Eiichiro Osawa, 92, formerly an officer with the Kwantung Army, and my father-in-law, once told me that when he and his colleagues heard about Japan’s defeat at Saipan in mid-July 1944 they knew if was all over. When Prime Minister Hideki Tojo resigned soon after, he and colleagues quietly speculated that the war would end relatively soon. Instead it lasted another brutal 13 months, even though Japan’s political and military leaders knew the game was up. Osawa also told me that his colleagues quietly welcomed Tojo’s demise, a man who had been chief of staff of the Kwantung Army back in 1937-38. They held Tojo in low regard because he was a desk general who toadied his way to the top, a spit-polish martinet nicknamed “Razor” who was not respected as a soldier’s soldier, but knew how to kiss up and kick down.

Officers in the Kwantung Army knew that the fall of Saipan put Tokyo — and much of Japan — within range of high-altitude U.S. B-29 bombers that could evade Japan’s air defenses. It was the first breach of Japan’s inner defenses, one that would leave the archipelago vulnerable. Osawa says in private his colleagues expressed such misgivings, but the military ethos and the prevailing mood of hyper-patriotism ensured that everyone in public remained committed to fighting to the glorious end, willing to sacrifice their lives for the Emperor. There wasn’t much choice.

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