war flowed seamlessly in a line of time from the days of 'Parlor
Pinks" and persecution of the Scottsboro Boys; of a "radio
priest" oozing hatred; of a handful of idle and gussied rich
flaunting wealth and flouting the tenets of generosity while a quarter
of a nation went starving.
They went to war
still singed by the sight of people collapsing of hunger. Seared by
visions of the dignity of labor reduced to the mockery of idleness.
They went to war with no grand or
flag-waving illusions to blind them. They were risking their lives by feeding themselves
into a giant, impersonal and macerating maw -- to preserve the worst system ever known.
"Except for all the others."
They knew, full
well, they were submitting themselves to a merciless system profiting
handsomely on their valor: Shortly before the war, elevated train tracks
were stripped from New York's Sixth Avenue. The scrap steel was sold to
an already-aggressive Imperial Japan. Laborers at the demolition
ruefully predicted, "We'll buy it back at 21 bucks a month" --
the base pay of an Army private.
"Mile Long" Barracks
TThey knew where
the steel was going. And they knew its eventual target. Their foresight
was soon home out. The Sixth Avenue "El" returned -- right on
schedule, arriving at stations in the infernos of beaches and jungles
with unpronounceable names and battles of unspeakable ferocity.
They went because they had to. they
went because the job needed doing. The purpose was clear and the alternatives few. they
went reluctantly, caustically; and not even all of them -- some evaded, some refused, some
sought "safe" duty and some dissolved in the face of battle. those who went
rooted themselves in something identifiably and persistently American.
The feeling that in
them was vouchsafed "the last best hope" of humanity on earth.
For some of us, there was a difference; a
hesitation. We had no pictures of Dad at the Eiffel Tower in the autumn of 1944; nor could
we revisit with our fathers the pub in East Anglia where they whiled the hours between
missions, neither could we seek out for him the family he had befriended when he was on
garrison duty in Italy.
The War Of
Our Fathers was waged at the end of the Earth -- we could not visit
-- even today -- it was war on a dot at the end of a string of specks in
the mapmakers' blue Pacific. Who had heard of Attu? Eniwetok (Any-wee-tok)?
Or the Marshalls, Gilberts, or Saipan, or its junior twin: Tinian?
Who had heard of
Tinian? Good Lord! We never heard of Tinian, yet how many places could
be more important in the annals of recorded time than Tinian?
If Cape Canaveral
is revered, then Tinian is hallowed. It too was a launch pad; for the
Enola Gay and Bock's Car. From its runways, nuclear destruction took
For better or ill,
Tinian is a hallowed place.
too, then is Unimak -- American soil invaded by the Empire of Japan. And
so too is Okinawa, where 12,281 Americans died in two months, in
preparation for the holocaust of an invasion of Japan's "home
And we must observe, too, the
sanctity of Tarawa, "Bloody Tarawa." Where more than 3,000 fell to make
"secure" an island half the size of New York's Central Park.
and pray for the fallen on the infernally black sands of Iwo Jima --
taken to provide fighter plane bases for the bombers on Saipan and
Tinian. Light candles if you will, to the reluctant heroism of them all.
If Gettysburg is hallowed ground, then surely the Divine rested in these
places, too, to give meaning to the War Of Our Fathers; our
fathers, who we know all too well to be ordinary men.T
the peak of their power, the Ancient Romans boasted of the Mediterranean as Mare Nostrum,
"Our Sea." In truth, it was. The Caesars imposed the Pax Romanus on the known
Yet this pales beside the epic
reaches of Japan's empire at its zenith. A fifth of the Earth was under the sword of the
Emperor; very nearly, the world's greatest ocean was their mare nostrum. They called their
regnum the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
The power of the Chrysanthemum Throne
seemed invincible as 1942 glided onto a cautious America and an already-weary Great
Britain. Japan's forces seemed able to spring upon comers of the world simultaneously.
From China and the edges of the Indian sub-continent to Australia, Indo-China (later,
Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos), Alaska and the Hawaiian archipelago. Troops stormed the
Philippines; made a surprise attack on Singapore, through "impregnable" jungle;
overwhelmed Hong Kong and swept into Burma.
And -- instructed by successes in the
canvassed pages of Japanese military history -- executed a daring, successful and flawless
sneak attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Ironically, if one asks a Japanese
today about December 7, 1941, a "date that will live in infamy" and the memory
of astute schoolchildren, the only likely rejoinder is a blank look. The date, in Japan,
for the beginning of what is now called "The Disaster" was December 8 -- a
The beginnings of "Pearl
Harbor" however, long precede the establishment of the International Date Line. Japan
has been long ill-served by a nationalistic and parochial elite.
For nearly three
centuries, the Tokugawa Shogunate (ruling war lords) kept Japan sealed
from the wider world. The only foreigners (literally, in Japanese,
gai-jin, foreign or strange ones) were confined to small trading
When the American
"black ships", eructing fire and vapor like harbinger comets,
arrived off Japan's shores in 1853, modernity began with a tumult. The
myth of Japanese racial and cultural "purity" and superiority
struck dissonances as it clanged against the technology and
"sophistication" of the West.
Japan would not soon be left behind
again. The people studied, learned and grew their nation. Respect for the Emperor --
waning under the shoguns -- was restored and embellished as a unifying force; a divine
Already alarmed, the American
Secretary of State, John Hay, in 1899 proclaimed the "Open Door" policy when
became a cornerstone of this country's foreign relations. The East was to be a marketplace
for all; a free-wheeling nexus of commerce.
The policy seemed sensible to an
America suckled on the West's historic fascination with Cathay; the land of Marco Polo,
China. America was "discovered" by Columbus' ostensible quest for the shortest
route to the land of ruby-cored mountains.
From the earliest
days of the republic, Salem ships sailed for the Orient. Lovely
teak-crafted clippers, like the Cutty Sark, sped tea to the New World.
In Hay's own lifetime, the intrepid defied the ice floes in search of a
Northwest Passage, that East might more quickly meet West.
A ripening and increasingly fearsome
Japan saw the East as the domain of Asians. Prompted by victories over the Russians in
1905; by its unassailed and savage dominion over Korea and its estate among the victorious
allies, Japan's power grew unchallenged. The Empire needed markets, raw materials and
sheer space -- the Germans called it a need for "lebensraum" -- to expand beyond
a constrained, resource-poor home archipelago.
Willing to use
assassination to accelerate their ascent, the militarists staged the
1931 "Manchurian Incident" and seized power there. China was
the ultimate prize. In 1937, Beijing and other cities were seized. The
next year, Japanese troops ran riot in the "Rape of Nanking. "
The world uttered no more protest than it did a year earlier, at the
destruction of Guernica. Modern warfare was sparking upon the unprepared
And yet, the world had been warned.
Even before Cassandra-like tocsins of Hitler's ascent were scorned, the early knells of
Japan's bellicosity were already being met with punishment. That was the fate of America's
most famous Prophet Without Honor.
The exact charges
were couched in the legalese and officious ink-and-seals of military
code, but history has come to judge harshly the officers court-martialing
a fellow general, Billy Mitchell.
Embarrassing his purported superiors, by showing the vulnerability of
dreadnoughts to airpower -- and the meager airpower of spindly bi-planes
and crudely-aimed bombs. A hero of World War I aviation, Mitchell made a
spectacle of sinking captured German battleships. He forewarned the
Japanese would attack 'one fine Sunday morning' and publicly criticized
the air defenses of Hawaii.
At his 1925 trial, Mitchell foresaw
that war in the Pacific would be waged from land base to land base, mounted by armies
under cover of superior air forces. Is it possible that even then someone produced the
phrase that would ring throughout the Pacific war: "Island hopping." It meant
by-passing enemy garrisons, of as many as 100,000 men, to let them wither without hope of
re-supply or evacuation.
Lateral N, Malinta Tunnel
may have taken note of Mitchell's too-early wisdom, but not before he
was convicted and drummed from his beloved corps. His martyrdom was
sealed but the vote was not unanimous. No one is certain as to which of
the judges voted to acquit, but many -- then and now -- believe the sole
exonerating ballot was cast by a valiant friend of Billy Mitchell; a
vainglorious student of history and the mistakes of himself as well as
others, a lackluster officer recently promoted to major general after
his politically-bracketed mother's intervention: Douglas MacArthur.
for his well-witnessed and genuine valor under fire in France in the
first world war, MacArthur commanded the garrison in the Philippines
when the Japanese forces struck. It was less, much less, than his finest
hour. He allowed his airpower to be caught on the ground and destroyed
by the Japanese. Invading forces -- in some places weaker than his own
-- consolidated and exploited the Allies's retreat to pockets on the
fortress of Corregidor and in the Bataan Peninsula.
MacArthur, thought too
valuable to abandon to enemy capture, was ordered to depart his embattled headquarters on
Corregidor by President Roosevelt. On February 23, the general and his entourage were
spirited from the fortress by PT boats. Arriving later in Australia, MacArthur -- speaking
out of bravado as much as conviction -- surveyed the reeling advance of the Japanese
Empire and pronounced his famous vow to his beloved Filipinos: "I shall return."
Prussian general von Clausewitz dictates that the objective in war is to
destroy the enemy's army. True enough and on its face, eminently
however, wrote of an era of professional armies obsessed with perfecting
flanking maneuvers. He chanced to precede the era of Total War.
More than politics or diplomacy by
another means, war in our century became a kind of grisly economics. Two, or more, nations
in a cataclysmic collision of resources. Peoples and resources laying waste to another's
homes and populations until a surrender of the exhausted.
Some in Japan knew and understood.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a tactic of another century: It only sought to destroy an
enemy's striking arm. It did not lay waste his will or means.
it was the architect of the attack, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who
perceived unfailingly of his folly. A former attache in Washington, he
had a grasp of America; seen the vastness of its reaches and its potency
even in slumber. For six months, he predicted to those with whom he
dared share notions of defeat, he would run wild. Then would come
Japan's penance. ome may have taken note of Mitchell's too-early wisdom,
but not before he was convicted and drummed from his beloved corps. His
martyrdom was sealed but the vote was not unanimous. No one is certain
as to which of the judges voted to acquit, but many -- then and now --
believe the sole exonerating ballot was cast by a valiant friend of
Billy Mitchell; a vainglorious student of history and the mistakes of
himself as well as others, a lackluster officer recently promoted to
major general after his politically-bracketed mother's intervention:
Returning to their carriers, flush
from the attack, mission commanders recommended additional strikes at Pearl Harbor. They
were overruled by admirals satisfied that they had executed their plans and followed their
And thus were spared the fuel
reserves, repair shops and submarine pens at America's vital mid-Pacific station. A later
raid -- or a more strategic first attack -- may have extended the war by a year, or forced
a negotiated peace.
Instead, an aroused though unprepared
nation snarled its rage and defiance.
The youth of the nation began to
stream into recruiting stations; a nation under the paternal hand of a President in office
for nearly nine years stirred. Unschooled and unprepared, America returned to war.
A French journalist interned in Tokyo
for the duration of the conflict wrote that before the end of 1942, Japan's leadership
knew their cause was essentially lost. The words gave a chilling and stunning effect when
recounted to veterans.
Not only would three full years of
apocalyptic slaughter lay ahead, but the Allied cause seemed in grievous doubt.
To the International Date Line and
sometimes beyond, Japanese forces roamed at seeming will: Dutch Harbor, Alaska was bombed.
Explosives rained on Darwin, Australia. Japanese submarines surfaced off California, to
impudently Job shells.
Japanese forces strode most of New
Guinea, which sits like a mantle over Australia's populous Eastern coast. From airbases in
the Solomon Islands, guarding the sea lanes to the Island Continent, they threatened to
strangle a vital ally.
Battles at sea were
sometimes claimed as triumphs, and, in truth the Imperial advance was
halted at Midway and near the Coral Sea. But the victories were more in
the tradition of Pyrrhus than David Farragut and the Japanese savaging
of the U.S. Navy off Savo Island was its worst trouncing in a fair fight
since John Paul Jones.
Hampered by defective torpedoes -- a
problem not corrected until 1944 -- and a surfeit of timid captains, losses in the
American submarine fleet were frightening. A tiny service which came to play a mammoth
role in the strangling of Japan's supply lines; the undersea mariners paid the war's
highest price among all the Allies' forces. One in 10 is "still on patrol."
With whatever forces they could
muster, the Allies -- led by Americans and Australians -- fought back. No, they clawed
In New Guinea, the
Diggers -- Australians -- carved a 4,000-step staircase in the Owen
Stanley Mountains -- and focused the world's attention on a hellacious
path, soused in blood and bodies, the Kokoda Trail.
Americans waded into the Solomon
Islands; spearheaded by Marines, supported by the air and naval units that could be spared
or that survived. From August 1942 to February 1943, a gasp of Liberty's breath abated.
The islands had to be taken to keep Australia secure. The one with the major airstrip was
most important: Guadalcanal.
It was on Guadalcanal that the name
"Bloody Ridge" passed onto a scroll begun at Lexington. It was also probably on
Guadalcanal that stranded, obdurate Marines began using the Chinese expression for
"pull together" and made it a battle cry. "Gung ho."
From the west, British, Chinese and
Indian troops pressed the borders of the Empire. Burma refused to surrender. Supplies were
trucked by the legendary Burma Road to China or flown "over the Hump" of the
Himalayas to a Chinese army supported by American advisors.
Total war with Japan meant crippling
the enemy's industrial base. Short of invasion that was the task of bombers -- especially
the new, long-range, heavy-duty B-29. Plans were made for the B-29's to fly across the
East China Sea and southern Sea of Japan and pummel factories, piers, fuel tanks and rail
chaotic and the logistics of supplying bases there proved
insurmountable. The planners arrows began to focus on the Marianas --
Saipan, Tinian and Guam are the largest.
In late-1942 or early-1943, however,
the Marianas were far beyond Allied reach, the Japanese would have to be beaten back
across the Pacific. As submarines -- still hampered by torpedoes Navy brass refused to
admit were defective -- began unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan.
Under MacArthur's direction, the
defending forces were split in stifling Japan's supply lines. Tankers, supply ships, even
capital warships were unremittingly sent to the bottom.
Confounded by superior Japanese
aircraft and the skill of Imperial pilots wizened by battle in China, American aviators
gradually gained experience, acumen and equipment.
The tactics of amphibious warfare
still needed honing. Mindful of the wisdom of Billy Mitchell, MacArthur sought air cover
for each leg of the island-hopping advance. The Gilbert Islands were next.
amphibious battle, perhaps the worst battle, was to be Tarawa.
Inexperienced, ill-advised, or still fired by the bravado that lead them
to charge machine guns in World War I's Belleau Wood, the Marines
ignored the advice of native Chamorros and attacked the main island of
Tarawa Atoll -- a coral hummock called Betio -- at low tide. The shock
troops had to wade, swim, stumble, bleed, 700 yards to the beach under
Tarawa" -- really, Betio, just half a square mile -- cost the
American forces 900 dead; 3,300 casualties in all. The Japanese lost
"Body counts" were not
invented in Vietnam. Casualty ratios of nearly 1:1 brought the Marines under Congressional
but the blood still drained from the American forces. Kwajalein and
Eniwetok were the next "stops" in the eastward advance. Each
exacted a price on the roll to the Marianas.
The Northern Entrance of Malinta Tunnel
the largest island -- but still only three times the size of Manhattan
-- was invaded just nine days after D-Day. Casualties are hard and
loathsome to compare, but Marines who lead the assault boast their
losses were worse than Omaha Beach. While "mopping up"
continued -- the term was resented by Army troops who had the dirty task
of hunting down snipers and pockets of resistance one-by-one -- work
began immediately on what was to become Isley Field. Amid sniper fire,
Army Air Corps troops began cutting cane and readying for the bombers.
Japan, the mastermind of this war, Hideki Tojo, resigned as Prime
Minister. The safety of the home islands could no longer be assured. On
November 24, 1944, B-29's flew from Saipan to Tokyo. The raids --
including a March 1945 night of terror that claimed more lives than
either atomic bomb -- continued unabated until the surrender.
Just over a month before, on October
20, 1944, MacArthur waded ashore at Leyte -- actually, several times for the benefit of
photographers. Somewhere in the rush of what would come to be called "visuals"
he got off what would come to be called a "sound bite:" "People of the
Philippines, I have returned. "
Ordinary Gl's were
not thrilled to help MacArthur make good on his 1942 promise. Manila
gave them their only experience in the kind of house-to-house fighting
familiar in the European Theater of Operations. And MacArthur spent nine
months clearing all the major Philippine islands of Japanese troop
concentrations -- his only deviation from the strategy of by-passing
enemy garrisons when possible.
Though MacArthur was already ashore
at Leyte, the Japanese were determined against allowing the Empire to be cleaved in two:
They sent the balance of their navy to isolate the landing force, deprive it of
replacements and re-supply. ce
Between October 23
and October 25, a series of naval engagements broke the spine of the
Imperial force and chilled the world with an unspeakable tactic. The
Battle of Leyte Gulf is recorded as the greatest encounter of its kind
in history. World War I's Jutland involved about 250 ships. There were
more than 280 at Leyte, with 187,000 sailors and hundreds of airplanes.
A Navy that began the war by sinking
two of Britain's proudest capital ships in one day, was now settling on the bottom. A
total of 28 ships -- carriers, battleships, cruisers and destroyers -- were sunk in the
Volunteer fliers, however, brought a
new, desperate tactic into the war. Named for the "divine wind" that destroyed a
Mongol invasion fleet in 1215, they were the kamikaze.
As pressure on the home islands -- by
submarines, bombers and the threat of invasion -- mounted, resistance became all-the-more
to Saipan and Tinian, however, needed a way station in the trackless
Pacific. Also, fighter planes, lacking the range of the lumbering
bombers, could not fly escort over Tokyo.
Draw a straight
line from Saipan to Tokyo and it will cross the Bonin Islands. Iwo Jima
was invaded on February 19, 1945. It was the crucible of the U.S. Marine
Corps, its time on the cross. All the more so because the
globe-and-anchor was being worn by draftees; through most of the war the
Corps' billets were barred to conscripts. The draftees were dubbed
The Marines suffered 5,885 dead and
17,272 wounded. There were 20,000 Japanese troops on the island. Congress was silent on
casualty ratios this time: Iwo had to be taken. This time there were no alternatives.
Nor was there
anything like the battle fought by John Wayne. The black sands of Iwo
Jima bear little resemblance to the balmy precincts of Catalina Island,
where the movie was filmed. Even Joe Rosenthal's celebrated photograph
of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi is mute testimony to the
awfulness of the fighting. Three of the six men in the picture died in
the battle. Issuing a line probably penned for him, to buck up flagging
morale at home, the commander of the invasion force, Adm. Chester Nimitz
intoned: "Uncommon valor was a common virtue. "
The gallantry's only reward was the
call for renewed sacrifice. In anticipation of the invasion of Japan, the garrison on
Okinawa would have to be neutralized. Note well the dates: The battle was fought from
April to June, 1945. Japan fought on unabated after Germany surrendered and Italy had
already gone over to the Allied camp.
In the space of that campaign;
200,000 human beings lost their lives. Of them 12,281 were American,
including the invasion commander, Gen. Simon Buckner. In one two-day
offensive alone, kamika-zes and bombers killed 628 sailors.
is a saying that anyone will crack under the strain of combat; it's only
a matter of "when". Okinawa, for many, was "when."
By the end of May, the forces assaulting Okinawa counted more than
14,000 neuro-psychiatric" cases. If there were ever illusions or
schemes for glory, they had been wrung from a battle-weary country.
In August, the
Enola Gay (named for its pilot's mother) and Bock's Car roared off the
runways at North Field on Tinian. The atomic age began and the war was
soon to end. Illness, wounds, trackless scars would start to heal. For
some, there would never again be a time when they felt so active, so
vital, so involved and important as in the three-year span of America's
For most, the job was done and a
homecoming was to be attended to. Like some stranded Japanese garrison, the terrors were
to be sealed off, forgotten, left to wither as time isolated them like some by-passed
This, too, was the War Of Our
Fathers. the other hand, not only looked uncompromising, they were. After about
This page is dedicated to my Father
by Richard Marin
by Richard Marin
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