Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tadimichi Kuribayashi

Interesting man. He was the general that was in charge of the Japanese defenses at Iwo Jima during WW2. He was a genius. For the only time in the entire Pacific campaign the Marine Corps took more casualties than they inflicted.

The truth is the only way the United States captured Iwo Jima was to pour on the coal and send thousands of Marines straight into a real meat grinder.

I first thought about Major General Kuribayashi shortly after a family reunion when my Aunt Martha passed out a family tree. I saw the notation on the part of a distant cousin. It simply noted that he died on 6 March, 1945 in Iwo Jima, Japan.

I was aware enough to realize that Jack Davis wasn't in Iwo Jima on that date for a sightseeing excursion. At that time there was a very heated discussion being conducted over the ownership of that particular piece of real estate. It was being conducted in a very businesslike manner. The United States Marine Corps was trading the lives of young Marines for real estate. It proved to be a costly trade.

I decided to look into Jack Davis and find out about him and the Gods of Luck were with me. I found three old Marines that knew him and served with him. One of them was there when Jack was killed. He was a few yards away. I had lunch with one of these men who chided me mildly for showing up at his place in a Toyota. He dryly asked me how many miles I get to a bag of rice.

While I was looking up things on Jack Davis I read up a little on the battle. There was a little on General Kuribayashi and they mentioned a few things about him that did not seem normal  careerwise for a Japanese officer of the 1920s and 30s. For one thing he had spent considerable time in the United States.

I started to dig into the story of this man and I came away with a tremendous respect for him both as a soldier and a human being. He was a good officer and a good father as evidenced by the letters I have read that he sent home while serving outside of Japan.

Kuribayashi spent about three years in the United States studying here and another two years in Canada. He knew Americans and I do believe he genuinely liked them. 

He learned to drive in the States and bought a car here and traveled extensively. His first flat tire taught him quite a bit about Americans.

Being a Japanese officer of the time driving himself was probably a novelty as Japanese officers generally had assigned drivers. 

He was taught to change a flat tire by a sixteen year old girl that happened by, pulled over and helped him out and drove off.

The incident didn't get past him. He realized that Americans were pretty much hands on people and that it had worked its way down to the point where teenaged girls could maintain an automobile. He knew that Japanese soldiers actually needed to be trained to do this and marveled at it.
He also visited American production places, including Detroit and realized that these places could be converted almost instantly to war production. He was amazed by this.

He also took time to meet the locals and once invited the paper boy in for a slap-up meal to talk with him for a while.

We are a very different people than the Japanese who are more mannerly and demure. We're outgoing, loud, outspoken. From what I have been able to read on the man it took a little getting used to and from what I gather he kind of liked what he saw.

His family album contains a number of letters from American officers among others and he seems to have been respected by those he met.

Several times he stated both in the States and at home in Japan that the United States was the last country the Japanese should go to war with.

Of course, he was ignored.

After the war broke out he was sent to Hong Kong as Chief of Staff. He regularly used to visit enlisted men in the hospitals, something unheard of for an officer to do. He often brought the men fruit and other gifts.

My guess is that he likely did this because he realized from his time in the States that he developed a compassion for the ordinary guy. Later an ordinary military contractor that tried to follow him to continue to personally serve him was instantly sent back to Japan. 

Apparently the General had some compassion for the man and didn't want him killed needlessly. Kuribashi knew what the future was going to bring. 

The man was actually a tailor and had served with him in Hong Kong. He was not a Japanese soldier, but a sort of military hiree. He had done Kuribayashi a favor and Kuribayashi returned it by including him in an official picture taken of him. 

It should be carefully noted that Kuribayishi sent for him when the photographer showed up and waited for a half-hour for the tailor to show up as he was some distance away.

An analogy would be like the egotistical General Patton sending for a cook or orderly and waiting for a half hour for him before letting the press take pictures. Fat chance THAT would have happened!

It has been said that he was sent to Iwo Jima partially  because he had spoken out and likely said that the best thing to do at that point was sue for peace. He was a realist and knew that Japan was being beaten to a pulp. It was considered a defeatist attitude. He knew that being sent to Iwo was a death sentence.

Still, he was a soldier and a soldier obeys orders. He went.

I am not going to say anything about the battle itself because volumes upon volumes have been written about it by generals, historians and privates. 

I will mention that the Americans had predicted the invasion would take 5 days. They Japanese held out for thirty-six days. I suppose if you include the holdouts the Japanese actually lasted four years!

General Kuribayashi died along with his men at the end. Most likely he was wearing the uniform of a private as his remains were never identified.

I would imagine the model 1911 that he was gifted by American officers during his stay in the States wound up in some Marine's pack and came back to the States as a bring-back. It very well may be floating around in a pawn shop somewhere or in someone's attic.

Still, Kuribayashi went to Iwo with a knowledge of Americans and that they have an absolute distain for commanders that wind up with heavy casualties.

He also knew there was no possible way he'd win and manage to defend the island against the strength of the war machine of the United States. He knew they would just pour on the coal of their industrial might and take the island.

Kuribayashi knew weapons and he knew men. In addition to that, he knew Americans. His plan was simply to inflict as many casualties on the Americans as he possibly could. He was hoping to get the Americans to agree to a negotiated peace.

I think there's a damned good possibility he might have succeeded forcing the Americans to accept a negotiated peace if he had a little more time to prepare his defenses. He was in the process of tunneling between Mount Suribachi and the north of the island when the Marines hit.

Had he completed this the casualties may have very well skyrocketed and shocked the public even more than they already were. The American public were pretty upset that such a small island cost so much in Marine lives. It should also be noted that he was short on arms and ammunition.

Meanwhile, he had instructed his wife and children to move to the country and avoid the bombings that he saw as inevitible. In addition to being a general he was a most concerned father and husband.

Truth is, he did what he set out to do and I have to respect that. He bled the US Marine Corps like no other foe they had ever faced, inflicting an unprecidented number of Marine casualties.

From the Japanese point of view he was obviously the right man for the job.

Here's the other side of the coin where I think he was truly wasted as a human being and probably a diplomat of sorts.

Expending this man on a mission that was doomed to failure was in another light a waste of talent. With his intimate knowledge of Americans and their ways he most assuredly would have been incredibly useful during the peace process and early post war years.

To me it seems that he was truly wasted in a last ditch useless battle that everybody knew he would never win.

To find out why the blog is pink just cut and paste this: NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN THE WRITING OF TODAY'S ESSAY

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