In the closing months of World War II, Americans found themselves facing a new and terrifying weapon: kamikazes -- the first men to use airplanes as suicide weapons.
By the beginning of 1945, American pilots were shooting down Japanese planes more than ten to one. The Japanese had so few metals left that the military had begun using wooden coins and clay pots for hand grenades. For the first time in 800 years, Japan faced imminent invasion. As Germany faltered, the combined strength of every warring nation gathered at Japan's door. Desperate, Japan turned to its most idealistic young men -- the best and brightest college students -- and demanded of them the greatest sacrifice.
On the morning of May 11, 1945, days after the Nazi surrender, the USS Bunker Hill -- a magnificent vessel that held thousands of crewmen and the most sophisticated naval technology available -- was holding at the Pacific Theater, 70 miles off the coast of Okinawa.
At precisely 9:58 a.m., Kiyoshi Ogawa radioed in to his base at Kanoya, 350 miles from the Bunker Hill, "I found the enemy vessels." After eighteen months of training, Kiyoshi tucked a comrade's poem into his breast pocket and flew his Zero five hours across the Pacific. Now the young Japanese pilot had located his target and was on the verge of fulfilling his destiny. At 10:02.30 a.m., as he hovered above the Bunker Hill, hidden in a mass of clouds, Kiyoshi spoke his last words: "Now, I am nose-diving into the ship."
The attack killed 393 Americans and was the worst suicide attack against America until September 11. Juxtaposing Kiyoshi's story with the stories of untold heroism of the men aboard the Bunker Hill, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy details how American sailors and airmen worked together, risking their own lives to save their fellows and ultimately triumphing in their efforts to save their ship.
Drawing on years of research and firsthand interviews with both American and Japanese survivors, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy draws a gripping portrait of men bravely serving their countries in war and the advent of a terrifying new weapon, suicide bombing, that nearly halted the most powerful nation in the world.
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Maxwell Taylor Kennedy graduated from Harvard University and the University of Virginia School of Law. He taught environmental studies at Boston College, where he cofounded the Urban Ecology Institute. Mr. Kennedy served as a prosecutor for three years before he collected and edited his first book, Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert Kennedy. Maxwell Taylor Kennedy is an avid scuba diver and co-led an expedition that located the wrecks of a fleet of pirate ships off Venezuela. He also participated in the National Geographic Explorers search for PT 109. A devoted maritime historian, Mr. Kennedy is currently an Associate Scholar of the John Carter Brown Library, a Center for Advanced Research in History and the Humanities at Brown University. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Vicki, and their children, Maxey, Summer, and Noah.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1. The Path to Pearl HarborBut she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
-- John Quincy Adams on America, 1821
Looming is an old sea term -- it describes the result of peculiar atmospheric conditions that occur rarely, but most often at sea, in which ships far beyond the furthest horizon may be clearly seen long before they are within visual range. When this happens, sailors and landsmen near shore are treated to a view over the horizon -- a look forward into time. Rural Americans were shocked by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Easterners thought the war would begin in Europe, but students on the West Coast, and those Americans who followed events in Asia more closely during the 1930s, saw war in the Pacific looming over the not so far horizon.
In 1939, America and Japan were on a collision course. Both their economies were recovering. Defense spending was lifting each nation's economic potential. Shipyards in both nations were being expanded. All the while, a noose in the form of an economic blockade was tightening as America brought increasing pressure on Japan to end its expansion in Asia. Japanese militarists who controlled their government determined they would be overthrown if they capitulated to American demands. These leaders, including Hideki Tojo, realized, too, that they could not defeat the United States in a fair fight. The Japanese concluded that they had one chance: if they could severely damage the American Pacific Fleet -- especially America's carriers -- then the weakened United States, more concerned about the war in Europe, would make peace with Japan.
It is difficult to rationalize the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and much easier to write it off along with the kamikazes as the irrational act of a fanatical nation gone awry. However, it is important to try to understand the Japanese point of view leading up to the war in the Pacific, and the reasons behind the attack on Pearl Harbor. A detailed analysis is far beyond the scope of this book, but a broad outline may be drawn.
From the time of the first European settlements in America, a frontier line, descending north to south, separated civilization from wilderness. This line can be seen clearly on maps through the decades, beginning first on the Eastern Seaboard, and moving steadily westward. By the mid-nineteenth century, the western frontier began to merge with American settlements founded on the West Coast that were expanding eastward. By 1890, the census announced that the American frontier no longer existed. For a time, though, America continued to advance westward, beginning a period of colonization and imperialism that directly threatened Japanese hegemony in Asia and the Pacific. America's west, for the first time, did not end at the shores of California.
This expansion continued an extensive history of confrontation over control of the Pacific. Marines had been sent to Sumatra in 1831. In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry landed in Japan and forced Japan to open trade with America. In the midst of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sent a U.S. naval vessel to the Sea of Japan to shell the Home Islands and teach the Shogun a lesson about American power and interest in Asia. In the 1870s, when Japan was wresting control of Korea from China, President Ulysses Grant sent naval forces to Korea to burn coastal forts.
Japanese and American expansion were poised to collide, each determining, as the nineteenth century ended, how to get the most of what was left of Pacific Asia. The de facto annexation of Hawaii in the 1890s put Washington, D.C., 5,000 miles from its farthest borders. Control of the Philippines in 1899 extended American territory westward even beyond Japan.
Before Perry's visit, Japan knew little of the outside world and considered itself the preeminent nation. But once Japan opened itself to the West, Japanese leaders were shocked by the power of industrialized countries, and determined to force 200 years of economic development into a single generation under the Meiji emperor. Remarkably, they largely succeeded and set their sights on becoming not merely an island nation, but a power on the mainland of Asia.
Japan fought China in 1894-1895 and won Taiwan and parts of Manchuria. Yet they were forced by the colonial powers, particularly the United States, to take a limited profit from their brutal China war. The Japanese people were told by the emperor that they must "endure the unendurable." (These words were echoed fifty years later by his grandson, Hirohito, when Japan surrendered.) The newly industrialized Japanese devastated the Russian fleet in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. But the United States brokered peace, and again forced the Japanese to lose face -- accepting less than they had won.
Although Japan was an ally of the United States against Germany during the First World War, the Japanese were insulted when the white Western powers refused to allow a racial equality clause in the peace treaty at Versailles. They again felt slighted when the victorious powers divided up the world and gave Japan only a few island chains considered to have little value -- the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas. In 1922, again under American pressure, Japan signed a naval treaty in Washington, D.C., which limited the size of its navy to about two thirds the size of the American fleet.
It wasn't long before the United States and Japan were looking down each other's throats.
Japan, like the United States, was torn by the Great Depression. Families that had prospered for generations within the traditional Japanese economic system were suddenly undone by new competitive realities as Japan became integrated into the world economy. Japan's leadership grew alarmed at the paucity of jobs and economic possibilities for the growing and increasingly restless population. They feared that Japan would be unable to compete without controlling land beyond the Home Islands, so the military regime continued and extended a foreign policy of aggressive territorial expansion.
In 1931, the Japanese invaded Manchuria and established a puppet regime called Manchukuo. The subjugation of the Chinese population in the 1930s required an enormous political, economic, and military commitment. Japan sent thousands of otherwise unemployed youths to Manchuria to make it Japanese. They built railroads, roads, bridges, and schools -- especially teaching schools to indoctrinate Chinese into the Japanese system. The Japanese government, like Adolf Hitler's in Germany, began a large-scale buildup of its military financed through deficit spending. This spending lifted the Japanese economy out of the depression and created an alliance between Japanese capitalists and Japanese military cliques. This coalition in turn determined a great deal of the country's national policy -- a policy that led inexorably to war.
The League of Nations refused to recognize Manchukuo, so Japan withdrew from the League, and refused to sign the new Geneva Convention. Two years later Japan withdrew from the Washington Naval Treaty, which had set proscriptions on the size of the signators' navies. Japan then initiated a rapid expansion of their fleet. By August 1937, Japan was conducting a full-scale war against China, committing violent atrocities, including what is now known as the Rape of Nanking. The world was outraged, but Western powers, hoping to avoid war, did nothing aside from putting forth weak protests. This policy of appeasement emboldened the Japanese militarists.
By 1940, the Far East and the Pacific were controlled by the great European colonial powers and Japan. The British controlled Australia, India, Burma, northern Borneo, the east coast of New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands, and the Gilberts. The Dutch controlled much of what is now Indonesia and southern Borneo. The Vichy French controlled Indochina (now Vietnam).* The United States controlled the Philippines, Hawaii, Midway, Wake, and Guam.
In addition to the Home Islands, Japan controlled Manchurian China, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, much of Sakhalin Island, and the Caroline, Marshall, Bonin, Ryukyu, and Marianas island chains.
The Japanese island chains in the Pacific were almost unknown to most Americans. Their names now have a deep resonance for anyone with knowledge of the Pacific war. Micronesia includes the island battlegrounds of Palau, Yap, Truk, and about 550 other small islets, including Ulithi Atoll. The Marianas chain includes Saipan, Tinian, and a dozen or so other smaller islands. Guam is part of the Marianas, but it was controlled by America via a small, extraordinarily brave contingent of Marines until the start of the war. The Marshall Islands became known for the battles on Kwajalein, Eniwetok, and Majuro -- they include about thirty other coral atolls located halfway between Australia and Hawaii. The Ryukyus, the island chain hanging south of the Japanese Home Islands and sweeping down to Okinawa, was the battleground of the kamikazes. The Bonins are most famous for a small island called Iwo Jima.
Perhaps the most salient factor in Japanese territorial acquisition was that the Japanese, who had a relatively small military, were able to accomplish so much with so little. Radical nationalists had developed a pattern of brutal, lightning attacks against enemy strong points, followed by aggressive territorial acquisition far exceeding anything they could reasonably be expected to acquire, much less to hold. After these initial gains, the Japanese would enter into peace negotiations, in which much of the original territory would be divested, though still leaving Japan with enormous new territories, "legitimized" by the new peace treaty.
The United States, through a combination of economic sanctions and diplomatic pressures, determined to end Japanese expansion in Asia and the Pacific. This conflict between America and Japan was intensified repeatedly in a series of diplomatic moves by both countries that eventually made war inevitable. Each time the Japanese increased their territorial expansi...
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