The Truly Reluctant Admiral Yamamoto – Part X \ Epilogue

“In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” – Admiral Yamamoto to Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoe.

One of the Doolittle bombers taking off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, April 18, 1942. US Navy.

The date of Admiral Yamamoto’s death was ironic.

Admiral Yamamoto was killed exactly one year after the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942.

It was like an omen.

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The Japanese military and government did not disclose his death for about a month.  When they did, they conducted a grand state funeral.

Here is a link to a Japanese video of his funeral.  At the beginning, it shows the last known movie footage of him on Rabaul, waving to the pilots as they take off to attack Guadalcanal in Operation I boosting morale tremendously.  There is also a glimpse of the only memorial statue of Admiral Yamamoto and a look inside his small home that is now in disrepair.  During the funeral procession, it is very important to note you see Tokyo as it once looked before being leveled. I wonder if my grandparents, mom and aunt were in the crowds:

While his ashes were met in Tokyo by his widow (1), one half of his ashes remained in Tokyo, the other half taken back to his home town of Nagaoka.  There, an unremarkable crypt of about three feet tall entombs one-half of his remains in a small family plot that is visited much more so by history nuts and the curious than by family and relatives.

Admiral Yamamoto’s crypt on a small family plot in Nagaoka.

In a bit of lost history, the funeral procession passed in front of his favorite geisha Chiyoko’s residence.

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Epilogue

Similar to how WWII history has become to being taught here in America (meaning forgotten), Japan had chosen post-war to teach very little of WWII if anything.  Because of this, many Japanese younger than say 55 years of age know very little about the war with America… except for the atomic and fire bombings.

For instance, my second wife and her mother never even heard of Iwo Jima.  When I told them it was an island and part of the Tokyo prefecture, they were in disbelief.  They didn’t even know there was a horrendous battle that took 30,000 young Japanese and American lives.  Imagine that… but “the forgetting” is happening here in America too because of misguided emotional beliefs and attitudes of the teachers and school administrations.

GySgt John Basilone, MOH, N/C was KIA on Iwo Jima on the first day. Source unknown.

Here in America, we have ships, airfields and streets named after heroes.  Aircraft carriers USS Chester Nimitz, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS George H. W. Bush, O’Hare International Airport, or John Basilone Road near Camp Pendleton.

Piece of the wing from Admiral Yamamoto’s Betty bomber in which he died. Source unknown.

Yamamoto has nothing.  He is rarely even mentioned in Japanese textbooks.  There are no ships, airfields or streets named after him.  Just two unassuming crypts and they are rarely visited by offspring or family.  There is a small museum I was able to see back around 2001 soon after it opened during a business trip but it was hard to find.  Even the train conductor whom I asked for directions didn’t even know who Yamamoto was.  He told me to go to the police kiosk and luckily, one of the officers heard of it and gave me directions – about a 15 minute walk.  It does house a piece of the wing that was part of the Betty bomber he was shot down in.  Oh, there is a small statue of him in his hometown near his crypt.

The lack of honorariums is an insult, in my opinion, as he gave his life to a war he knew he couldn’t win.  He was simply loyal to his emperor. I also believe from my civilian’s chair that Yamamoto was one of the greatest prophetic naval minds in history – so much so that Nimitz viewed him as his greatest threat.

In his time, those in the Japanese military who wanted to see him assassinated believed he was “pro-American” or just a cowardly “dove”.  I don’t see it that way.  I believe he was a patriot, loved his country and was the consummate military man wearing the uniform of his country – just like Patton, Ike, and Nimitz.  He simply did what he thought best for his country given his orders and conditions – that the pompous Army-led government wanted a war that Yamamoto knew they could not win.  He therefore believed the only way to achieve this haughty vision of victory against the US and England was to execute a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and disabling the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet.(2)  He may have succeeded if Nagumo had indeed attempted to carry out Yamamoto’s full orders and battle plan.  Nagumo failed to do so.

(Note: As an American, I fully accept that any attack on a country should be preceded by a declaration of war.  However, just as I/we believe a declaration of war is necessary before hostilities, the samurai roots of Japan totally accepted surprise attacks as the norm.  Just a fact.)

…but as a military leader, I feel for him.  He knew Japan could not win.  What was he to do?  Step aside and let others lead the young men to their deaths under less competent leadership?  Or lead them himself into a war they could not win and should not fight?  Of course, he chose the latter and appropriately so.  In my opinion, he should not be condemned because he did.

But it cost him his life.

The man whose name was his samurai father’s age at birth, the man who did handstands to break the thick air and bring laughter, the man who was a winner at gambling around the globe, the man who was nicknamed “Eighty Sen” by geishas… died fighting for the country who would then quickly bury him in their lost history.

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If he was not killed in the daring and risky attack hastily put together by the USAAF, what would have happened to him if he was alive on the day of surrender?

Would he have killed himself?  Many did.  He was the son of a respected samurai.

Or would he have surrendered like General Yamashita did in the Philippines only to be hung shortly thereafter as a war criminal in a hasty trial?

Would MacArthur have spared Yamamoto to be used as a liaison with his understanding of America and his fluent English during the Occupation?  After all, he was revered in Japan as was Ike and Patton here.  That may have been ideal but unlikely due to the immense hatred bred onto him by American propaganda.

We will never know.

Perhaps it was best he died a warrior while leading his troops.

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Footnotes:

(1) In the first video, Admiral Yamamoto’s ashes disembark from the train after its arrival in Tokyo on May 23, 1943.

This second video is the “official” national footage of the state funeral procession.  You can glimpse the infamous General Tojo at about the 3:10 mark and his widow and three children at about the 3:20 mark:

(2) Against Admiral RIchardson’s stern advice to FDR for which he was fired, the US Seventh Fleet was moved out of San Diego to Pearl Harbor by FDR.  Yamamoto, just like Richardson, saw it as a dumb military move.  They were both right.  This is one reason why I firmly believe FDR wanted Japan to attack the US and get us into a war which he campaigned against.

 

 

8 thoughts on “The Truly Reluctant Admiral Yamamoto – Part X \ Epilogue”

  1. As a career naval officer, Yamamoto had a responsibility to fulfill his duty to his country. If he could not do that, owing to his conscience, then he would be obligated to resign his commission (and whatever else might have been a consequence of that). John Kennedy once remarked that a nation must remembered by the way it remembers its veterans. Japan cannot do this, of course, because of its resounding defeat. It prefers to instead pretend that it’s defeat was a great shame … and best forgotten, when in fact the shame was in its sneak attack on 7 Dec 1941. Yamamoto deserves to be remembered … along with every loyal citizen who served the nation. What we cannot say, however, is that these men served their people. The Japanese people did not benefit from Emperor’s horrific folly.

    I commend you on this excellent series. Please continue with an analysis of Hirohito…

    1. Thank you for your thoughts and kind comments, Sir. As for Hirohito, that will be an undertaking as of the few Japanese internet posts I have seen of him use honorifics of which only my dad could have interpreted. However, I will take that as a challenge.

      Neither my dad or my mom could remember when dad moved back to the US… but as a pure guess and based solely on time stamps on some old B&W family photos, the earliest I’ve seen was 1958.

      With that being said, my mom, brother and I returned to Tokyo for the summer of 1966. It was the first time mom had returned, of course. But one of the most vivid sights embedded in my memory was outside of the train station at Shibuya…

      There were about ten maimed men, some still wearing their tattered Japanese military uniforms. I was so young, I cannot guess if they were Army or Navy. They were all crippled from what I remember and all had their heads bowed to the ground. But one man… His upper body rested on what was for all intents and purposes a crate with wheels. His hands were on the cement, arms propping up his upper body. His head was bowed down. Everyone – I mean everyone – walked right past them without even glancing at them. Not one glance. It was worse culturally than us walking by a homeless person. I remember it vividly as if were yesterday.

      I now know it was the shame as you mentioned. I think the country’s attitude towards these likely conscripted men who went to war changed when Onoda emerged from the Philippines jungles in 1974.

      Conscription was a way of life prior to war’s end. Every male – unless physically or mentally unable – got taken and forced to serve. Even my father explained that. “仕方が無い”, he told me when he still had his mental faculties intact. My grandmother’s cousin was taken and dispatched to Manchuria from which he never returned. A Tokyo cousin’s father never returned. My cousin Masako’s father – nearly 40 years old – was conscripted but was taken as prisoner in China somewhere and returned in 1947. And of course, my Seattle-born uncle (Dad’s younger brother) was KIA in the Philippines.

      I feel they HAD to serve due to the misguided government eventually led by Tojo and of course, as you say, Hirohito. Even Princes served. Otherwise, their remaining family members would be shamed which as a very bad thing back then.

      Finally, as you may very well know, even family members shunned those fortunate to have returned after war’s end. Partly because of the suffering they endured, like losses within their own families from bombings or starvation, and partly because these soldiers just came back instead of perishing as millions of other boys did. While my Dad interrogated hundreds of these soldiers being repatriated, he never knew what became of them once they returned home. I am sure many had no home or family to return to especially in those cities that were firebombed.

      I feel these everyday boys did serve their country…but for the losing side.

      All in all, it was a vile war caused by personal and secret agendas and missteps by FDR, Hirohito, Hitler et al. Blame rests on them, I feel.

      Thank you again. I shall endeavor to look into Hirohito, Sir.

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