Monday, November 1, 2010

Japanese drunken Banzai charges and the atomic bomb

I've been reading William Manchester's Goodbye Darkness, a Memoir of the Pacific War (first published in 1979). This isn't strictly speaking, a history. Manchester at age 55 travelled to all the Islands where the Marines fought to try to get a feel for what it was like in the places he himself didn't fight, and to recapture something of the places where he did.

Victor Davis Hanson in his Ripples of Battle write's that this book by Manchester and one by E. B. Sledge, With the Old Breed "are not merely graphic narratives of combat, but works of literature in their own right comparable to Xenophon's Anabasis, Siegfried Sassoon's Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Robert Grave's Goodbye to All That."

"Memoir" is a good term for Manchester's book. It is a conflicted mixture of things. For example, here is a tale he tells about Guam. Of the end of the battle, Manchester writes, "Then Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., the Marine general commanding the force, ordered an attack across the swamp ahead. By Monday his troops had seized the base of the peninsula, isolating over three thousand Japanese Marines on the tip.

"Discovering that the only road was in our hands and that they could not perforce escape, the defenders staged one of the most extraordinary performances of the Pacific war. They were bottled up in more ways than one. Orote, it developed, was the central liquor storehouse for all Japanese in the central Pacific. There was enough alcohol in its godowns to intoxicate an entire army. The sealed-off troops had no intention of letting it all fall into American hands. Instead, they planned to tie one on and stage the jolliest of banzais.

"As night fell Wednesday they assembled in a mangrove swamp a few hundred feet from our lines. Not only our listening posts but our entire front line, including the Seventy-seventh's artillery forward observers (FOs) heard the gurgling of sake and synthetic Scotch, the clunk and crash of bottles, the shrieking, laughing, and singing. It sounded like New Year's Eve at the zoo. So noisy was the din that artillerymen could calculate the range of imminent targets at the edge of the swamp. At 10:30 P.M., as heavy rain began to fall, the first wave of drunks lurched toward the American lines -- stumbling, brandishing pitchforks and clubs; some with explosives strapped to their bodies; others, officers, waving flags and samurai swords. Shells form the Seventy-seventh's Long Toms landed in their midst. Arms and legs flew in all directions; momentarily there was more blood than rain falling in Marine foxholes. Screaming and milling around, these groggy warriors staggered back into the swamp. A second wave hit shortly before midnight. This time some of the souses penetrated the outposts of the Twenty-second Marines and were thrown back only after hand-to-hand struggles. At 1:30 A.M., with every American infantry weapon hammering at them, the third wave reached our trenches before being driven back. In three hours U.S. artillerymen had fired over twenty-six thousand rounds. The crisis was over. The next morning, Shepherd examined hundreds of the enemy bodies. He recalls: 'Within the lines there were many instances when I observed Japanese and Marines lying side by side, which was mute evidence of the violence of the last assault."

Okinawa, the bloodiest of the Pacific battles, was the last stop before Japan. Hanson writes, "by mid-1945 the desperate Japanese military's aims were quite different from all conventional war wisdom. And so their plans were also very simple: kill so many Americans, blow up or shoot down so many aircraft and sink so many of their ships that the United States -- both its stunned military and its grieving citizens back home -- would never wish to undergo such an ordeal again. After the butchery to come on Okinawa, perhaps these rather affluent and soft Westerners would seek a negotiated armistice from Japan -- and not tolerate another, greater cataclysm on the mainland in pursuit of an unnecessary unconditional surrender. Okinawa , then, was to offer a suicidal lesson to Americans to stop before they found themselves dying in the millions on the beaches of the Japanese Motherland."

In regard to the atomic bomb, Manchester seems conflicted. On page 210 he writes, "You think of the lives which would have been lost in an invasion of Japan's home islands -- a staggering number of American lives but millions more of Japanese -- and you thank God for the atomic bomb."

But when he discusses his visit to Tinian on page 277 he writes, "Today the island's eight hundred Chamorros are largely isolated from a world still struggling with the specter of nuclear weapons. Once a week a supply ship steams over from Saipan, docking beneath a sign which ironically proclaims WELCOME TO TINIAN: GATEWAY TO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Mail arrives twice a week, on a boat which takes three hours to cover the three miles from Saipan. A chartered motorboat with twin engines does the job quickly, but once you land you wish you hadn't bothered. There is an air of forbidding stillness on the isle, a desolation unmatched in, say, rebuilt Hiroshima. This is where the nuclear shadow first appeared. I feel forlorn, alienated, wholly without empathy for the men who did what they did. This was not my war. In my war a single fighter with one rifle could make a difference, however infinitesimal, in the struggle against the Axis. . . ."

"Today the coral airstrip from which the Enola Gay took off is abandoned. Dense shrubs grow along its edges. On the runway itself, frogs and snails crawl among broken coconuts and shells of dead crabs. The pit from which the nuclear bomb was hoisted into the B-29's bomb bay has been filled in. Rising from it are a single stark coconut tree and a shrub bearing yellowish blossoms which emit a cloying, sickening odor. A nearby plaque on a three foot stone marker tells the Superfortress's tale, though it does not, of course, note its implications. Standing there, notebook in hand, you are shrouded in absolute, inexpressible loneliness. You can hear nothing; there is nothing to be heard. The sky is implacable. No white birds hover overhead."

COMMENT: One wonders to what extent the Islamists owe their suicide-bombing tactics to the Japanese. The Japanese hoped that if they kept demonstrating their willingness to fight to the death that the U.S. would eventually get tired of them and agree to let them have a conditional surrender. That strategy didn't work. In fact in probably contributed to Truman's decision to drop atomic bombs on them.

Now we have the Islamists using something like those strategies. They hope their ongoing terrorist attacks will force the West to capitulate to their demands. Atomic bombs cannot be used against, but the U.S. has developed drones, smart bombs and extraordinary satellite surveillance to pursue them in ways they couldn't have anticipated.

This "war" is ongoing. They keep on killing civilians and we keep on killing them, and cracks are appearing in the alliance between Radical Islam and the American Left. Perhaps it took Westerners to make some moral "Banzai charges" against Islam. Geert Wilder and Hirsi Ali are examples of that. And subsequently we have had former members of the Left, Juan Williams and Bill Maher, make it clear that they oppose Radical Islam.

I have heard a number of Leftists, in response to observations like these, define their own positions to say that they don't support Radical Islam "but . . ." and by the time they are done it seems to me that they have contradicted themselves. But watch the Bill Maher clips. Can my favorite Leftist, Billy Blogblather watch the Maher clips and agree with them? I doubt it, and that is the difference. The Blogblathers still support Radical Islam. Maher and Williams don't.

No comments: