(WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 – continued)

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WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 (4 of 8)

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Japan Faces Defeat in 1943

By early 1943, the tide in Europe had turned. The Germans had lost in North Africa and the chances of Japan linking up to the Germans via the Indian Ocean were ending. In the Pacific, Japan was now facing difficulty in supplying its more distant holdings. The battle for domination of the Pacific turned worse for the Japanese in early March, when much of Japan's navy was destroyed in the Bismarck Sea. And Allied submarines, most but not all of them American, began a substantial increase in successful attacks on Japanese shipping.

The Americans decoded a message describing a visit planned by Admiral Yamamoto to the Japanese airbase at Bougainville in the Solomons. US military commanders were reluctant to order his assassination, but orders arrived from Washington, and on April 18 Yamamoto's airplane was intercepted and shot down, killing him. Japan went into mourning. Even in Singapore, people were ordered to mourn for one day.

In early May, US forces landed at Attu in the Aleutian Islands. Bitter fighting there lasted through the month, ending in defeat for the Japanese. In July, the Japanese thought it best to evacuate their 5,000 troops from Kiska.

In November, US, Australian and New Zealand forces landed at Bougainville, an island just north of the Solomons. And in the Gilbert Islands troops were landed at Makin and the more heavily defended coral atoll, Tarawa. These amphibious landings in the Gilberts were supported by a huge armada of ships now possible as a result of both US production and a drop in Germany's threat in the Atlantic. On Tarawa 1,300 Marines were killed and over 2,000 wounded overcoming a force of around 4,500 Japanese. Lessons in technique were learned from the Battle of Tarawa that were applied in a drive north against the Japanese in the Marshall Islands, where air and naval bombardments made landings easier.

The Military Harkens to the Zen Tradition of the Samurai

For the public, the Japanese government was exaggerating its military successes and minimizing its defeats, leaving the Japanese nation believing that their nation was winning the war. But the public was becoming suspicious. And, sensing trouble, the government began seeking a deeper spirituality from the people.

Meanwhile, Tojo's critic, Seigo Nakano, remained under house arrest. Pursuing a different kind of spirituality, on October 27 he committed ritual suicide.

In December 1943, Prime Minister Tojo promoted spirit in a speech to students by describing combat as a fight of the spirit of one side against the spirit of the other side. He said that guns were only advanced technology but that one could fight without them.

The government forbade the showing of American and British films. German and French films were allowed, but, to preserve the wartime spirit, love scenes in these movies were cut – love-making an indulgence opposite the spirit needed in war-making. Also censored were some Japanese songs with lyrics that were close to suggestive. The government forbade "enemy music," including jazz. But some big city tea and coffee shops continued to play some jazz after they discovered that the police could not distinguish between it and classical music. Then in 1944 the government banned baseball, electric guitars, the banjo and ukulele.

Textbooks and newspapers vilified the enemy. Newspapers continued the description of Americans as depraved, degenerate, corrupt, and Americans were now described also as inhumane. School posters read, "Kill the American devils!" Students simulated bayonet charges against images of Roosevelt and Churchill.

But the Japanese were still tolerant of the Jewish refugees they had accepted years before – refugees that made up the one orchestra that played classical music in Japan, whose concerts German officers in Japan attended. Japan was flooded with anti-Semitic literature, which had some influence on Japanese opinion. But during the war a Jewish center in Japan received only one hostile telephone call.


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