This year, the United States will observe the 75th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. With this act, Japan woke the sleeping giant that catapulted the United States into World War II. Mindful of this impending anniversary, I thought I would read this book written in 1961 by a Japanese destroyer captain. This was a man who was fighting for his country, just like our boys were fighting for ours.
As an individual who has not traveled to the orient, or studied the Japanese language, I did find it difficult to follow along with all the different names of the ships and locations. It is easy for me to follow the names of ships like San Francisco or Oklahoma, however, the Japanese names for ships were challenging because of my lack of experience in their language.
Captain Hara did not come from a privileged background. In fact, the opposite was true. He was born to a poor family where his family had to work hard to put just enough food on the table for everyone to eat. Because of this, Captain Hara’s grandfather took care of him during the first several years of his life.
His grandfather was one of the last samurais. When Japan united, the samurai was required to hang up their swords and live a civilian’s life. However, it was often hard for samurai to assimilate because their entire lives had been devoted to the art of war. Captain Hara’s grandfather instilled into Hara an honor code that was demonstrated throughout his life.
Captain Hara succeeded in school and as such, his brother’s sacrificed in order to ensure that he stayed in school. Captain Hara understood that he could not afford to go to University so he decided he would attend a service academy. He sat for both the Army and the Navy exams and managed to pass both exams. Captain Hara chose the Navy and this started his career as a naval officer.
After graduating from Naval school and having served several tours of duty, his brother informed him that he had found a suitable wife for him. The young lady was very rich and owned multiple vacation homes that were rented out which provided a substantial dowry. Captain Hara could not understand how such a financially well-off young lady would have any interest in marrying down to a naval officer. His brother explained that the young lady was interested in marrying a naval officer because her mother wanted to live with her and she knew that a naval officer would be away most of the time.
As was Japanese tradition, the couple met and after one meeting, Captain Hara made the necessary arrangements to marry the young lady. It was an arranged marriage that produced two girls and one boy.
Prior to World War II, Captain Hara made a name for himself in the Japanese Navy by becoming an expert on torpedo warfare. Captain Hara noticed that the Japanese destroyer boats had an extremely poor hit ratio. As such, he took the time to study the problem and he found the mistakes and basically rewrote the entire manual on torpedo warfare. While Captain Hara did not receive much public fanfare for his mathematical prowess, it was well known throughout the Navy he was the best torpedo operator that Japan had.
What I liked best about this book was Captain Hara’s honesty. He was there in the sea when these battles were going on. He is blatantly honest about the mistakes the Japanese government made during the war. However, he also points out multiple times where the U.S. Navy or Air Force made mistakes when they did not press their advantage.
One area that Captain Hara really challenged his superiors was in the area of doing the same thing over and over again. Just because something worked the first time, did not mean that the U.S. Navy and Air Force were not going to figure it out and be prepared the next time. Captain Hara warned his superiors on numerous occasions that they should not do the same plan back-to-back. Yet despite all his warnings, Captain Hara watched in frustration as the leadership took the Japanese Navy into traps.
Captain Hara was not only an expert marksman with the torpedo, but he also was a skilled navigator and a brilliant strategist. If Captain Hara had been about ten years older when WW2 started, he probably would have had a significantly higher rank and I am sure that the war would have lasted several more years because Captain Hara would have been in the position to better advise and command the Japanese military to make better tactical decisions.
During one of Captain Hara’s visits to his family during the war, he became agitated because his wife was still at a meeting. His oldest daughter reminded her father that mommy had to go to these meetings to help with the war effort. His wife was helping lead the drive to recycle household goods for the war effort. This antidote was very refreshing because it helped remind me that the Japanese citizens were no different than the U.S. citizens, doing whatever they could to help the war effort.
The number of soldiers left who fought in World War II is dwindling. I highly encourage every American to brush up on their World War II history as we get ready to celebrate the 75th anniversary of America’s involvement in World War II.