But to resume where I left off in my last letter. The Koreans seem very happy to be captured, but the Japs put up their usual suicidal defense. I have never ceased trying to solve this mystery. Why don’t they surrender when they see they haven’t got a chance? [Only seventy-nine Japanese were taken prisoner on Kwajalein alongwith 127 Koreans.] Have they
been filled with stories of the atrocities that would committed against them if they are taken prisoners? Is it the influence
of national psychology, or the samurai code of Bushido — the code of the warrior? Does devotion to the emperor outweigh the normal laws of life and the desire to return to home and family?
Interestingly enough, in spite of our tendency to consider every Japanese a potential hari-kiri, the statistics of the Encyclopedia Britannica show that the suicide rate in Japan is actually below that of some of the countries of Western Europe.
The dramatic acts of hari-kiri by various prominent Japanese has served to conceal these facts. Actually, it seems there is no national predisposition to commit suicide. Remember the epidemic which swept our own country at the time of the Wall Street collapse?
As for devotion to the emperor, it should be remembered that his “devotion” is enforced by one of the most brutal and vicious police systems in existence. A country which must rely on such means can hardly claim to have achieved “national unity.” The government recently has had occasion even to intensify the repression by new regulations concerning public
assemblies. The self-sacrificing devotion of the Japanese certainly is another false assumption.
Nor is Japan today supported by an army of professionals — of samurai warriors. Like the armies of every country,
it is a national army — with soldiers recruited from every walk of life. Certainly the code of Bushido is not very deeply rooted in the minds and hearts of the common people.
I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to one of the Jap prisoners. He had been drafted into the navy a year ago. Previously, he had been a cab driver. He was twenty-five years old, and had left a wife and baby behind. I asked him why more of them hadn’t surrendered, when they saw there was no hope.
After some discussion, it developed that there hadn’t been any great fear of torture. In Japan, they had heard some stories of American atrocities, but he doubted whether these stories had any affect on any of the men on Kwajalein. Some of the things he did consider important were: 1) Inability to return to Japan; 2) Contempt by the neighbors should they succeed in returning; 3) Pride.
I painted a picture for him — conveyed to the interpreter — of the sufferings of the people of Japan as the result of the foolish war into which the nation had been plunged by a few power-mad war-lords. What could the people hope to gain from such a war? How about the widows and orphans of the soldiers?
His answer was exceedingly interesting. First, he said, the people had only little actual information as to what was happening. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent victories of the Jap army, the people felt that the war would not last very long and that perhaps their conditions would improve as a result of the acquisition of new territories.
Now, he was inclined to believe, they no longer had any illusions, and then he added that many times he and others
had thought that the war could bring nothing but suffering for the Japanese people, but that they did not dare express such opinions. After all, he was only an enlisted man — one of the ground crew for C-plane maintenance.
I do not think his remarks are unusual. I think they furnish the key for a successful campaign of psychological warfare against the Japs, which would shorten the war and very greatly reduce our own casualties.