World War II: Japanese Home Front--Ketsugo (April 1945)

World War II Japan ketsugo
Figure 1.--Here we see Japanese school girls being trained in self defense. Note the sharpened bamboo poles. And Japanese Army officers are observing the demonstration. Beginning in the 1930s, the Japanese military began play an increading role in the schools.

The Emperor and the Japanese military were determined to resist. Emperor Hirohito approced the strategy of Ketsugo (January 1945). This was part of the overall strategy of bleeding the Americans to force a negotiated peace. Ketsugo meant self defense, As a national defense policy it meant preparing civilans to fight an American invasion. It was a refinement of Japan's Shosango victory plan which envisioned defending the home islands to the last man. The plan was to prepare the Japanese people psychologically to fight the Americans and die defending their homeland. There was to be no surrender, even civilians were not to surrender. Some Japanese sources claim that Japan was defeated and ready to surrender. Such claims are starkly disproved by what happened to civilians on Okinawa. The military there actively prevented civilians from surrendering and incouraged civilians to kill themselves. Ketsugo went a step further. It involved training civilians to actively resist an American invasion. The plan included training children, boys as well as girls, to fight with improvised weapons. The military began implementing the strategy of Ketsugo (April 1945). Soldiers were assigned to schools to train even primary-level children in the use of weapons like bamboo spears. I am not sure how widespread this effort was and how intensive the training. I have noted Japanese adults describing such traing they received in schools. Japanese officials warned that the Americans would kill men who surrendered instantly and rape women. There was no evidence for this belief other than this was how the Imperial Japanese Army behaved in well-publicized Chinese incidents. Not only were Japanese soldiers not to surrender, but neither would civilians. Others Japanese sources have reported their was no serious training in their schools. A peace faction led by Foreign Minister Togo complained that Ketsugo would destroy the nation. General Anami retorted. "Those who can not fulfill their resonsibilities to the Emperor should commit hari-kiri. " He was intent that the entire nation should resist the Americans to the death.

School Drill

Drill was a very common part of European and American education in the 129th and early-20th century. This primarily consisted of marching and learming marching moves. It waa adopted primarily because it taught discipline. It was mote common for boys than girls. Japan after the Meiji Resoration established a national educational systen for the first time and used European models for their new system. The physical educational (PE) program as designed by the new Ministry of Education (MoE) at first involved light gymnastics, but over time, drill and evebtually overt military training became part of the phyical education system. The first PE program designed by the MoE was light gymnastics (1878). The primary purpose of the PE program was to promote health. The Moe made PE a required subject and adopted military gymnastics (1886). The MoE reorganized the PE and adopted military drill (early 20th century). The MoE gradually turned to military personnel for PE instructors. During the Taisho era (1912-26) about 50 percent of school PE teachers were military personnel. Schools began assigning military officers secondary and teriiary schools to teach military drill. This included both marching and military exercises. The military began to see school PE as preparing students for subsequent military training. [Okuma] At the end of World War II this was extended to preparing children to participate in resisting an anticipated American invasion--Ketsugo.

Approval

The Emperor and the Japanese military were determined to resist. Emperor Hirohito approved the strategy of Ketsugo (January 20, 1945).

Strategy

This was part of the overall strategy of bleeding the Americans to force a negotiated peace. Ketsugo meant self defense, As a national defense policy it meant preparing civilans to fight an American invasion. It was a refinement of Japan's Shosango victory plan which envisioned defending the home islands to the last man. The plan was to prepare the Japanese people psychologically to fight the Americans and die defending their homeland. There was to be no surrender, even civilians were not to surrender.

Attitudes

The subject of Japan's commitment to continuing the War is a matter of considerable debate. Here you cannot talk about the country as a whole. We suspecty that many civilians who had their homes and comminitioes invinerated and lost family members were anxious to end the War. And the Government to inspire resistance spread attrocity stories about what American invaders would do. And civilians could not openly discuss ending the War without getting into trouble withb the Thought Police. But in Japan, they were poweless to affect public opinion. There was a peace faction, but primarily in the Foreign Ministry where officials could talk openly behind closed doors. None of this reached the Japanese media. Some Japanese sources claim that Japan was defeated and ready to surrender. This tends to come from those who want to paint Japan as a victim of World War II. Such claims are starkly disproved by what happened to civilians on Okinawa. The military there actively prevented civilians from surrendering and incouraged civilians to kill themselves. What mattered was the attitude of the Japanese military who controlled the Government. One author writes, "Hirohito's generals, grimly preparing for the invasion, had not abandoned hope of saving their homeland. Although a few strategic islands had been lost, they told each other, most of their conquests, including the Chinese heartland, were firmly in their hands, and the bulk of their army was undefeated. Even now they could scarcely believe that any foe would have the audacity to attempt landings in Japan itself. Allied troops, they boasted, would face the fiercest resistance in history. Over ten thousand kamikaze planes were readied for "Ketsu-Go," Operation Decision. Behind the beaches, enormous connecting underground caves had been stocked with caches of food and thousands of tons of ammunition. Manning the nation's ground defenses were 2,350,000 regular soldiers, 250,000 garrison troops, and 32,000,000 civilian militiamen, a total of 34,600,000, more than the combined armies of the United States, Great Britain, and Nazi Germany." [Manchester, pp. 510-11/]

Civilian Role

Ketsugo went a step further. It involved training civilians to actively resist an American invasion. The plan included training children, boys as well as girls, to fight with improvised weapons. The military began implementing the strategy of Ketsugo (April 1945). Soldiers were assigned to schools to train even primary-level children in the use of weapons like bamboo spears. Boys were trained to strap on satchel charges and charge a tank, roll under it and set off the charge. A reader writes, "I was just watching an episode of 'American Experience' and one of the Japanese survivors of the war mentioned how when he was 11-years old that he and many of his school mates were taught how to roll under an American tank clutching an explosive to blow up themselves and the tank." We are not sure how widespread this effort was and how intensive the training. I have noted Japanese adults describing such traing they received in schools. Not only were Japanese soldiers not to surrender, but neither would civilians. Others Japanese sources have reported their was no serious training in their schools. This is something that some Japanese authors do not like to discuss because it undermuines their contention tyhat Japan was a victim of the war and the use of atomic weapons was unnecessary because Japan as about to surrender.

Propaganda

Japanese officials warned that the Americans would kill men who surrendered instantly and rape women. There was no evidence forthis belief other than this was how the Imperial Japanese Army behaved in well-publicized Chinese incidents.

Peace Faction

A peace faction led by Foreign Minister Togo complained that Ketsugo would destroy the nation. General Anami retorted. "Those who can not fulfill their resonsibilities to the Emperor should commit hari-kiri." He was intent that the entire nation should resist the Americans to the death.

Sources

Manchester, William. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964.






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Created: 8:42 AM 11/30/2008
Last updated: 10:32 PM 8/5/2012