by Jack Demlow
George HW Bush has not only served as President of the United States but also as a pilot during WWII - a pilot who survived being shot down over the Pacific during an American air raid on the Japanese-controlled island of Chichi Jima in September of 1944. Nine airmen survived being shot down during the raid, but Bush was the only one that managed to avoid capture, a result of bailing out of his plane earliest, luck in procuring a life raft, and protection by covering fire from American planes to keep Japanese boats at bay. Though Bush’s escape was harrowing and terrifying, the eight other surviving airmen were doomed to experience worse.
Chichi Jima is an island roughly 600 miles south of Tokyo and is part of the Bonin Islands. Rather than risking a costly invasion, United States Navy and Army regularly bombed Chichi Jima from 1944 through 1945. Over one hundred American airmen were shot down while participating in bombing runs on the island, Bush being among them, and at least twenty were captured by Japanese forces.
Most of these prisoners would face torture and execution, and some would be cannibalized as part of meals put on by Japanese officers. Eleven officers were found guilty of murder and “prevention of honorable burial” (they were never officially found guilty of cannibalism) and the details of their crimes were not initially released to the public as a matter of minimizing distress. However, in 2004, James Bradley’s book Flyboys: a Story of True Courage brought the tragedy of the captured American airmen out into the open. Using war crimes trial transcripts and the testimonies of Japanese veterans to investigate the other eight airmen shot down alongside Bush, Bradley encountered their inhumane treatment at the hands of their Japanese captors. All were beaten, tortured, and eventually killed by beheading, impalement, or being clubbed, but the crimes against them did not end with death. According to Bradley’s sources, Major Sueo Matoba had prisoners’ flesh prepared for an officers’ feast and a party in his quarters, and Captain Shizuo Yoshii hosted a similarly grim feast of his own. General Yoshio Tachibana and and Rear Admiral Kunizo Mori, the army and navy commanders of the island, were two notable participants in the acts of cannibalism. Four American airmen were executed for the purpose of being partially consumed, with flesh being removed from their thighs and their livers being served as “delicacies.” On Chichi Jima, the guilty officers committed cannibalism for both alleged physical and spiritual benefits as well as further showing dominance over their captives as revenge for American air raids. Of Bush’s eight fellow airmen, the bodies of four were butchered for cannibalistic purposes: Marve Mershon, Floyd Hall, Jimmy Dye, and Warren Earl Vaughn.
Not even Bush, the sole survivor among the nine men shot down, knew what had happened to his fellows until James Bradley’s work on Flyboys. Both during postwar trials and now in the public sphere, it is unsurprising that such horrific acts would be shrouded in controversy, debate, and skepticism. It is especially incendiary in light of the fact that the war crimes trials are easy to view as the war’s winners judging its losers. The memory of the crimes committed on Chichi Jima is polarized by calls for justice from all sides, some sated by the execution of the responsible officers and some infuriated by verdicts allegedly tainted by racism and abuse of power by the winning side.
Maga, Timothy. "'Away from Tokyo:' the Pacific Islands War Crimes Trials, 1945-1949." The Journal of Pacific History 36, no. 1 (2001): 37-50. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25169518.
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By Chris Sayas
During the Second World War, cannibalism was committed by Imperial Japanese soldiers across the entire Pacific theater for a variety of reasons. Over the course of the war, occupying Japanese officers and soldiers in their conquered territories would face food shortages and supplies. Over time, Allied efforts of attacking and harassing Japanese supply routes intensified leading to ever increasing scarcity of military rations in Japanese occupied countries. This was especially true with positions far from the Japanese home islands and would only get worse as the war progressed. Although circumstances differed on the locality and where each unit was stationed, some soldiers were in positions to take from the locals while others were not quite so fortunate to be stationed near agriculturally rich areas.
Yet there is evidence that some Imperial Japanese commanders actually ordered their own units to commit such acts of cannibalism. Although many occupying Japanese units faced supply shortages, some accused of committing, ordering, and carrying out such crimes were in conditions that did not actually warrant such extreme measures to be taken. There is the case of the American pilots of which 8 airmen were shot down but able to bail out of their Grumman TBF Avengers after executing a raid on Chichijima, a long range radio communication station. As the airmen swam ashore they were quickly captured and while some were executed almost immediately, the surviving airmen were saved for something much more sinister. Imperial Japanese medical personnel under orders from the Japanese officers to prepare these prisoners of war for consumption. The Japanese officers at a party later would remark on certain parts of the human flesh as a delicacy such as the livers as well as state that most of the flesh tasted wonderful to them. The officers later on when interviewed considered the flesh of their enemies to be “good medicine for the stomach” describing it as if these actions were far from absurdity and treating such deeds as being ordinary if not seemingly a natural thing to do as a Japanese soldier serving in the Imperial Army. There are other instances as well with captured Indian soldiers whom were also eaten slowly one by one. In one account an Allied Indian unit who had been captured had officers and soldiers taken away by the Japanese one by one for nearly 100 days. There are even accounts of soldiers still alive with their flesh being torn off to be prepared for consumption by the Japanese troops and officers.
Cannibalism in this case can be seen not as an act of desperation to survive but rather a tool for projection of power. It almost seems that the fact that cannibalism existed within several realms of the Japanese military institution may seem like an attempt by Allied or even post World War rewritten history. Yet such acts of brutality manifested because of the height of Imperial Japanese military culture, that is through a very general understanding of the Bushido warrior code if not outright corruption of it. The fanaticism that permeated throughout Japanese military culture before the war also pervaded throughout Japanese culture as well, essentially forming the mindset of how both Japanese imperial officers and soldiers viewed their job as warriors. Eating the enemy could even be seen as something of a process of imbuing It would seem that their understanding of the Loyalty component of the ancient samurai Bushido code essentially would mean not only going to any lengths to fight for the Emperor but also commit oneself to one’s perception of what he should do for the Empire as a whole. Millions of Japanese soldiers entered the war with this fanatical and twisted mindset of loyalty to the Emperor, making sure that it became a contributing factor in how many Imperial Japanese soldiers would act, carrying out brutal crimes against prisoners of war and civilians alike.
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