- Historic Sites
The author entered the conquered capital days after the surrender to meet high officers of the Imperial Navy
May/June 1995 | Volume 46, Issue 3
We busied ourselves working out a protocol that would permit our Naval Analysis Division to fit peacefully into the Strategic Bombing Survey. It was difficult. Some Air Force extremists apparently wanted us to admit that the Navy had contributed nothing to the strategic bombing effort and hence nothing to victory. No doubt this was true in the strictest sense, but that overlooked the three-year campaign that had given the B-29s their bases within bombing range of Tokyo and the shipment of construction material for airstrips, barracks, machine shops, and other ancillary gear and of great quantities of fuel and ammunition. So the purpose was broadened to an assessment of air power in the naval war and of the naval war in general. With this in mind we got permission from General MacArthur to retain a nucleus of officers from the newly abolished Japanese military to provide information and research and to produce officers for interrogation.
As we began the search for documents, we met problems: the papers had been “burned in air raids” or “destroyed by ill-advised people” and so on. Interrogations were also hard going at the start. We thought it natural to begin at the beginning: “Where were you when the war began?” But this went slowly, perhaps because of fear of war crimes problems or just because of the unprecedented nature of the exercise. But we found that when we began at the middle or end of the war and got people engaged, it was easy to work backward. In the end we recorded 118 interrogations, an extremely valuable body of material on the entire course of the Pacific war.
Interrogations, of course, brought up the language barrier, and there the Japanese had it all over us. Just about all their naval officers could speak some English; some were fluent but preferred to use interpreters. One of our interpreters was absolutely first-class; others were making progress. Those of us doing the interrogating had in effect an immersion course in naval Japanese, but even with a focused vocabulary two months is a short time. Still, we got some encouragement from the extent of Japanese transliteration of foreign terms: rajio for “radio,” bata for “butter,” biru for “beer.”
Hastily recruited, we had come to Japan unknowing or unthinking about what would greet us there. To most it was just a new assignment, another change of duty, something to which naval officers are accustomed. To the few who had been in Japan before the war, there were no doubt familiar aspects, but this was a new and different country. In the years since Pearl Harbor, Japan had subjugated a very large oceanic vacuum, with unopposed or barely opposed carrier strikes, from the Hawaiian Islands to Southeast Asia to northern Australia to Ceylon. It had occupied the islands of the Central Pacific, the Philippines, and Dutch East Indies, Indochina, Malaysia, and Burma.
But things had changed. From the shattering blow to Japan’s carrier strength at Midway in June 1942 and the failure to retake Guadalcanal, it had all been downhill, slowly at first and then, as the new American Navy came into commission, by leaps and bounds. The loss of Saipan in 1944 had provided the Americans with bomber bases within range of the homeland, permitting increasingly dev astating air attacks; the loss of the Philippines had cut off access to the Southern Resources Area for which the country had gone to war. By the summer of 1944, if not earlier, Japan was in bad straits. The armed forces ran short of both fuel and pilots; the food supply began to pinch; the few automobiles that remained on the streets were running off charcoal. With surrender there had been some concern that the occupation forces would attempt to live off the land, but in a mixture of wise policy and impressive logistics all our food came with us.
So also did tobacco. This was the cigarette-smoking age, and a batch of naval officers, American and Japanese, could produce a sizable quantity of butts in a day. When the Meiji Building janitor appeared at the end of the afternoon to empty wastebaskets, he carefully separated out every single butt. Despite their shortage of strategic materials, the Japanese had managed to fabricate a supply of miniature brass pipes, with curved stems and bowls just the diameter of a cigarette; with these they could get half of the good out of a butt without burning their fingers. And get American tobacco! The janitor must have done a good business off us.
But not everyone in Tokyo could benefit from the soothing effects of American nicotine. Given the strains of a long and lost war and the destruction inflicted by the bombing campaign—deaths in the great March 9, 1945, fire raid on Tokyo had exceeded those of either of the atomic bombs—one might have expected some demonstrations of hostility. In fact none developed, and our contacts with individual Japanese, whether naval officers or waitresses, were orderly, correct, and even, as time went by, friendly.