OSAKA – Soldiers were merely “expendables” in the Imperial Japanese Army, says a 98-year-old survivor from World War II.
Junichi Tanigawa was called into the army twice — in 1938 and 1943 — and fought in China and Burma.
While Tanigawa was a standard soldier, his younger brother, Shugo, was a lieutenant from the Imperial Japanese Army Academy. They belonged to the same infantry regiment while in Burma, where Shugo Tanigawa was killed in 1944.
Tanigawa recalled that Shugo, while defending Mogaung in northern Burma, came to him on a rainy evening in June that year and told him, “Brother, you should return to Japan by any means. You must survive and go home.”
“I then thought he was ready to die,” Tanigawa recalled.
In Mogaung, Tanigawa saw soldiers returning from the army’s failed attempt to capture the Indian city of Imphal. They looked tired, and many drowned while crossing rivers swollen by the rainy season, he recalled.
Tanigawa was told that all of his brother’s unit died when British forces attacked Mogaung. The unit Tanigawa belonged to later fled south.
Soldiers began to run out of food as supply lines were severed. Tanigawa recalled finding dead soldiers clutching rice scattered from a train hit by an air raid. They were covered in blood and feces because of dysentery, he said.
“I gathered and ate rice there,” he said.
Tanigawa admitted he and other soldiers attacked villages just to grab food.
“There was no other way of surviving,” he said.
While retreating, he recalled fellow soldiers being strafed to death by aircraft and others who were killed on the ground while facing off against tanks.
The army did not care about its soldiers because it assumed new recruits could be gathered merely by issuing draft cards, Tanigawa said.
“Soldiers were expendable in the real sense of the term,” he said.
“You should have avoided large-scale mobilization of labor, which would only result in more human costs because foot soldiers were not worth much.”
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