"Lest We Forget"


By ERLE R. DICKOVER, Chief of the Division of Japanese Affairs, Department of State, Washington, D. C.

Delivered at a Civic Gathering under the auspices of the Kiwanis Club, Salisbury, Maryland, December 7, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 162, 178-181.

IT is a great pleasure to me to have this opportunity to speak to you tonight on the subject "Lest We Forget"—a subject on which I feel very strongly. I have no doubt but that, since December 7, 1941, all of my listeners tonight have read in the press and heard over the radio a great deal of comment regarding Japan and the Japanese war machine. But lest you forget what the menace of Japan means to us now and in the future, the organizers of this meeting have asked me, as one who has lived in Japan for many years and who can speak from personal knowledge and experience, to tell you something of the development and power of the Japanese war machine. I lived in Japan for 23 years, in the service of our country, and, as a part of my education in things Japanese, I had to learn to speak and understand, to read and write, and to sing and whistle the Japanese language. I learned to eat Japanese food and to like it. I lived through many of their typhoons, earthquakes, insurrections and riots. The latter were often rather amusing, as usually the rioters confined their activities to overturning and burning the wooden police boxes which one finds on almost every important intersection in Japanese cities and against which the rioters appeared to have a special grievance. And once I was knifed and seriously wounded by a Japanese burglar in Tokyo. I was Charge d'Affaires of the American Embassy at the time and the incident created quite a sensation, as the Japanese were afraid that it might cause international complications. So emissaries were sent from the Emperor down to apologize to me for the attack and to bring presents of cakes and fruits.

So I think I can lay claim to having had considerable personal experience of Japan and the Japanese, and a keen appreciation of the reasons why we must not forget Pearl Harbor. The Chinese, you know observe various "humiliation days" which commemorate events which were disastrous to the nation. I am not suggesting that we have a "humiliation day", but rather a day of remembrance of the great disaster in American naval history and of the greatest piece of treachery and deceit in the history of mankind. I wish that on December 7 of each year, for many years to come, gatherings similar to this and with the same slogan, "Lest We Forget", could be held in every city, town and village in the country. I shall tell you why I wish this.

The western nations received a shock when the realization of the tremendous power of the Japanese war machine burst upon them. They had been told about it often enough, by their diplomatic officers stationed in Japan, including our own, and by military observers and journalists, but the western peoples either did not believe that the supposedly "nice little Japanese", whom they associated only with cherry blossoms and geisha, could really build up such a machine, or they shrugged off the growing danger with the easy assumption that one American, or one Briton, or one Australian is equal in fighting qualities to five or ten Japanese. It is very apparent that such persons did not realize, as those of us who lived in Japan did, that the Japanese soldier is in truth a very tough customer—strong, brutal, fanatically patriotiC., well-trained, well-equipped and well-led.

The question is often asked, "How did the 'nice little Japanese' develop such a powerful, ruthless military machine?" In the first place, most people, even those who have visited Japan, did not realize that they were being deceived by the nice side of the Japanese and that in fact the Japanese have a dual nature. Some Japanese do have a nice side—the side which is usually seen by tourists and other visitors to Japan. They have a simple but beautiful culture of their own, with a great love of nature and of beautiful things. You all know their miniature gardens, their color prints, their porcelains and brocades. In ordinary life, we who lived there found the Japanese to be a friendly, kindly, helpful and courteous people. They had to be, to get along with each other in their crowded islands. At the time of the great earthquake of 1923, foreigners resident in Tokyo and Yokohama commented on the helpful spirit of the Japanese, who would assist each other or even the foreigner before attending to their own needs. I was the American Consul in Kobe at that time, and helped to take care of the thousands of refugees from the earthquake areas and to handle part of the $20,000,000 worth of relief supplies sent to Japan by the American people. I also was struck

by the spirit of helpfulness and kindly cooperation among the Japanese at this time, as well as by their sincere appreciation of the aid sent by the American people. But there is another side to the Japanese, upon which the military have built their war machine—a primitive, cruel and brutal side which make them laugh at animals in pain (which I have often seen myself) and sell their daughters to the brothels—which is in fact quite a common practice. This side of the Japanese also was demonstrated at the time of the great earthquake. Several thousand Korean coolies were then working in and around Tokyo. Somehow the false rumor was started that these Koreans were looting and were murdering the Japanese. The Japanese young men's societies armed themselves with sticks and clubs and ran down and beat to death every Korean whom they could find, and incidentally killed about a hundred Chinese. This innate cruelty was also shown later in the Japanese treatment of American and British prisoners of war. The world was shocked by the revelation of this cruelty, but the world had forgotten that one of the primary purposes of Commodore Perry's visits to Japan in the 1850's was to compel the Japanese to accord humane treatment to American sailors shipwrecked on the shores of Japan and taken captive by the Japanese. Prior to Perry's visits the Japanese had terribly mistreated these men. So you can see that it was not difficult for the Japanese militarists to transform the ordinary simple, kindly peasant lads of Japan into the brutal soldiers of the present-day Japanese Army.

The Japanese military machine is not an over-night growth, as ours is, but was developed by long and very careful planning by the war lords of Japan. To develop their machine they used spiritual as well as physical methods, somewhat similar to those employed by Germany and Italy. But Japan did not copy Germany and Italy in this; in fact, they employed those methods many years before Mussolini and Hitler were even heard of. The following are some of the methods employed:

(1) In the first place they subordinated the individual to the state (which you will remember is one of the primary principles of national socialism). This came naturally to the great masses of the Japanese, who had always subordinated themselves to the family or the clan. The wise men of the early days of modern Japan simply transferred this innate sense of loyalty of the people from the family or the clan to the Emperor, who was brought out of seclusion at Kyoto to act as head of the new military state. Until fairly recently this loyalty was a rather vague, impersonal sort of devotion, but during the past 10 or 15 years, it has been developed into a blind, fanatical devotion almost impossible of conception to Occidental peoples.

(2) In the second place they developed a national patriotic cult. Japan has had many religions, but in an endeavor to provide a purely Japanese national faith, the leaders of Japan grafted onto the native Shinto the cult of Emperor worship and of glorification of militarism. Contrary to popular belief, ancient Shinto is a harmless religion—a peculiar mixture of primitive animism and ancestor worship. There are thousands of little Shinto shrines scattered over Japan, dedicated to the local tutelary diety, or to the fox-god or to some other god or goddess of the Shinto pantheon. The people go to these shrines to pray for a good harvest or for children, or for other desired things, and at these shrines are held the annual local festivals. It was all very harmless and picturesque, until the military leaders super-imposed the cult of Emperor worship and extreme nationalism upon this ancient religion. The new cult, which is called "State Shinto" or "National Shinto" is the obnoxious part of present-day Shinto. In this cult, the Emperor, as the direct descendant of the sun goddess became the spiritual father of the Japanese race, thereby uniting under him, as in one great family, all of the people of Japan. This created a strong unified national spirit. There would appear to be nothing inherently evil in the unification of a people, through Emperor-worship or any other means, if that unification is developed for peaceful purposes. The unification of the Japanese people, however, was engineered in order to develop an extremely, nationalistic, militaristic and aggressive nation.

(3) In the third place, the military leaders of Japan propagated a martial spirit among the people. The Japanese people always have glorified and idolized the military virtues. As you know, the Samurai, the fighting men of ancient Japan, formed a privileged class ranking much higher than the "heimin", or common people, who were not allowed to bear arms. The ancient respect for the fighting man, growing out of this relationship, has been maintained and intensified in modern Japan. Various methods have been employed for this purpose, of which one has been the theater. Not much attention appears to have been given to the effect of the theater on Japanese life and thinking, but in my opinion it has been extremely important. Those of you who know the Kabuki theater know the type of play produced—stories of ancient Japan, of loyalty and sacrifice, with much sword-play and buckets of blood and tears in each act. Children are taken to these plays from babyhood, and grow up with the ideal before them of the swashbuckling, blood-thirsty Samurai of old Japan. This, again in my opinion, has had a tremendous effect upon the behavior pattern of the Japanese soldier. I believe that when a Japanese soldier engages in a suicidal banzai rush, or blows off his head with a hand grenade in a last futile gesture of defiance, he is in fact picturing himself in the role of one of his heroes of the Kabuki plays. The showing of these plays, on the stage and screen, is encouraged by the military in Japan. Other means employed to promote a martial spirit among the people include the teaching of "bushido", the ethical code of the Samurai, to the people as a whole; military drill in the schools, starting from the age of about 10; and the inclusion in the school text books of tales of ancient and modern military valor.

The more radical element in the Japanese army was not always content with the mere indoctrination of the people—some of the younger members of the radical element occasionally eliminated advocates of liberalism and democracy by force. You all remember the assassinations of Premiers Hara, Hamaguchi and Inukai and of Mr. Inouye and Baron Dan in the 1920's and 30's. These assassinations of liberal statesmen and business men are popularly supposed in Japan to have been encouraged by extremist groups in the Army. I was First Secretary of our Embassy in Tokyo at the time of the Army insurrection of February 26, 1936, when old Admiral Viscount Saito, Finance Minister Takehashi and others were murdered. The Embassy stood on rising ground overlooking the area of operations of the insurgents, and consequently we in the Embassy had grandstand seats during the three-day revolt. It happened that I had occasion, during this affair, to be of some service to Saburo Kurusu, whom you will undoubtedly remember as the Japanese representative who came to the United States during the latter stages of our conversations with the Japanese in the last half of 1941. Kurusu was then attached to the Foreign Office in Tokyo, and his residencewas in direct line of fire between the loyal soldiers and the insurgents. At five o'clock one morning, during a snow storm, the Army ordered him and his family to vacate their house. He could not get his car through the lines, so he telephoned me and asked me to send my car for him and his family, since my car had a diplomatic license and could go almost anywhere. So I sent my car, rescued Kunisu and his family and servants, and put them up in my house until the insurgents surrendered and they could return to their own home.

Coincident with this intense indoctrination of the people, the spiritual preparation for war, and the elimination by force of liberal elements in and out of the government, the military leaders made the necessary physical preparations for aggressive warfare. These included compulsory universal military service, which encountered little opposition in Japan, as the common people felt honored to be permitted to bear arms, like the privileged Samurai of old. A high birth rate was encouraged in order to provide cannon fodder for the military machine. So successful were the military leaders in that that there was created a serious problem of over-population, which the military then brought forward as justification for aggression upon Japan's neighbors. A very efficient spy and police system was developed and used to suppress all "isms", such as socialism, communism, liberalism, pacifism and labor unionism, which would militate against the development of the totalitarian military state desired by the war lords.

As a result of all this slow but steady preparation and indoctrination, the military leaders of Japan now have a nation of regimented minds—a nation of people fanatically devoted to their Emperor; unified as no nation has ever been unified in the past, in its belief in the divine source of the race and in its destiny; willing to sacrifice themselves in order to achieve that destiny; and possessed of no inhibitions in regard to the methods to be employed. And supporting this nation of regimented minds they have an Army of some four or five million men, composed in large part of sturdy, tough peasant boys, inured from birth to hardship and well trained in the arts of war, including some, such as jujitsu and wrestling, not ordinarily included in the training of soldiers in other lands. The great bulk of that Army remains to be defeated—a long and bloody task. They have—or perhaps one now can almost say "had"—a good Navy and an excellent supporting Merchant Marine, which our Armed Forces are busy whittling down to a point where we can hope their importance in the Japanese war machine will be greatly reduced. They have also developed industries—iron and steel, chemicals, synthetic oils, et cetera—coordinated with the war machine and designed to render Japan independent of foreign supplies in time of war. Those industries are now gradually being smashed by our B-29 bombers, but we still have a long way to go before Japan's war production will be seriously impaired.

And that, briefly, is a description of the war machine which we shall have to defeat and to crush before the peoples of the world have been relieved of the menace of Japanese aggression. I said "the peoples of the world," because it was, and I believe still is, the program of the extreme Jingoists in Japan to bring the whole world, as they say, "under the beneficent influence of the Imperial rule." The conquest and the economic and political domination of East Asia were only the immediate aims of the Japanese war lords. They hoped to be able in time to mobilize the immense manpower and material resources of Asia behind their war machine, and then set out on the conquest of the world. Fortunately they were stopped in time, or they might have succeeded in a part at least of their grandiose scheme of conquest.

How did it happen that this seemingly invincible Japanese war machine failed in the first part of its program of aggression? Well, despite what the automobile and watch manufacturers say, no machine is perfect. They all have faults, and the Japanese war machine is no exception. For example, the military leaders of Japan lack an expert knowledge of anything except military tactics and their own code of patriotism and extreme nationalism. They particularly lack a knowledge of economics and of the psychology of peoples. As anyone with an elemental knowledge of economics realized, the Japanese "Co-prosperity Sphere" could not possibly be a success without access to outside markets. It is true that within the so-called "Co-prosperity Sphere" there lie most of the world's resources of rubber, tin, cinchona, kapok, manila hemp and various other raw materials, but the people of Asia cannot eat or wear these things. Consequently the "Co-prosperity Sphere" has turned out to be a "co-poverty sphere", with a ragged, hungry population hating their conquerors. For this, and other reasons, Japan did not obtain the cooperation and assistance from the peoples of the "Co-prosperity Sphere" which were necessary for the success of the first part of the war lords' program of aggression. For another example, the treacherous Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, disclosed a lack of knowledge of the psychology of peoples. It may be argued that Pearl Harbor was a highly successful stroke from Japan's viewpoint, and it is a fact that it was a serious blow to our Pacific fleet, leaving the Japanese Army and Navy almost free for months to complete the conquest of East Asia. But it was also an enormous psychological and strategic blunder, and it will be the principal cause of Japan's undoing. If Japan had gone to war, with the breaking off of diplomatic relations and a declaration of war before any act of war, about half of the American people might have said, "Oh, those nice little Japanese have been misled by their military masters. We will not be hard on them." But since Pearl Harbor, and the absence of any expressed disapproval of that stroke on the part of the Japanese, the American people are united as one man in the determination to drive those "nice little Japanese" back to their islands and to keep them from again over-running neighboring countries in a flood of aggression.

This generation of Americans knows what it has to do. It has to defeat Japan, utterly and completely, and then to take such steps as may be necessary to destroy the vicious Japanese war machine, root and branch. After that, it has to keep watch that that machine is not rebuilt in our time. But how about your children and your grandchildren? Will they keep watch, or will they be deceived by those "nice little Japanese"? I have told you something of the intense indoctrination of the Japanese people. It will take generations to eradicate from the hearts and minds of these people the ideas of military power and of world domination which have been drilled into them for the past fifty years. Remember that the Japanese war lords themselves have said that this war will last for a hundred years—not this particular phase of the war, but the whole war against the western powers for domination of the world. With these facts in mind, who can be sure that, when the United Nations dictate their peace terms to a defeated Japan, the Japanese will not accept those terms with ostensible meekness, but with their tongues in their cheeks, preparing in their hearts to arise again in a generation or two, when the western nations are off guard? It is reasonably certain that in the future we shall have an international security organization to deal with nations bent on aggression, but the fact that such an organization is in existence will not entirely relieve our nation of the responsibility for the maintenance of constant vigilance, especially in the Pacific. It is imperative that Japanese aggression be kept in check, and we are convinced that the establishment of an international security organization for the maintenance of world peace will contribute greatly to this end, but it is also necessary that you and I never forget the deep-rooted military fanaticism of the Japanese, never forget the treacherous attack upon Pearl Harbor, and never forget that, as our President said recently, "Years of proof must pass by before we can trust Japan."