Watching the Atomic Bomb Blast as a POW Near NagasakiPosted: August 8, 2015
We prisoners know the blasts were necessary to end the war. No Japanese soldier or civilian was preparing to surrender in August 1945.
Lester Tenney writes: What does it mean to fight to the end? In April 1942, it meant fighting until my tank battalion and I were forced to surrender at the Battle of Bataan. For everything else that followed I only fought to survive: the Bataan Death March, brutal transport aboard a “hell ship” to Japan, and slave labor in a Mitsui coal mine.
For my imperial Japanese enemy, in contrast, to fight to the end meant to give his life in a presumably noble and glorious fashion. He would die for the emperor—who ruled by divine right—confident that he would be enshrined with his ancestors for his efforts in defense of a mythic civilization. There could be no surrender and no negotiated peace. Death itself was beautiful, and death alone was honorable.
The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, upended this belief. The bombs showed the Japanese the devastating and ultimately inglorious outcome of their fight. The bombs offered no true opportunity for confrontation and no chance of death with honor; they promised only obliteration.
Like its erstwhile ally Nazi Germany, Japan was fighting an ideological war. A superior race was destined to guide those less graced. Death for the empire earned a blessed afterlife in the emperor-god’s eternal favor. For a loyal subject, surrender was a betrayal of everything that sustained the empire’s system of patriotic values. The only option in the face of certain battlefield defeat was to fight to the death.
Japan tried to keep fighting long after any chance of victory was gone. On the mainland, women, children and the elderly were armed with sharpened bamboo sticks. Beginning in May 1945, schools for disabled children were ordered to organize military units and women ordered to serve in volunteer combat units. Young men were recruited by the hundreds for kamikaze missions aboard wooden gliders or small boats.
The country’s infamous biological-weapons research program was hard at work concocting flea-borne plague agents to float by submarine and balloon toward populated American shores. By the late spring of 1945, some incendiary explosives called fugo had already landed on the West Coast.
On Okinawa during the 82-day battle from early April to mid-June 1945, the Japanese military instructed civilians to fight and die rather than surrender to the advancing U.S. forces. Civilian households, comprised almost entirely of women and children, were given grenades and encouraged to destroy themselves along with any Americans they might encounter. Many did.
In the late spring of 1945, I saw that the cruelty with which we prisoners of war were treated was only increasing. Our guards told us….(read more)
Mr. Tenney served in the 192nd Tank Battalion of the U.S. Army.
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