I should not be shocked at this story but I am. As a student of World War II and the Pacific Theatre I have already learned of Japanese atrocities. Unit 731 in China has been written about extensively. The murder, by the Japanese navy, of the crew of USS Edsall in 1942. After the resounding defeat of the First Air Fleet at Midway, the Imperial Japanese Navy killed and tossed overboard a captured aviator from USS Yorktown. The massacre of US civilian contractors on Wake Island was another atrocity. The herding of American prisoners into a bunker on Palawan and the bunker then being set afire was yet another.
Iris Cheng, in her book The Rape of Nanking, talks about the brutality Japanese soldiers were subjected to by their superiors and how this was transferred to those under these soldiers’ control – prisoners and civilian captives. She calls this “the transfer of oppression.”
“Using Orwellian language, the routine striking of Japanese soldiers , or bentatsu, was termed an ‘act of love’ by the officers, and the violent discipline of the Japanese navy through tekken seisai, or ‘the iron fist,’ was often called ai-no-muchi, or ‘whip of love.’ Pg 217”
In Prisoners of the Japanese we read “It was the same in the Philippines; it was eerie to set down at the Manila international airport and know it was on top of Nichols Field, where one of the unluckiest details on earth had to slave for The White Angel, a homicidal dandy who killed with his own hands. Pg 391”
The first real evidence of what the Japanese were doing to Allied military prisoners came when American submarines attacked a Japanese convoy, sinking several ships. These submarines then swept through the wreckage and found to their horror amidst the debris Allied POWs who were being transported to Japan to be used as slave labor. The rescue submarines were Barb, Sealion, Pampanito, and Queenfish. It was from the interrogation of these prisoners, both British and Australian, that the true story emerged. As in Return from the River Kwai relates, “Tufnell compiled a very long classified report to the Admiralty in London and to the Royal Australian Navy in Australia. His report landed like a bomb in both countries. … Civilian and military authorities who were cleared to read the report were outraged. Pg 278-279”
In Thailand where the mythical Bridge on the River Kwai exists the story is much the same, this time civilian locals impressed into the building project. Again from Prisoners of the Japanese we find this. “In 1990, a Thai who lived at Kanchanaburi started having bad dreams. He saw bodies in mass graves, and ghosts haunted him, begging him to help them. Near the railroad track bodies were found, close to the surface, hundreds of skeletons, some tied with wire, some in contortions as if they had been buried alive, one crouching with hands stretched up, trying to climb out. They were romusha. Pg 393”
So it takes a bit to shock me when reading about Japanese atrocities in World War II. Mindanao in the southern Philippines was a hotbed of guerilla activity against the Japanese. The man leading it was Army Lt. Col. Wendell Fertig who had refused to surrender when Gen. Wainwright formally surrendered all American and Filipino forces to the Japanese in early 1942. For the next three years Fertig’s forces harried and fought the Japanese. It is against this backdrop this story must be set. All of Mindanao was against the Japanese and Japanese actions further re-enforced that hostility, like the using of prisoners to test the quality of swords. Many of the samurai swords taken from bodies of dead Japanese officers in WWII were mass-produced ones, it was meant to be a symbol they were still following the samurai way of Bushido, hence Makino’s comment about them being rusty and not being able to cut. Which for a samurai should have been deeply disturbing since the katana represents the soul of a samurai. I am appalled at how Makino participated in the vivisection of civilian prisoners to learn about anatomy in case the doctor was killed. But when we look at the culture Makino was raised in and indoctrinated in, Makino became yet another instrument of torture and evil. While I am appalled at his actions, I am also heartened by what Makino did after the war. His attempts to make amends, to make restitution for all the evil he did. Now that he has admitted to these crimes and taken responsibility, it is like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders and now he must tell the world of what he did. Should he now be punished for events that occurred 60 years ago? At this point would it serve justice or vengeance to charge him? All I am sure of is this, the world needs to be reminded constantly of what evil men can do and why we should strive with all our might to prevent those crimes from happening again.