Due to my carelessness and personal crassness, I committed an inexcusable blunder as the commander of the entire [14th Area] Army and consequently caused the deaths of your precious sons and dearest husbands. I am really sorry and cannot find appropriate words for sincere apologies as I am really confused because of my excruciating agony. As the commander of your beloved men, I am soon to receive the death penalty, having been judged by rigorous but impartial law. It is a strange coincidence that the execution is to be carried out on the birthday of the first U.S. president, George Washington.
I do not know how to express my apology, but the time has come to atone for my guilt with my death. However, I do not think that all the crimes for which I am responsible can easily be liquidated simply by my death. Various indelible stains that I left on the history of mankind cannot be offset by the mechanical termination of my life.
For a person like me who constantly faced death, to die is not at all difficult. Of course I should have committed suicide when I surrendered, as ordered by the emperor in accordance with the Japanese code of the samurai. In fact, I once decided to do so when I attended the surrender ceremonies at Kiangan and Baguio, at which General Percival, whom I had defeated [in Singapore], was also present. What prevented me from committing such an egocentric act was the presence of my soldiers, who did not yet know that the war was over at that time. By refusing to take my own life, I was able to set my men free from meaningless deaths, as those stationed around Kiangan were ready to commit suicide. I really felt pain from the shame of remaining alive, in violation of the samurai’s code of “dying at the appropriate time in an appropriate place.” I therefore can imagine how much more difficult it is for people like you to remain alive and re-build Japan rather than being executed as a war criminal. If I were not a war criminal, I would still have chosen a difficult path, bearing shame to stay alive and atone for my sins until natural death comes, no matter how you all might despise me.
Sun Tzu said ‘The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.’ From these words, we learn that our military forces were lethal weapons and their very existence was a crime. I tried my best to prevent the war. I am really ashamed of having been unable to do so because of my weakness. You may think that I am a born aggressor and a typical militarist, because my campaign in Malaya and the fall of Singapore excited the entire Japanese nation. I understand that this is quite natural. I do not excuse myself, as I was a professional soldier and dedicated myself to the military. But even while being a military man, I also have a relatively strong sense as a Japanese citizen. There is no resurrection any longer for the ruined nation and the dead. From ancient times, war has always been a matter for exceptional prudence by wise rulers and sensible soldiers. It was entirely due to our military authorities’ arbitrary decisions, which were made by just a handful of people, that a large number of our people died and the rest of the nation was dragged into its present unbearable suffering. I feel as if my heart will break when I think that we professional soldiers will become the object of your bitter resentment. I believe that the Potsdam Declaration will wipe out the leaders of military cliques who led the nation to its downfall, and Japan will start rebuilding as a peaceful nation under new leaders elected by the popular will. However, the path of rebuilding the nation will not be easy in the face of many obstacles.
The experience that you went through, enduring various difficulties and poverty in the last ten years of war, will inevitably give you some strength, even though it was as an unwelcome result of pressure from the military authorities. To construct a new Japan, you really must not include militarists who are the relics of the past or opportunistic unprincipled politicians, or scholars patronized by the government who try to rationalize an aggressive war.
Probably some appropriate policies will be adopted by the Allied Occupation Forces. But I would like to say something on this point, as I am just about to die and thus have great concern about Japan’s future. Weeds have a strong life force, and grow again when spring comes, no matter how hard they are trodden underfoot. I am confident that, with strong determination for development, you will rebuild our nation now completely destroyed, and make it a highly cultured one like Denmark. Denmark lost its fertile land in Schleswig-Holstein as the result of the German-Denmark War in 1863, but gave up rearming themselves and made their infertile areas into one of the most cultured of European nations. As a ruined people, we repent having done wrong. I will pray for Japan’s restoration from a grave in a foreign country.
Japanese people, you have expelled the militarists and will gain your own independence. Please stand up firmly after the ravages of war. That is my wish. I am a simple soldier. Faced with execution in a very short time, a thousand emotions overwhelm me. But in addition to apologizing, I want to express my views on certain matters. I feel sorry that I cannot express myself very well, because I am a man of action, reticent and with a limited vocabulary. The time of my execution is drawing near. I have only one hour and forty minutes left. Probably only convicts on death row are capable of comprehending the value of one hour and forty minutes. I asked Mr. Morita, a prison chaplain, to record these words and I hope he will pass my ideas on to you some day.
Facing death, I have four things to say to you, the people of the nation of Japan as it resurrects.
First, is about carrying out one’s duty. From ancient times, this topic has repeatedly been discussed by scholars, yet it remains most difficult to achieve. Without a sense of duty, a democratic and cooperative society cannot exist. Duty has to be fulfilled as a result of self-regulating and naturally motivated action. I feel some misgivings in thinking about this, considering that you are suddenly to be liberated from the social restraints under which you have long lived.
I often discussed this with my junior officers. The moral decay of our military was so grave that the Imperial Code of Military Conduct as well as the Field Service Code were simply dead letters. Therefore, we had to remind people of this all the time, even in the military where obedience was strongly demanded and defying orders was not allowed at all. In this war, it was far from true that officers under my command carried out their duties satisfactorily.
They were unable to fulfill even the duties that were imposed upon them. Therefore I have some concern over your ability to fulfill your duty voluntarily and independently, after being released from long-standing social restraints. I wonder if you’ll be dazzled by suddenly bestowed freedom, and whether some may fail to carry out your duty as required in relations with others, as you’ve received basically the same education as military men. In a free society, you should nurture your own ability to make moral judgments in order to carry out your duties. Duties can only be carried out correctly by a socially mature person with an independent mind and with culture and dignity.
The fundamental reason why the world has lost confidence in our nation, and why we have so many war-crime suspects who left ugly scars on our history, was this lack of morals. I would like you to cultivate and accept the common moral judgment of the world, and become a people who fulfill duties on your own responsibility. You are expected to be independent and carve out your own future. No one can avoid this responsibility and choose an easy way. Only through that path can eternal peace be attained in the world.
Second, I would like you to promote education in science. No one can deny that the level of Japan’s modern science, apart from certain minor areas, is well below world standards. If you travel outside Japan, the first thing you notice is the unscientific way of life of the Japanese. To search for truth with Japan’s irrational and cliquish mentality is like searching for fish among the trees.
We soldiers had great difficulties in securing the necessary materials to fight and to make up for the lack of scientific knowledge. We tried to fight against the superior forces of the United States and to win the war by throwing away the priceless lives of our nation as substitutes for bullets and bombs. Various methods of horrendous suicide attack were invented. We exposed our pilots to danger by stripping vital equipment from the planes in order to just slightly improve their mobility. This shows how little knowledge we had for conducting war. We made the greatest mistake — unprecedented in world history — by trying to make up for the lack of materials and scientific knowledge with human bodies.
My present state of mind is quite different from that at the time of surrender. In the car on the way to Baguio from Kiangan, Mr. Robert MacMillan, a journalist of the magazine Youth asked, what I thought was the fundamental reason for Japan’s defeat. Something suppressed for a long time in my sub-consciousness suddenly burst out and I instantly responded “science,” before referring to other important issues. This was because my long-lasting frustration and intense anger were loosened all at once when the war was over.
I am not saying that this is the only reason, but it was clearly one important reason for Japan’s defeat. If there will be another war somewhere in the world, it is expected end in a short time through the use of horrific scientific weapons. The foolish methods of war that Japan adopted will be regarded as the illusions of an idiot. Human beings throughout the world, I presume, will make efforts to prevent such a terrible war — not just the Japanese who thoroughly endured the horror of this war. This is the task that is given to humanity.
The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrendous weapons. Never before have so many people been killed instantly in the long history of slaughtering human beings. As I have been in prison, I have not had enough time to study the A-bomb, but I think that no weapon will be invented to defend against atomic weapons. It used to be said that it would always be possible to fight against a new method of attack. This is still true. If there is any method to defend against atomic bombs — the weapon that has made obsolete all past warfare — it would simply be to create nations all over the world that would never contemplate the use of such weapons.
A defeated officer like me reflects sadly that if we had had superior scientific knowledge and sufficient scientific weapons, we would not have killed so many of our own men. Instead we could have sent them back home to use the knowledge as the foundation to rebuild a glorious and peaceful country. However, the science that I mean is not science that leads mankind to destruction. It is science that will develop natural resources still to be tapped, that will make human life rich, and will be used for peaceful purposes to free human beings from misery and poverty.
Third, I want to mention the education of women. I have heard that Japanese women have been liberated from the feudal state authorities and been given the privilege of suffrage. From my experience of living in foreign countries for a long time, I can say that the position of modern Japanese women is inferior to that of women in the west.
I am slightly apprehensive about the fact that freedom for Japanese women is a generous gift from the Occupation Forces, not one that they struggled to acquire themselves. A gift is often enjoyed as an object of appreciation and not actually put to direct use. The highest virtues for Japanese women used to be “obedience” and “fidelity.” That was no different from “obedient allegiance” in the military. A person who respects such castrated and slave-like virtues has been called a “chaste woman” or praised as a “loyal and brave soldier.” In such values, there is no freedom of action or freedom of thought, and they are not the virtues by which one can self-examine autonomously. My hope is that you will break out of your old shell, enrich your education, and become new active Japanese women, while maintaining only the good elements of existing values. The driving force for peace is the heart of women. Please utilize your newly gained freedom effectively and appropriately. Your freedom should not be violated or taken away by anyone. As free women, you should be united with women throughout the world and give full play to your unique abilities as women. If not, you will be squandering all the privileges that you have been given.
Finally, there is one more thing that I would like to tell women — you are either already a mother or will become a mother in future. You should clearly realize that one of a mother’s responsibilities is a very important role in the “human education” of the next generation.
I have always been unhappy about the idea that modern education begins at school. The home is the most appropriate place for educating infants and the most appropriate teacher is the mother. You alone can lay the foundation for education in its true meaning. If you do not want to be criticized as worthless women, please do your best in educating your own children. Education does not begin at kindergarten or on entry to elementary school. It should begin when you breastfeed a newborn baby. It is a mother’s privilege to have a special feeling that no one else can have when she cuddles and breastfeeds her baby. Mothers should give their love to their baby both physically and mentally, as they are the baby’s source of life. Breastfeeding can be done by another, and nourishment can be provided by other animals, or can be substituted for by a bottle. Yet nothing else can substitute for mother’s love.
It is not enough for a mother to think only about how to keep her children alive. She should raise them to be able to live independently, cope with various circumstances, love peace, appreciate cooperation with others and have a strong desire to contribute to humanity when they grow up.
You should raise the joyful feeling of breastfeeding to the level of intellectual emotion and refined love. Mother’s love will constantly flow into her baby’s body through breastfeeding. The fundamental elements of future education must exist in embryo in mother’s milk. Attention to the baby’s needs can be the basis for education. Untiring mothering skills should naturally develop into a higher level of educational skill. I am not a specialist on education and therefore I am not sure how appropriate it is, but I would like to call this kind of education “breastfeeding education.” Please bear this simple and ordinary phrase in your mind. These are the last words of the person who took your children’s lives away from you.