Mitsuo Fuchida: "From Pearl Harbor to Calvary"

As Donald notes, today is “the day that will live in infamy” — the anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

When I was young, I learned of the story of Captain Mitsuo Fuchida of the Imperial Japanese Navy, famous for leading the first wave of the attack on that fateful day of December 7, 1941. Wounded in the battle of Midway, he spent the rest of his life as staff officer, and was actually in Hiroshima only a day before the bombing (he was saved by a call from Headquarters asking him to return to Tokyo).

What is particularly fascinating about his life, however, is what happened after the war:

After the war, Fuchida was called on to testify at the trials of some of the Japanese military for Japanese war crimes. This infuriated him as he believed this was little more than “victor’s justice”. Convinced that the Americans had treated the Japanese the same way and determined to bring that evidence to the next trial, in the spring of 1947, Fuchida went to Uraga Harbor near Yokosuka to meet a group of returning Japanese prisoners of war. He was surprised to find his former flight engineer, Kazuo Kanegasaki, who all had believed had died in the Battle of Midway. When questioned, Kanegasaki told Fuchida that they were not tortured or abused, much to Fuchida’s disappointment, then went on to tell him of a young lady who served them with the deepest love and respect, but whose parents, missionaries, had been killed by Japanese soldiers on the island of Panay in the Philippines.

For Fuchida, this was inexplicable, as in the Bushido code revenge was not just permitted, it was a responsibility for an offended party to carry out revenge to restore honor. The murderer of one’s parents would be a sworn enemy for life. He became almost obsessed trying to understand why anyone would treat their enemies with love and forgiveness.

In the fall of 1948, Fuchida was passing by the bronze statue of Hachiko at the Shibuya Station when he was handed a pamphlet about the life of Jacob DeShazer, a member of the Doolittle Raid who was captured by the Japanese after his B-25 Mitchell ran out of fuel over occupied China. In the pamphlet “I Was a Prisoner of Japan” Deshazer, himself a former U.S. Army Air Force Staff Sergeant and bombardier, told his story of imprisonment, torture and an awakening to God. Fuchida became more curious about Christianity but couldn’t find a Bible at the time in post-war Japan, but in the spring of 1949, again at the statue of Hachiko he met a man selling Bibles, and he bought one. Later that fall, while reading the Bible, he understood for the first time why the young lady had forgiven her enemies and took his first steps in becoming a Christian. In May of 1950, he and Jacob DeShazer met for the first time, as friends. [Source: Mitsuo Fuchida – Wikipedia Entry]

Fuchida went on to become a missionary, preaching the gospel until his death in 1976. A full account of Fuchida’s life is given in God’s Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor (Potomac Books, 2003).

Fuchida’s testimony, “From Pearl Harbor to Calvary,” is also available online:

I would give anything to retract my actions of twenty-nine years ago at Pearl Harbor, but it is impossible. Instead, I now work at striking the death-blow to the basic hatred which infests the human heart and causes such tragedies. And that hatred cannot be uprooted without assistance from Jesus Christ.

He is the only One Who was powerful enough to change my life and inspire it with His thoughts. He was the only answer to Jake DeShazer’s tormented life. He is the only answer for young people today.

On a personal note, My grandparents on both sides of the family were [Protestant] missionaries to Japan; my grandfather, Maas Vanderbilt, was in the Philippines in World War II, and — like DeShazer and many others — returned after the war as a missionary to the land where he fought.

My parents spent much of their early years there, and I myself was born in the city of Yokohama.

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  1. I had heard of the Fuchida conversion before. Truly remarkable. A testament to the power of faith. Most Japanese after the war were astonished at how well-behaved and friendly the great majority of the American occupation troops were. They had been told that Marines had to kill a parent before being allowed to join the Corps and that they ate dead Japanese! On the other hand most Americans were surprised at how much they liked the average Japanese after they got to know them. More than a few Japanese war brides came back with American troops after the war, some starting families in Paris, Illinois, my home town.

  2. And Catholic Anarchist how would you post comments in freedom if braver and better men than yourself hadn’t fought to give you freedom? Your ingratitude is as selfish as it is predictable. You inhabit your comfortable leftist bubble of an existence only because a high price has been paid in blood to give you freedom as a completely unearned gift. That you spit in the face of these men says everything about you and nothing about them.

  3. Freedom Catholic Anarchist, like life, comes to us from God through human instrumentalities. Men can fight to defend freedom just as they can fight to take freedom. Women can give life through birth or take life, for the moment due to politicians like the one you voted for for President in the last election, through abortion. Your statement is factually incorrect, just like your theology as to war.

  4. “Does your religion allow you to challenge your country’s foundational acts of violence? Or does a sacred silence surround them?”

    The Catholic Church condemned American victory in the Revolutionary War? The things you learn on the internet! I view American military operations Catholic Anarchist as I would any military operation: to be lauded or condemned based upon the circumstances of the event. Good actions taken of course in a bad cause do not transform the cause into a good cause, just as bad actions taken in a good cause do not transform the good cause into a bad cause. An SS unit sacrificing itself to prevent Soviet soldiers from attacking an East Prussian village filled with evacuating civilians in 1945 was a good act which did nothing to transform Hitler’s war into a good cause. Canadian troops cutting the throats of captured Germans, as they did on D-Day, was an evil act which did not transform the Allied effort in WW2 into a bad cause.

  5. I’m not clear how your original question is even relevant to the post, Michael. I seem to recall that all of us have discussed the atomic bombings at the end of WW2 extensively before. But that’s not the topic of this post.

    Or is it that you can’t allow any topic touching on WW2 in the Pacific to come up without taking a moment to stoke a feeling of moral superiority by demonstrating that you are able to judge history more harshly than anyone else?

  6. While I am glad I was not in a position to make the decision, and I do not understand how this relates to the post, I think that the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were immoral.

  7. Michael, I thought there was little even to talk about. The massive annihilation of such a vast population of innocents has been thoroughly condemned by the Church. The disproportionate slaughter at Hiroshima and Nagasaki–and it was disproportionate, as that was the very intent of the bombings–have specifically been targeted as a gross violation. It is a great stain on our nation that we are the only ones to have actually dropped a nuclear bomb on a civilian target.

    If you need any rationale as to why I think dropping the nukes was immoral, it goes back to the question of whether it is moral to kill one innocent to save (insert whatever number you like) people. The murder of an innocent is always wrong, regardless of the perceived good that could be brought about. I understand very well the belief prevalent at the time that led Truman to drop the bombs: namely, that if it came to a land invasion of Japan, every man, woman, and child would rise up against American forces (as was seen in a number of island battles), and that the death toll of such a struggle would vastly outnumber the deaths brought about by dropping the bombs. So, his dilemma was to either kill a few hundred thousand innocents, or commission millions to be killed. And he made the mistake of believing that the numbers made all the difference.

    And at the risk of going even further off topic (which, by the way, is how God can work miracles in the life of even a hardened soldier from a culture fairly far removed from Christianity), your questions were:

    Does your religion allow you to challenge your country’s foundational acts of violence? Or does a sacred silence surround them?

    The short answer: of course we challenge any act of violence. Violence is extreme, and ever and always should be a last resort. Keep in mind, though, that violence is not forbidden, as long as certain conditions are met. We can challenge what has happened in the past and try to decide whether or not any particular act was justifiable. The thing to keep in mind, and why I even bother replying, is that there’s a difference between looking at the past to learn from it, and looking at the past merely to point fingers. Anymore, there’s way too much of latter, and almost none of the former.

    Frankly, Michael, your questions are by far more antagonistic than is reasonable. I may as well ask you, “does your fake religion even permit you to believe that Jesus Christ was both God and man?” Does that question even need to be answered?

  8. If anyone is dying to know my own thinking on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I did a post on the question here back in August.

    Short version, I would agree with General Marshall’s contention that the bombs should have been better used against strictly military targets — however at the same time I think that Truman and the American leadership did what they thought was in the best interst of all, and that an invasion of the home islands would have been several times more destructive in loss of civilian life.

    More to the point, I don’t think anything is gained (and much is lost) in brining any discussion of WW2 history back to a ritual denunciation (and often an overly simplistic one) of the dropping of the atomic bomb. It seems especially odd in a post which was actually about the power of people to see beyond the conflict and recognize the enemy as human beings deserving of Christian love.

  9. More than a few Japanese war brides came back with American troops after the war, some starting families in Paris, Illinois, my home town.

    The same happened to my home county, with one of the GIs returning to Ithaca, MI with a Japanese bride. I’ve always marvelled at the astonishing courage of those ladies, given the almost certain disapproval from family in Japan and the far from warm welcome many received here. Not to mention one of the biggest cases of culture shock imaginable. That has to be love.

    Now that I think of it, Gratiot County was home to all manner of “displaced persons” from WW2. We had a Wermacht radio operator move here with his wife and take up farming and a Polish cavalry officer who met his Russian wife in a German prison camp. The officer showed me a picture of his cavalry company of 70. Of them, 7 survived the war.

  10. 1. Truly a remarkable story. Only one that The Great Scriptwriter could compose.
    2. Another day, another Iafrate rant against courage, heroism, the power of the Holy Spirit, etc. Must be miserable to be you, Mikey.

  11. My views on the morality of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are of record and can be found by anyone googling my name and either Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I do not go into them here because I do not wish to see the Catholic Anarchist succeed in hijacking the thread on something completely unrelated to Christopher’s post. Time enough to replay the Annual Great Catholic A-Bomb Debate in August 2009.

  12. Because Catholic Anarchist this is a thread about a conversion and I will not allow you to hijack it.

  13. Unnecessary. You’ve participated in blog threads where I have discussed my position at great length.

  14. The only thing I am “embarrassed” about Catholic Anarchist in regard to my position on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that each year in the A-Bomb debate I have to spend time refuting assertions made by people almost completely lacking in familiarity with the historical record. However, you will not goad me into debating you on the subject in a thread that has nothing to do with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no matter what the past pastor of Obama’s church recently stated:

    “Today. Is December 7. The day that this government killed. Over 80000. Japanese civilians. At Hiroshima in 1941. Two days before giving an additional. 64000. Japanese civilians. At Nagasaki by dropping nuclear bombs on innocent. People.”

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