June 20, 1945, was a terrible, terrible day for the people who lived in Fukuoka, Japan.
Fukuoka City, with a metropolitan population much larger than Kansas City, is not well-known in the U.S. But twenty-three years after the end of WWII, Fukuoka became June’s and my home, and we enjoyed living in that beautiful city for thirty-six years.
But it was a terrible place to be on June 20, 1945.
While living in Fukuoka we sometimes heard references to the saturation bombing of the city in 1945. In fact, some friends were always frightened by thunder, for it reminded them of that horrendous June 20. (The bombing actually began less than an hour before midnight on June 19, local time.)
But for some strange reason I never did learn much about the details of the bombing of Fukuoka. Until last year, that is.
Akira Yoshimura (b. 1927) is a bestselling novelist in Japan. His book about Japan in 1945, and later, was published in 1978, and it was translated and published as One Man’s Justice in 2003. Last August I read Yoshimura’s book, and was greatly moved by it.
June 20, 1945, was also not a good day for eight captured U.S. airmen, for they were taken to a schoolyard in Fukuoka (very near where our church used to meet) and beheaded.
Takuya, the main character of Yoshimura’s novel, was a fugitive after the end of the war, for he had given direct orders for beheading two of those captured American flyers and was sought by the Allied occupying forces as a war criminal.
An American friend we knew quite well in Fukuoka has posted on the Internet considerable material about the beheading of those American servicemen. Yoshimura’s novel tells the other side of the story.
By June 20, 1945, there had already been over 20,000 bombing raids on Japan, claiming around 400,000 lives. But most of the attacks on Kyushu, the main southwestern island of Japan, had been limited to military targets—until the Fukuoka bombing.
Most of the nearly 1,000 deaths from that bombing were of defenseless civilians. (That, of course, was also true of the hundreds of thousands killed in August 1945 by the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities.)
The painful question is why were the U.S. prisoners who were directly related to the bombings that “burnt to death thousands of defenceless old men, women and children” (p. 66) not considered guilty by most Americans whereas the man who ordered the execution of two such flyers was pursued as a war criminal?
Some would say the U.S. airmen were executed without a trial. In that case, why was there such cheering in this country when Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. SEALS? (Admittedly, the scale of bin Laden’s crimes was greater, still . . . .) And won’t there be the same sort of rejoicing if, or when, Muammar Gaddafi, is killed by the NATO forces bombing Libya daily?
I do not condone people taking “justice” into their own hands. But much more strongly, I oppose the bombing of non-combatants (the elderly and children) even in war.
Thus, this is a day of sad remembrance for me for those who were living in Fukuoka in 1945. But today is also a good time to pray for peace, now and in the future.