We are confident that when the people understand our objective, they will gladly join this great political association.”
To a people accustomed to reading between the lines, like the Japanese, the implications are ominous, not only in the admiral’s confiteor but also in the Yomiuri’s quo-vadimus. The impression one gathers from it all is that the Japanese, fantastic as it sounds, are indifferent to the war, divided by petty quarrels, bewildered, by the disaster that is overwhelming them; they have lost touch with the government and lost faith; they are content to stand apart from a tragic adventure which they cannot understand and in which they have no hand, absorbed in the intimate problem of the next meal, the next incomprehensible air-raid, while the vast wave of ruin looms darkly over their bent unseeing heads.
Even the generals are no exception. General Kuroda, the former Japanese commander in the Philippines, had dinner with Vargas last night. Flushed with drink, this bibulous garrulous old man, who spent his term in the Philippines on the golf course and in bars, complained bitterly about being relieved by Yamashita. “I know the Filipinos better than Yamashita.” “Yamashita talks too much.” “We were classmates and he was not so bright.”
When Vargas brought out a bottle of pre-war American whiskey, Kuroda chuckled gratefully and then leaned over. “You know,” he giggled, “we two are in the best place after all. You could have been president but they did not want you. I should have been commander-in-chief but they did not want me. Who’s sorry now, eh? Eh?”
When Kuroda staggered home, he was still clutching the bottle.