World War II - Hiroshima and the Tokotai (Toe Koe Tie) Kamakaze
Why we visited Hiroshima
I visited the Kamakaze memorial in Tsukuba early on, and we visited Hiroshima during our last 2 days in Japan because I wanted to see the Peace Memorial Hall. We chose not to go back to Kyoto. Both cities are very good places to visit, and we would be happy to return to either. I wanted to visit Hiroshima in the event that I do not come back to Japan in the future. After visiting the Kamakaze memorial, I needed to learn more about how events transpired, and the visit was very worthwhile.
On August 6, 1945, the first atom bomb to be used in war was dropped on Hiroshima at 8:16 in the morning. The events leading up to this horrendous act were important to read.
The Peace Museum is on an Island in Hiroshima, located at the epicenter of the explosion. What has been chosen to serve as a reminder of the devastation is the Industrial Promotion Hall for Hiroshima. Its charred remains with bent girders and broken brick will serve as an eternal reminder of the tragedy. The memorial site itself has a museum documenting the events, and beautiful grounds with many separate memorials - to the Koreans who died (1 out of 10 were Korean), to the school children who died, to the many unknown casualties who were cremated, amongst others. At this memorial, no judgmental statements are made about individuals or political actions - the focus is on what decisions were made, what were the influences that affected the decision, and what was the impact on citizens.
The messages from a visit here are very powerful. History through the eyes of victims here is different than what I learned from movies in the 1950's. These are some of the important things I saw:
The role of Hiroshima in military and educational history
Hiroshima was an important military center, from as far back as the days of the Shogun. During the Sino-Japanese war from 1894 to 1896, the command center was established in the city. Each time Japan became involved in military action in Asia, Hiroshima was the base for assembly and dispatching of troops.
Hiroshima was also a centre for education, as the Hiroshima Branch of the School of Higher Education was founded there in 1902.
Much of the focus for the city and this memorial was on the military importance of the city, and of its impact on the community and on the education system.
In the late 1930's Japan invaded China. Following the outbreak of this war, the Konoe administration adopted a new system that sought to mobilize the entire Japanese nation. This concept not only reached in to control the everyday lives of Japan's citizens, it also insisted on "spiritual mobilization," denying even freedom of thought. A committee for implementation of this system was established in Hiroshima Prefecture. Calling for a "heightening of the Japanese spirit," the committee launched numerous campaigns. One demanded the elimination of wasteful living. Citizens were forced to live austere lives under such slogans as, "waste is the enemy", and "Doing without until victory". By 1937, Japan had taken the capital city, Nanking, and the Japanese people were cheered by this victory, as they now viewed this war as a Holy Crusade. Hiroshima's residents celebrated with a lantern parade. In the meantime, tens of thousands of Chinese were being massacred by the Japanese army. The Chinese estimates are 300,000.
Many Japanese soldiers were killed, as well, and ashes of members of the Fifth Division, from Hiroshima, were returned to Ujina Harbor.
The impact of the military on the school system was profound. Military training under the guise of military exercises had been mandatory in schools since the Meiji period. Around 1923, military officers were assigned to junior high and high schools to conduct this training. Some students demonstrated against the system, but were eventually suppressed. In 1939, during the war in China, military training became compulsory, with the emphasis on military training.
The harbor in this city was constructed for economic development, but the military conscripted the land and the industry to make ships.. As the war progressed, raw materials and labor were diverted for military production. Supplies of food, clothing, and other necessities dwindled. Purchases were limited by coupons and rationing, systems destined to ensure set amounts of critical supplies for each citizen. Metal from streetlamps, temple bells, and domestic goods was all diverted to military production. Earthenware vessels were used for domestic activity. As the situation in the war worsened, school children were evacuated from major cities.
Hiroshima was evacuated in March 1945. In that evacuation, 20,000 children were moved from Hiroshima. Their lives were saved, but many became "A-bomb orphans" because they lost their entire families - as many as 6,500 were orphaned.
As the military situation worsened, Imperial Headquarters foresaw that the Japanese mainland would become a battlefield and called for "100 million deaths with honor." They foresaw establishing a headquarters, one of two in Japan, in Hiroshima.
There is a special exhibit in the museum about the impact of the war on schoolchildren. At school, students were taught to endure privation for the war. The slogan was :"Do without until victory." Every morning during morning assembly students would bow deeply in the direction of the Imperial Palace. They held talent shows to honor soldiers going to the front or to encourage wounded or sick soldiers. These were school activities. So many of those pictures we saw had children in uniform. Schools were eventually closed, and children were used for many tasks - to make airplanes, to make uniforms in sewing classes, and to demolish buildings for "fire lanes" when the inevitable bombing would occur. Many of the children who died were carrying out this demolition task at the time the bomb was dropped.
One student described, "The summer sun beat down fiercely. Work started at 8 am. Shirtless, we climbed onto the roof. "Let's get going!" Turn over a roof tile, throw it on then ground. Turn over another, throw it on the ground. Someone yelled, "Hey, here comes a B!"..."Where?" I asked casually. "There" The second I saw the plane, a flash! An incredible flash."
Hiroshima was an important military target. It was chosen to remain in its natural state, not "bombed out", as were other cities -- in anticipation of using the bomb, so that the impact of the destruction could be seen by the American military. Hiroshima geography was though important to accentuate the impact of the explosion.
Many people had been evacuated. Schools were closed. The entire population was in war mode and all were expected to sacrifice for the greater good - fighting the enemy. There is no evidence, in this museum, that any warning about the imminent event was given.
There is a good portion of the museum which documents the horror experienced by victims of this brutality, which I choose not to document here.
Development of the A Bomb
Development of the bomb is documented in the museum, including a number of very telling letters. The actual letters are in this museum - they are labeled "secret". The documentation is excellent.
In a letter, in 1939, Albert Einstein, provided to President Roosevelt information about the potential for development of an atom bomb, and he recommended its development. Once the bomb became a reality, Japan was selected as the location where the bomb would be used. There were concerns that, if the bomb were dropped in Germany, and it did not explode, the Germans would be able to use the information obtained to develop their own bomb. A decision was also made to select one of four cities in Japan. It was believed that there were no American Prisoners of War in Hiroshima, and the weather was right on the day selected.
It should be noted that scientists suggested, in a letter, "We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for an early unannounced attack against Japan inadvisable. If the United States were to be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race for armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons.
Today in Hiroshima
By the 1980's the US and the USSR had 93% of the nuclear armaments in the world, and they amounted to 1.3 Million times the firepower of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Last year, on August 6, a peace declaration was signed in Hiroshima. It is well written, and advocates for elimination of nuclear armaments.
There is a beautiful spot on the grounds here - the Children's Peace Memorial. When Sadako developed leukemia at the age of 10 years, she decided to fold 1000 paper cranes, the symbol of longevity and happiness in Japan, and was convinced that if she could reach her target, she would recover. She died before reaching her goal, but her classmates folded the rest. Many students from around the world have brought paper cranes to this site, and they are kept on display at this site.
There is so much here - these people were living a horror of insanity before the bomb was dropped. The dedication to the war effort was insane. The tolerance of "100 Million (Japanese) deaths with honor" is insane.
Many people have left messages at this site. I wrote:
"This tragedy is about victimization of others to meet one's own selfish desires. It is about ego and pride. These forces have always, and continue, to exist in our civilization and in the pages of this book. This weapon has brought suffering to countless people. Yet its existence was brought about by men of good will.
Its use was mandated by the drive to victimize and persecute others - it is victimization in its most horrific form.
The elimination of this weapon must happen in our own hearts before we will manifest it in our civilization. It will not be found in blame, persecution, and victimization.
Japanese, American, Russian, Chinese, Australian, Korean, Canadian, and others - we can choose to honor one another for our uniqueness and our beauty.
Thank you for this message. Your eloquent message of pain and suffering has helped me see the beauty of your spirit - it helps me see the need to seek understanding of others, rather than judgment of others for what they do."
Having made this visit to Hiroshima, I see the mission of the men who participated in Kamakaze missions in a different light. I more clearly understand the culture from which they came - fear based, pride based, and dedicated to compliance with those in military control. This was my visit to Tokotai Kamakaze..:
The airbase for Tokotai is now used as a training base for the current local self defense forces. Tokotai means "Special Attack Team", initially formed at the time of battles with China. They started training pilots in 1939. In the attack on Pearl Harbor, there were 10 pilots who dive bombed the Americans in Pearl Harbor. One lived and he became the first hostage taken by the United States. The remainder became revered soldiers, and they were admired. After Pearl Harbor, the battles were successful, and there was no need to sacrifice good men. Three years later, the situation in the Pacific War deteriorated for the Japanese, and the Navy decided to form a special group called the Divine Wind - the Kamikaze. This name, "Divine Wind" is a name given in legend to a typhoon wind that saved the Japanese navy in the 12th century when the Manchurians set out to invade Japan, and it now has special meaning in Japanese myth.
The young men were specially chosen, they were given flags from their communities signed by people they loved, and they were trained to fly one way with 250 kg of explosives and they planned to die. Many of these men were the best from the community. The memorial is simple - it mainly consists of pictures of these men, and mementoes of them - especially their writings and their letters home to their families. No pictures are permitted, out of respect for the families, as many have donated these important last memories of their sons to this place. What I saw:
One poem - I am like a Cherry Blossom falling from a tree - I will die, too.
Another - I will die for my loved ones.
Another - When you see the fireflies, remember me, because I will return in their spirit.
A letter - My dear sister; thank you for looking after me when I was young. The last time I saw you, I did not tell you that, and I should have. You are a better sister than I deserve. I will depart from here. Please remember me, I am a special person who has been chosen for this task that I must do. When I attack the ship I will see your face and the faces of my parents, and I will remember you.
Another - Do not cry for me. When I know I will die, I will laugh. I will die laughing as I aim for the ship.
Some parts were ugly. Some hateful things were written about "the enemy". There were few pictures of the planes, but one turned my blood cold - these airplanes were simple small flying bombs. Only enough space for fuel one way. Like a torpedo up front for the 250 kg bomb. Built like a little rocket. Inside, nothing but a Spartan wood seat and very basic controls. Outside, painted white, with a cherry blossom on the front.
When we arrived, an old man was leaving. He said to his people - my son died in one of these, but I could not find his picture in there.
These men had blinders on. All they could see was the need for their sacrifice to protect their families and their nation. Their families and friends admired them for their sacrifice. In reading their letters to their families, the interpreter, Sumiyo Terai, cried. I cried. She had never been there. And there was no one else there. Our taxi driver never has been there. I met no one who had, that day.
This was a tough place to visit. These men were loved. Yet they did such hurtful things to others. Their actions were feared by the Americans. The American men who were killed were admired and loved, yet these men needed to hate them.
What saddens me about some of the messages I heard is the lack of willingness of some people to focus on their part, and the ease with which they blame - usually the Americans. It is sad place, but very important -- especially in light of what happened on 911. Fear motivates so many hurtful actions. And we fuel fear at our peril and at the peril of our civilization.