7th August 1945

The San Francisco radio announced today that a new “atomic” bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima yesterday the 6th, wiping out 60 per cent of the city at one blow. Apparently the bomb is built on an entirely new principle, the splitting of the U-235 atom. From another viewpoint, the principle is as old as war, mass murder.

But if we do not know much about it, and do not know how much to believe of what we have heard, the ordinary Japanese knows  so little that he does not even seem to care. A brief communique from imperial general headquarters, issued at 3:30 p.m. today, reads in full:

“1. Due to the attack by a small number of B-29’s on the 6th August considerable damage was caused to the city of Hiroshima.

“2. In conducting the attack the enemy seems to have used new-type bombs. Details are now under investigation.”

The man in the street cannot be blamed if he sees nothing particularly alarming about that. “Considerable damage” is several notches above the usual “negligible”, “very slight”, and “slight” but it is still below the occasional “heavy”. “New-type bombs” is vaguely disquieting but the Japanese are still sufficiently naive, scientifically speaking, to take even the splitting of the atom for granted. It is a curious novelty, like an electric torch, but these things are always happening in the strange surprising world of modern times. What will these “new-type bombs” do? We are forbidden of course to discuss with the Japanese the information we receive by short-wave. But I could not resist asking the boy who mops out our bathroom the same question: what did he think these “new-type bombs” were like? He shrugged his shoulders. He had not thought too much about it. Then, head cocked to one side like a little bird, he said: “Well, maybe they kill a hundred people instead of 10 or maybe they burn concrete houses like wood. I don’t know.” He bowed and sidled out, leaving me to wonder if he cared at all.

2nd May 1945

There was more than the usual touch of unreality to the business at the chancery when a telegram was received conveying greetings on the occasion of the Burmese new year from the Burmese foreign minister to the Republic’s. Recto is now detained by the U.S. Army while his Burmese colleague is, so far as it is known, in full flight from _____. Letters were also received from the local Indonesian organization, thanking all the Greater East Asia ambassadors for the resolution on the independence of the East Indies, approved at their recent conference. Apparently the Indonesian association is now out in the open. One of its officers told me in passing that, following their usual tactics, the Japanese had invited them to the East Asia People’s Rally yesterday in separate island groups, that is, as Javanese, Sumatrans, Borneans, etc. They had promptly refused to go until they had been given a united invitation as Indonesians. A good dinner was served, he said. Every guest was given a hard-boiled egg, an extravagance in wartime Japan that only the army, which sponsored the celebration, can afford.

Meantime, with Daihonei admitting that the Americans “were allowed to make some advances” in the southern part of Okinawa, the Japanese navy went into a significant reorganization. The headquarters of the combined fleet has been absorbed into a new general headquarters of the entire navy, with the former commander-in-chief of the fleet, Admiral Soemu Toyoda, at its head. Explaining the change a Japanese told me in all seriousness that there was no point in having a commander for the combined fleet. Naval operations have practically ceased to exist. The naval front line is now on the coast of the homeland.

28th March 1945

After treating the American operations in the so-called southwest islands as a passing raid, imperial headquarters has now announced an actual landing on the Okinawa group, three days after it was actually made. Meantime, with all preparations for the new political party near completion, it has been announced that General Jiro Minami, member of the privy council and former governor-general of Chosen, will be its head. It will mean a change from the navy to the army. The president of the old party was Admiral Kobayashi who got the job, according to some quarters, because no politician was wanted, the army already had the premiership, and he himself was the senior retired admiral. The futility of the whole business can be gauged from that one fact: politicians are not wanted in this political party.

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.

17th March 1945

Imperial headquarters has announced that the Americans have suffered 25,000 casualties on Yiojima and to those who can read between the lines it is plain that the battle is coming to an end. As a result of this new setback a further effort has been made to solve the question of coordination between the high command and the administration, which has plagued Japan’s war effort since the China affair. Apparently, when Koiso took office he advanced three proposals on the subject. He would attend conferences at imperial headquarters as premier, he would return to active service and thus adjust differences himself, or the issue could be solved “according to an entirely new conception”. This last alternative was the first taken. A supreme council for war guidance was established but, according to the Asahi, it was “merely a sort of conference and so far has gone little beyond the adjustment of differences between the high command and the administration. It was by no means adequate to cope with the present stage of fierce war.” Consequently the first alternative will now be resorted to; Koiso will be allowed to sit in at imperial headquarters conferences; “he will have a voice in matters under discussion in the same way that the chief staff officers have and partake in the supreme guidance of the war.” The measure was taken “at the command of His Majesty the Emperor. The same step,” recalls the Asahi, “was taken at the time of the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars when the Premiers Ito and Katsuura attended the deliberations of imperial headquarters.” It only remains to add that the more realistic Tozyo solved the problem in his own characteristic fashion by combining in himself the powers of prime minister, war minister, munitions minister, and chief of staff. He was overthrown by jealous generals on the charge of dictatorship. Whatever his shortcomings, Tozyo had a better understanding of total war.

December 3, 1943

Soldiers teemed in streets, plazas, stores and restaurants. And there were rumors that more than half a million more were coming to fortify the country and eat up the little food supply that we had. From the port there were days when more than forty damaged battleships and transports were seen anchored at the Bay. As Hongkong, Haiphong and other ports of the Continent were being frequently bombarded, we were suspecting that Japan had changed its course of providing for the southern front, and re-routed the same towards this country which was the farthest from American bases. But they were not safe even here. Commuters from the Visayas narrated the appearance of monstrous submarines which torpedoed Japanese destroyers almost within sight Cebu and Iloilo. A number of ships salvaged from the Pasig and the Manila Bay were brought to war, only to return to their ocean sepulchres. But the Daihon-ei dispatches remained mute on this destruction.