*** World War II Japanese military spirit








World War II: Japanese Martial Spirit

Japanese martial spitit
Figure 1.--We have found images from a Japanese picture book depicting the war in China. There is no writing for most of the images, but they graphically show how the fighting in China was being depicted to the Japanese people before the Japanese Militarists launched the Pacific War. This is one of the most interesting images. We are not entirely sure, but it seems to show two Japanese soldiers wounded in their legs, preparing to kill each other rather than being taken prisoner. I think a leg wound was chosen because that meant they could not participate in a Banzai charge. Hopefully, readers will be able to tell us what the Japanese script says. Remember that this is not American propaganda, but something the Japanese were proud about and displying to the public and children. Unsaid in the book is that the Japanese murdered all the Chinese prisoners they took. At the end of the war, despite 8 years of comnbat, the Japanese did not have Chinese POWs to turn over.

Few World War II soldiers fought with such spirit and devotion, despite the fact that the Japanese soldier was equipped with largely inferior weaponry and supported with inadequate logistics. Japanese military commanders believed that fighting spirit imbued in their soldiers could overcome what ever material inadequcies existed. And this was not only when they were winning, but when they were losing and certain to die. Surrounded and starving Japanese grisons throughout the Pacific, refused to surrender. Imperial Army Headquaters were fully aware that their garisons were starving. They were told to become self sufficent, essentilly to starve. The Japanese packed such large numbers of soldiers on various islands that there was no way they could grow their own food, even if they became full time farmers. Still they did not surrender. Island campaigns commonly ended with suisidal Banzai charges rather than surrender. Soldiers including the walking wounded charged into American positions. This might work in China, but not aginst the Americans armed with modern automtic weapons, tanks, and artillery. And the spirit which imbuded the Japanese soldier also was felt by many civilians which the military incouraged to also resist the advancing Allied forces and ultimately if they failed to commit suiside. This included women and children. American Marines fotst encountered this on Saiplan (June 1944). The Japanese fighting spirit was based on the Way of the Samurai an the Bushido Code. It was the spirit behind the Kamikazee in the final year of the War. Very few Japanese soldiers questioned it. There were more Japanese surrendering in the final major battle of the War (Okinawa), but still only a small fraction of the island's garrison.

Importance

Few World War II soldiers fought with such spirit and devotion, despite the fact that the Japanese soldier was equipped with largely inferior weaponry and supported with inadequate logistics. Japanese military commanders believed that fighting spirit imbued in their soldiers could overcome what ever material inadequcies existed. America's industrial sucess was well known at the time. It was had attracted millions of immigrants from all over the world, including Japa.

Combat Situation

The spirit and devotion of the Japanese soldier was notable not only when they were winning, but when they were losing and certain to die. The Central Pacific campaign began in the Gilberts. On Tarawa there was a garison of some 4,800 soldiders and laborers. Only 17 soldiers were taken alive and several of those because they were too badly woudened to resist. As the War progressed and Japanese fortunes spiraled down, surrounded and starving Japanese grisons throughout the Pacific, refused to surrender. Imperial Army Headquaters were fully aware that their garisons were starving. They were told to become self sufficent, essentially to starve. The Japanese packed such large numbers of soldiers on various islands that there was no way they could grow their own food, even if they became full time farmers. Still they did not surrender. Even near the end of the war on Iwo Jima out of a garrison of some 21,000 men, only 216 prisoners were taken alive-- and many of them were only taken alive because they were too badly injured to resist. Many of those taken prisoner had to be tied down when they began to recover so they would not kill themselves. Almost all saw surrender as shameful. Japanese soldiers simply refused to surrender.

Banzai Charges

Island campaigns commonly ended with suisidal Banzai charges, never a surrender. At first these were mass wave attacks with banyonerts to take important poitions and part of Japanese Army doctrine. They were used extensively in China. And with a poorly duisplined army without heavy weapons, the Banzai charge oftren worked. With the outbreak of the Pacific war, the Japanese attempted this tactic on Guadalcanal. A primary example was the Battle of the Tenaru River/Aligator Creek (August 1942)). It was a blood bath. Spme 1,000 Japanese soldiers charged prepared positions supported by machine guns amd light artillery. Very few survivd including the veteran commander, Col Kiyonao Ichiki. (He was to lead the Midway incvasion force.) Col Ichiki doubted the fighting spirit of the Marines and paid the pruce. Learming nothing from the slaughter another Japanese unit was devestated at the Battle of Edson's (Bloody) Ridgen (September 1942). These assaults proved a disaster and were the primary reason that the Japanese despite naval and air superiority failed to retake the island. After Guadalcanal the Japanese no longer dioubted the fighting spirit of the Americans. As American forces went on the offensive, the Japanese in the final stage of the various island campaigns continued to stage frenzied Banzai charges. The nature of the attacks, however, changed. On Guadalcanal they were mass wave attacks to achieve victory. After Guadalcanal they became more commonly the kas despeate attack of a largely defeated force determined not to surrender. Soldiers including the walking wounded and men without rilels charged headlong into American positions. This worked in China, but not aginst the Americans armed with modern automtic weapons, tanks, and artillery. Japanese commanders after Tarawa (November 1943) no longer expected to survive an American invasion and openly told their men that they would not survive. They told them that their duty was to take as many Americans with them as posible. After 2 years of war, the Japanes continued the pactce. A massive Banzai Attack occurred on Saipan (July 1944). Actually these charges resulted in such heavy Japanese losses tht they probably saved many American lives. It would have been more difficult and costly to disloge Japnese solduers from well-fortofied positions.

Saipan: Civilians

The Bushido Code was for medieval Sanurai warriors. The common people during the medieval period were under no compulsion to follow the code or to commit suicide. It was for their betters. This gradually changed after the Meiji Restoration and the Bushido Code became intertwined with Japanese nationalism. Thu the spirit which imbuded the Japanese soldier also was felt by many civilians. And if the civilians were not prepared to also resist the advancing Allied forces or ultimately if they failed to commit suicide as was expected by soldiers. And this included women and children. Shocked American Marines first encountered this on Saipan (June 1944). This was the first time in the Japanese Empires many wars, when a Japanese population was overrun by foreign forces. Some civilians had to be forced to commit suiside or were actually killed by Japanese soldiers. But many did so willingly after being told that the Americans would subject then to terrible tortures.

Samurai

A Samurail was a kind of Japanese knight. Medieval Japanese society was a feudal society much like medieval Europe, although the country was unifoed under one national leadership. There were many similarities such as extreme loyalty to the feudal lord, fighting skill, and honor unto death. One major difference was suicide. This was prohibited by the Christian church. Feudalism was knighthood (except as an honorific) was destroyed in Europe by a combination of the Renisssance, Reformtion, and the Enlightenment along with the related developmnts, capitalism and democrcy. None of this occurred in Japan which remained a feudal sociery at the time of the arrival of Commodore Perry and the Black Ships (1853). This set in motion a modernization process, but at the time of World War II was still in many ways a feudal society with much of the land owned by a landed aristocracy. The Meiji Restoration occured (1868). There were awide range of reforms. One of those reforms was aimed at the traditional rights and privileges of the Samurai class. The Meiji Resoration meant that that there were many unemployed Samurai. It might be recalled in Europe that one rwason Pope Urban launced the Crusades was to occupy many unemployed knights. There was no such war for unemployed Samurai. And the Meiji Government gave considerable attention to the former Samura. Their privliges were reduced or ended. The Samurai were renamed the Shizoku and the once-proud Samurai class officially ceased to exist. Members of the Samurai class and those who claimed Samurai status were categorized as either Shizoku or Sotsuzoku (1869). The Meiji Governmen then recatogorized the Sotsuzoku, former Samurai, as Shizoku or as Seimin meaning commoners (1872). The word Shizoku, thus came to mean a former Samurai. This was not a small group. Some 3 million Japanese men fell into this category. As the Meiji reforms continued, The Shizoku saw many of their traditional priliges reduced or ended. [Hunter] The prestigious right to carry swords was abolished. This was both a matter of status and public order. The Meoji Government instituted conscription for the Imperial Japanese Army, pening the miltary to all classes. The traditional stipends payed to Samurai were replaced with Government bonds. This all undermined the traditionally privileged position of the Samurai. Some former Smurai or Shizoku, however, came to play an imprtnt role in the social, political, and economic life of Meiji Japan. The Sanurai as a class ceased to exist (1914). The individul's class ceased to be officially recorded. It became a matter of family heritage rther than any kind of privileged position in Japanese society. The Meiji Restoration was a period of rapid change to a still very traditional society. There were discorders, even rebellions stemming from the Samurai/Shizoku c class. The peasant class was also not quiet. The most important such outbreak was Satsuma Rebellion (1877). Another imprtant Meiji reform was the formal creation of the Imperial Japanese Army (1871). Some 10,000 men drawn from the feudal armies, most former Samurai or Ashigaru (professional foot soldiers employed by Samurai). This first force became the Imperial Guard (Konoe). Yamagata Aritomo vice minister of military affairs and the first commander. Yamagata was a member of a prestigiou Samurai family from the Choshu domain. The first commander of the Imperial Guard, Saigo Takamori, was another former Samurai from the Satsuma domain. (He would lead the Satsuma Rebellion). The Imperial Japanese Army was thus from the very beginning heavily influenced by the Samurai. And theeir are many examples of Japanese world War II commanders who came from Samurai families. One of the most notable was Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the Japanese commannder on Iwo Jima, who came from a minor Samurai family. Few Marines on Iwo would question the asertion that they fought a modern Samurai in the terrible blood letting that Iwo became. The aspect of all of this was the degree to which thecSamurai spirit and ethosasmprinted on the millions of commoners making up the Imperial Japanese Army.

The Bushido Code

Bushidō (武士道) literally means 'the way of the warrior'. It was esentially the Samurai code, roughly analogous to the medieval European concept of chivalry. Like the European Christian the Japanese Shinto Samurai had a code to live up to. It is quite striking the many similarities between these codes. The term comes from bushi (warrior) class of medieval Japan. The Meiji Restoration began a major attempt to modernize still medieval Japan (1868). And while one of those efforts was to dismantle the Samurai class, the principles of Bushido came to be the fundamental basis of ethical training for the the modernizing Japanese society, The Mwiji Emperor replaced the feudal daimyo (lord)as the focus of loyalty and sacrifice for the Japanese people. Bushido contributed to the rise of extreme Japanese nationalism following the Meiji Restoration. The Busido Code became the core of the phemonomenal martial spirit exhibited by the Japanese military during World War II. The Bushido spirit was a code for Samurai. The militarists with the advent of the War, demanded that the cicilian population also adopt the Bushido Code. Milirary officers assigned to schools preached it to the children. After the War, instruction in Bushido was abandoned in Japan's demilitarized, democratic society.

Kamilazees

The Japanese fighting spirit was based on the Way of the Samurai an the Bushido Code. It was the spirit behind the Kamikazee pilots in the final year of the War. Very few Japanese soldiers questioned it and their was no shortage of volunteers. Kamikaze means Divine Wind. It refers to the Mongol invasion of 1281. The Mongol Emperor of China was Kublan Kahn introduced to the West by Marco Polo. China at the time wa the most poweful country in the world Mongul armies had conquered China and then swept all opponents and pushed into the Middle East and Eastern Europe. When the Japanese Shoigun refused to pay homage to the Mongol Emperor, Kubla Khan launced a massice invassion in 1281. The invasion fleet was made up of 4,200 ships and 142,000 men--larger than the D-Day invasion at Normandy. It was, however, destroyed by a typhoon which the Japanese came to call the divine wind. This became the foundation of a holy myth, buttressed in the next century by a Samari General Kusunoke who launched the hopeless battle of Minatagowi at the order of the Japanese Emperor. As a result, his obedience and sacrifice came to be lionized in Japan and a holy natianal myth was built around him. His life was seen as the basis for the Kamikaze campaign. And inded the letters, diaries, and poems of the Kamikaze pilots wre filled with references to him. Interestingly, the Kamikaze was not conceived by the Japanese General Staff. Rather it was a tactic demanded by junior officers who saw that they could not match the rising power of American air and naval power. Only reluctantly did the Generl Staff adopt the tactic. Junior naval officers wrote to the General Staff in their own bold demanding that Kamikaze units and operations be employed. Admiral Onishi, a naval aviator, was the driving force behind the Kamikaze pilot attacks. Kamikaze attacks had resulted from individual acts of Japanese pilots. After the loss of the Philippines, however, it was adopt as a major defense policy. It was central to the Japanese effort to defend Okinawa and to fend off the impending American invasion.

Okinawa: Civilians

There were more Japanese surrendering in the final major battle of the War (Okinawa), but still only a small fraction of the island's garrison. Okinawa was the bloodiest campaign of the Pacific War. And it was especially notable for the number of Japanese civilians involved. There were small numbers of Japanese cicilians on Saopan. Okinawa was a part of Japan and thus the civilian population was Japanese nationls although Okinawans were not ethnic Japanese. The civilan casualties were enormous, om prt because of the fighting, but even more so because the Japanese military incouraged civilins to commit suiside, spreading rumors of terrible atrocities that the Amricans would commot. Often the Japanese soldiers forced civilians to commit suicide and even killed them if they refused to do so.

Ketsugo

The Emperor and the Japanese military were determined to resist. The military conveived the strategy of Ketsugo (April 1945). This was part of the overall strategy of bleeding the Americans to force a negoytiated 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 civilns to actively resist an American invasion. The plan included training children, boys as well as girls, to fight with improvised weapns. 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. 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 that 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

Hunter, J. Concise Dictionary of Modern Japanese History (University of California Press).







CIH - WW II








Navigate the CIH World ar II Section:
[Return to Main Japanese Imprial Army page]
[Return to Main Japanese road to World War II page]
[Return to Main Japanese World War II page]
[Return to Main World War II Pacific campaign page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]




Created: 2:01 AM 6/26/2016
Last updated: 4:20 PM 6/16/2024