17th April 1945

Approximately 200 B-29’s carried out the last raid on Tokyo “causing fairly large fires in the urban areas”. The Japanese claimed the fantastic total of 105 B-29’s a downed or damaged. Another communique issued simultaneously yesterday afternoon said with a note of querulous complaint: “The enemy forces In the southern port of the main Okinawa, island have sustained tremendous blows due to our counter-attacks but now appear to be preparing for further offensive.” This in spite of another fantastic total of 379 warcraft sunk or damaged off Okinawa. A summery of “war results” so far claimed by imperial headquarters, made by the Mainichi, includes 16 aircraft carriers, 17 battleships, 54 cruisers, 53 destroyers, and 47 transports! It is an endurance contest between Japanese capacity for lying and Japanese capacity for believing.

Meantime all the vernaculars are being fed “human interest” stories on the suicide pilots who are credited with these marvellous feats. Here is a collection of typical incidents:

A bombardier, zooming upward after hitting the stern of a battleship, shouts out: “Wash your decks clean and wait for me. I’ll come every day!”

Sublieutenant K, after shooting down seven B-29’s in a single night, explains modestly: “There is nothing special in the technique of attacking B-29’s. I meant to ram myself against the enemy but in the dim moonlight I could not see the planes very clearly.” So he shot them down instead!

The members of the Kamishio (Divine Opportunity) special attack corps, before taking off for a suicide attack, collect all their money, Y400, and leave it behind “in the hope that it will contribute toward the production of better aircraft”.

Five naval cadets meet again at a tokotai base for the first time since a farewell student rally in the outer-gardens of the Meiji shrine in 1943. Four have become suicide pilots; the fifth cannot qualify because of poor eyesight. Before the pilots take off the grounded officer grasps them by the hand. “Fight my share of the fight too,” he cries and, cutting his finger with his sword, stains four ceremonial towels with his blood and gives them to his friends.

A suicide plane, lust after taking off, crashes into the sea. Four members of the ground crew immediately jump into the bitterly cold water and swim out to the wreck. A sergeant follows in a lifeboat with a large hole in the bottom which he has stuffed with his coat. The pilot is rescued. “Thank you for saving me,” he gasps. “I did not want to die alone.”

Before taking off, Lieutenant T. commander of the Shitei special attack corps, instructs his youngsters: “If we find only one aircraft carrier, I shall sink it. Let nobody else ram it. In case you do ram an enemy warship, be sure not to close your eyes.” The lieutenant, a newsman notes, has a wrist watch tied with a cherry-colored ribbon.

A formation of the Shitei special attack corps is about to take off. Solemnly its members tie ceremonial towels over their helmets. They are gifts from a navy captain and on each of them Admiral Toyoda, the commander-in-chief, has written the character “Trust”. The leader explains the objectives. He takes too much time. The take-off is overdue. “I am sorry I delayed you,” he apologizes. “Let us take three deep breaths.” They inhale and exhale quietly and then run off to their planes.

Three suicide pilots wait for the zero hour. Corporal laughs: “I would like to have a bellyful of nice juicy bananas. They steady my nerves. A bunch of bananas is the same to me as a pack of cigarettes to a heavy smoker.” Sublieutenant Y draws his favorite sword out of its jewelled case. His eyes follow carefully every inch of the gleaming blade. “I regret extremely that I will not be in a position to confirm my war-results,” he says slowly. Corporal T says nothing. They enter their cockpits. It is impossible to talk above the roar of the engines. They nod their heads briefly. A paper doll, his mascot, flutters in the vibrating cockpit of Corporal T. In a few moments they are off, like arrows in full flight, never to return”.

15th April 1945

As was to be expected, a Japanese newspaper (in this case the Mainichi) has brought up the inevitable “Roosevelt has died. It was heaven’s punishment. As the incarnation of American imperialism he had a cursed influence on the whole of mankind.” The English edition of the same paper added today: “He was undoubtedly the outstanding criminal of the century.” The Times, like the official statements, was more sober. “Brilliant and spectacular as he was, Roosevelt will be found on sober analysis to have been a clever opportunist who rode on the crest of the wave of the times rather than a creative statesmen who actually shaped the course of events.” The New Deal, said the Times, would have “arisen with or without Roosevelt.” And America, under the drive of a Messianic complex and over-expanded industry, would have entered the war “sooner or later” with or without Roosevelt. “Although he may always be remembered as a brilliant man,” concluded the Times, “he will hardly be honored as a truly great character.”

There was enough bad news yesterday, however, to sour any taste of satisfaction in Japanese mouths. An imperial headquarters communique on Okinawa could list only defensive “successes”. Another communique issued simultaneously revealed that in the heavy raid of the night of the 13th to the morning of the 14th about 170 B-29’s had, among other things, set fire to “parts of the edifices of the imperial palace, the Omiya palace, and the Akasaka detached palace” while the main hall and worship hall of the Meiji shrine had completely burnt down. “It is learned however,” added the Mainichi respectfully,” that Their Majesties, the Emperor, the Empress, and the Empress Dowager are safe and that no damage whatever was suffered by the three sanctuaries of the imperial palace.” Suzuki promptly took to the air last night. After announcing “with awe and trepidation” that Their Majesties were safe, and that “the sacred object of worship at the Meiji shrine is reported to have been removed to safety”, he pledged first determination to avenge these “hideous crimes beyond description”.

A board of information announcement, also issued yesterday, revealed how the Japanese people will be organized on the basis of a cabinet decision made the 23rd March. A “national volunteer force” (also called people’s patriotic corps” depending on the translator) will be established. Apparently the membership will not be drafted; “the welling will of the people” will be “the motive power”. There will be no central command (at first it was expected that the premier would be commander-in-chief). The duties and functions of the corps have not been defined but “if the situation becomes tense, the people’s patriotic corps in the localities that bid fair to become battle theaters” will be “converted into battle units” under the command of the local army, navy, or naval station leaders. Other straws in the wind:

About 100 girls in an airoplane factroy have banded themselves into a “women’s death-defying defense corps”. They are determined to “safeguard aircraft, give first aid and act as messengers in case of emergency.

Members of a reservist society in Akita have decided to refrain from drinking for one year.

Newspapermen from now on cannot resign, be fired, or be transferred without official permission.

The latest rumor has it that the Japanese government may move to the mountains in Miyanoshita.

13th April 1945

Friday the 13th: San Francisco radio flashed the news of President Roosevelt’s sudden death and for once Tokyo picked it up immediately: the bulletin was on the air by noon. The Japanese and I talked to did not seem unduly elated; they know by now that nothing would affect the prosecution of the war by the U.S.A. Strangely enough no one spoke of “divine punishment” but some newspaper is sure to say it sooner or later. More common was the reaction that Roosevelt did not die of natural causes. Our maid put it all very neatly. “You will see,” she insisted. “Afterward it will come out that he was really poisoned or shot in his office.”

“But that is impossible,” I protested. “The announcement…”

“You can believe the announcement if you like,” she shook her head scornfully. “But I tell yon that great men seldom die in bed. They are killed. Afterward it is said that they died in bed because their successors are afraid people may get ideas.”

To dispel any stray hopes that Roosevelt’s death might mean even a temporary let-up, the Marianas bomber-command made a gigantic funeral pyre for the president the very same night out of the great wards of Shinjuku, Iidabashi, Jimbocho, Yotsuya, and, it seems, the imperial compound and the Meiji shrine. It was the first big night raid on Tokyo since the 10th March. The alarm was late again; the radio was still vague about the movements of the raiders when near midnight the first explosions shook us out of bed. We dressed hastily, shivering in the dark as the maid, nagging us hysterically to hurry, hurry, hurry, slammed back the wooden night-shutters of our Japanese house. I was not particularly worried; this time we were all men in the house except for the maid; I was only staying for a few days and had nothing to lose except a small knapsack. In the chill ghostly dimness I could hear the old woman puffing as she dragged all her trunks and bedding out into the garden; I hurried to help her. She had already placed all the china in the wooden bathtub.

The street outside was quite except for the steady reassuring chug-chug-chug of the small red water-pump. From the darkened houses came muffled noises, careful steps down a squeaking staircase, the rumble and bang of an opened window shutter, a child awakened in the dark. The sky was beginning to light up around us. But it was a distant pervasive uniform glow like that of dawn. Bells changed as bombers roared overhead for a breathless moment but they always passed on and the explosions were far away. We had about decided to go back to bed when there was a series of detonations nearby. Over the neighboring rooftops the bright banners of fire were lifted briefly. The little groups chatting uneasily along the street broke up. It was getting closer.

Over at the end of the street the fire launched a quick sortie. We watched the invader fight forward from house to house, dodging, rushing. The first refugees came stumbling down the road. They did not pause. Only one woman with a child, dragging a little wooden cart piled with household goods, stooped to look at the skies before her, just as crimson as those behind her. Where was she to go? Her face contracted in a grimace of irritation, the exasperation of a bedeviled housewife rather than the more profound despair of the harried, hunted homeless.

The treacherous wind outflanked and broke through every defense. It carried its flaring parachutes into the enemy’s country. No man dared to leave his house to help his neighbor; he might be next. The fire had now consolidated itself a few blocks away. We could recognize the refugees now; they were no longer nameless strangers. A tense readiness gripped everyone and at the same time a dissolving discouragement. There was no water to be had; in fact the whole neighborhood had been without water for a week except for two or three hours every morning. Firemen in gleaming helmets and grotesque black cloaks came clumping by; their own station was threatened. They shouted hoarsely as they dragged behind them flat and muscleless hose. There was only one source of water available, the swimming pool of the schoolhouse across the street from us. Stumbling and cursing in the fitful darkness they pumped desperately. The hose spit thin streams of water from the holes along its length but still it lay torpid upon the ground. Then a couple of fire engines turned the corner, slow and formless like tanks. The hose quivered, stiffened, lashed out.

But the fire had already broken into the massive Catholic girls’ school in the next block. We decided to see for ourselves how dangerous it had become. The narrow alleys branching out from our street were crazy with confusion. There were piles of bedding, kitchen utensils, furniture, clothes, scattered before the disembowelled houses. At a corner a policeman stood, his legs apart, one of them flexed with stiff bravado. I was tall, curly-haired, obviously a foreigner.

“Hey, you, come here!”

He was very young, he could not have been more than 17.

The sneer of cold command was on his lips. He was not afraid; he was not losing his head while all these crazy fools went rushing past him.

“Where are you going? Where have you come from? What do you want? Where do you live?”

I did not want to argue with him and I motioned that I could not understand Nippongo.

“Come on, answer me. Answer me, do you hear? Where do you live? What are you doing here?”

Did he suspect me of starting the fire? Of signalling the bombers? I would not have put it past him. He was white and shaking with rage. Around us the fire crashed forward and the stream of refugees hurried past, every one intent on his secret purpose.

I looket at the young policeman blankly. With a curse of exasperation he stretched out his hand to grip me. I wondered vaguely if he would slap me and if among my diplomatic privileges was included that of slapping a policeman back. Just then an older officer appeared. He waved me onward. He had recognized me. “Of course I recognized him too,” the young policeman muttered as I moved away. “I just wanted to know where he was going.”

I had almost forgotten the fire. The bombers were gone. Someone said it would be alright this time. I scarcely listened. I was still tense with anger and humiliation. How silly it was and yet these white-lipped shambling whispering refugees, this fierce and formidable conflagration fighting its last desperate battles in isolated pockets under the waving white flag of smoke, Roosevelt dead, Tokyo burning, peril of death, reprieve for life, all these were nothing to me at that moment because a sulky insolent young boy in a tight black uniform had shouted at me.