Nichijo: The Testimony of John
Without announcement, a most unexpected change in the atmosphere of our circumstances at Bunkwa Camp began to reveal itself. The two Japanese civilians who had been in charge of the overall propaganda effort at Radio Tokyo were Ikeda and Domoto. Count Ikeda was the vicious and vitriolic one. He had been in a position of preeminence for the first year at Bunkwa. Domoto had always been smooth and conciliatory and now seemed to increasingly supersede Ikeda in authority. It was a welcome change but soon even more confounding.
Domoto had begun cautioning the POW's about the questionable parts of our scripts, rather than rebuking us and having us punished. He began to portray himself as part of a peace faction within the Japanese government that wanted to bring the war to a negotiated conclusion. He indicated that he was on very delicate ground with the military. The military had led Japan to wars of conquest and had vowed to fight to the very last drop of Japanese blood and never surrender. Domoto's actions would have been considered treasonous. He was in charge of our broadcast activities at Radio Tokyo; but we were always accompanied by our guards from the military police, the Kempetai, at the studios, and back at Bunkwa Camp.
Over a period of a few months, Domoto tried to convince us that he was responsible for the softening of our treatment by the Kempeitai. He would confide in us the growing sentiment of the government and let us know when our scripts were alarming the military censors. He let us know that he was aware of our efforts to broadcast double meanings and military intelligence. He went so far as to make the startling suggestion that the POW scriptwriters try to indicate to Allied intelligence that Japan was ready to talk surrender. Of all the unexpected and baffling events that we residents of Bunkwa had encountered, this was the most bizarre.
From where we sat in the heart of Tokyo, it seemed conceivable. The American bombing raids appeared over the city daily for weeks on end, hundreds of those enormous B-29's each day. By the summer of 1945, they flew lower and lower, since no Japanese warplanes remained to challenge them. The city rumbled with the sounds of their engines and their firebombs fell all around. The population had been decimated again and again. On our daily rides through Tokyo on the way to the radio studios, we could see the growing devastation, huge swaths of the city burnt to nothing. School children had been evacuated from densely populated areas to the countryside to preserve a generation. The population that remained trudged along with green complexions, emaciated faces and hollow stares of desperation. Domoto's assessment probably was true. It was as obvious to me that the war was nearly finished, as it had been obvious to me that it was about to begin in 1941.
Now, our Allied POW officers were in a strange position: while it was certainly good news that the Japanese wished to surrender, it is not appropriate for a POW to aid the enemy in a peace offensive, anymore than it would be to aid it in war. Your country may not want its adversary to surrender at this moment. That's above the pay grade of anybody at Radio Tokyo. The dilemma was the topic of many arguments between Domoto and our POW officers.
Throughout the summer, Domoto continued his campaign of ingratiation and began to insinuate that the desire to surrender emanated from the Emperor himself. As incredible as it seemed to us, the captives, that the Emperor was asking for our help, the idea soon gained some concrete and welcome credence: Our Kempeitai guards were replaced by members of the Imperial guard, the Emperor's own palace police. At Bunkwa, we had always been told that we would be executed in the end, in any case of invasion; we were now told that our lives were under the protection of the throne.
This change in the guards came only a few days after August 6, 1945, my 28th birthday. On this day, I was tending a flowerbed near the guards' quarters. It was something I had begun doing months before, when I realized that I could overhear and interpret what was being said over the Japanese public radio broadcasts. On this day I heard the announcement that the Americans had detonated a weapon of unprecedented destructive force over the city of Hiroshima, and much of the city had disappeared in a fireball.
In the days following, the machinery of the Japanese Government deliberated the details of surrender within the Imperial Palace, and on the morning of the detonation of the second atomic bomb at Nagasaki the cable of surrender was sent to the Allies. Surrender was not made clear to the Japanese people until August 15, when in an unprecedented broadcast the Emperor's own voice was heard over the radio, exhorting them to "endure the unendurable".
It's not as though the Emperor's voice had the power to end the war. Bombs still rained on Tokyo; in the distance, U.S. Navy guns blasted unceasingly the approaches to Tokyo Bay. The message to the Allies had to be received, studied, discussed, accepted, terms of surrender decided, a formal communication of acceptance drafted, approved, delivered and a plan of occupation set into motion. The Japanese still had to communicate with all its far flung forces the order to surrender, disarm its military defenses in Japan, put down insurrections of individual units large and small, and prevent its kamikaze squadrons from carrying out their sacred oaths.
And what of the prisoners of war? It had long been the plan to execute us all if the Allies launched an invasion of Japan; but the possibility of surrender and acquiescence to invasion had not been widely discussed. Perhaps we should be executed to cover the details of the atrocities that had been committed against us, and to conceal the identities of the perpetrators. The message of the Emperor, "The Voice of the Crane", did not end the war. It brought on a scramble of reorganization and retrenchment, and among the Japanese civilians, a nightmare of chaos and fear, as they learned that they faced imminent occupation and domination by the American monsters they had been taught to dread.
The population was a desperate and sickly swarm of humanity. Their city lay in flames and ruins, not knowing where to run, where to hide, what to eat, what to do; stumbling through the ashes of Tokyo, weeping, wringing their hands in fear of what lay ahead, scratching for nonexistent scraps of food.
At Bunkwa Camp, the mood was not exactly one of elation, but more of a relief from a long vigil endured; the sentiment shared was "...well, now it's over, the Allies have won, and now it doesn't matter if we as individuals survive. We have lived to see the end, the outcome of all our Pacific-wide efforts." The oath that each one of us in our own way had made on the day of capture, that somehow he would continue to struggle, by whatever means, until once again our own forces were in control, and the world was again set upright. Our individual fates in the next few days seemed of little consequence now that we all, collectively, had won. There was little assurance that we would survive, even with victory at hand. Food was not in any greater supply; indeed, not even the guards and the civilian staff at the radio station knew where their next meal was coming from.
There were also powerful incentives for those Japanese who concocted the idea of Bunkwa Camp and "Zero Hour". Those who created the system of POW broadcasts had much to hide: The entire process of forcing prisoners of war to broadcast under threat of execution constituted a number of blatant war crimes. We at Bunkwa would not be surprised if at this moment executions would be carried out to conceal those crimes. No one knew what to expect, captive or captor. No one had expected the end to come so suddenly, most had expected a bloody and protracted invasion of Japan; and no one could have realistically expected to personally witness the end of the war.
A few months before, in June, Cousens had briefed everyone at Bunkwa, telling us that he would take responsibility for everything to do with the broadcasts. But now, there was a move afoot to lay off some responsibility on me, of all people, a bit player in the Radio Tokyo world. I don't know when Captain Ince's dark feelings about me began. We had been acquaintances briefly in Manila before the war. He was present and broadcasting from Corregidor and no doubt had heard of the suspicions of me in regards to Captain Thomson's execution, and had perhaps believed them. Next we had met in Bilibid Prison, where he told me of going on a "secret mission to Tokyo", and encountering him again at Bunkwa Camp and the studios of Radio Tokyo where he was one of my commanding officers.
Now in the face liberation he was concerning himself with how the circumstances and events of Bunkwa Camp and Radio Tokyo would appear to the U.S. authorities. Captain Ince had called a huddle in the officer's quarters at Bunkwa. They were studying a copy of the U.S. Constitution that was among their books. They were particularly concerned with Article III, Section 3:
"Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court."
Obviously, all at Bunkwa Camp had drawn to us the suspicion of treason, from anyone who had knowledge of the broadcasts. Ince got busy at the typewriter carefully and creatively drawing a caricature of a traitorous John Provoo. Ince knew very well that I had been suspect on Corregidor and that the Counter Intelligence people would certainly want to talk to me after the war. Why not expand the role of this traitor in the telling of the propaganda broadcast story?
Ince, having arrived and begun broadcasting over a year before myself and forty other POW's arrived at Bunkwa, would be under suspicion for his own actions. Ince had been the first American pressed into this new form of POW slave labor. He had been, like the rest of us, in mortal danger and undeniably under extreme duress, but how would he explain having been well fed, comfortably clothed in civilian suits, and quartered in a hotel room? What did such a gloved hand incarceration suggest?
Throughout our experience at Bunkwa we believed what Cousens and Ince were telling us, that we were part of an intelligence operation. We needed to believe that. If we didn't, many of us would have refused, even under threat of execution. The one who did refuse to participate, Captain Kalbfleisch, was taken away and not seen again until after the war. We were told he had been killed.
Ince had been broadcasting for nearly a year before my fellows and I began our stay at Bunkwa Camp. We shivered in our rags in unheated barracks, and dined on miniscule portions of gruel. How would Ince explain his coming and going by taxicab, writing the scripts and political commentaries for innumerable radio broadcasts along the lines of the enemies' purposes. Maybe I was being set up as a lightening rod. If he was convinced of the rumors from Corregidor, which some on the scene had even attempted to murder me for, or for whatever reason, he had come to regard me as expendable. He inclined his creative talents to characterize my radio work, among that of all these others, as the work of a lone collaborator.
Ince typed up his report. It was Ince's finger that controlled the switch at Radio Tokyo; it was Ince's finger that cued the various POW's when to step up to the microphone and when to begin speaking; now it was Ince's finger pointing at me in accusation. After nearly two years of faithfully following Ince's orders, the Captain informed me that I was under arrest. I was thunderstruck.
What did being under arrest mean? I felt no more confined than I had for the last three and a half years, and I didn't believe that Ince's version of events would even be taken seriously. Naively, like Iva Toguri, I believed that I would simply tell what had happened on Corregidor and Bunkwa and how we had all struggled and endured all manner of torment and suffering, and how we had never turned our backs on our government, and how we had attempted to subvert the Japanese intentions on the air and pass information to the Allies. This report was a key link in a chain I will drag the rest of my life. This report would weigh me down with presumed guilt long before my side of the story could be heard. This book will be the very first time the whole odyssey has been calmly, thoughtfully told. I ask only that it be read with curiosity.
A week after the Emperor's surrender message had been broadcast; the Bunkwa guards let it be known that everyone, including Cousens and Ince, were being moved to Omori Camp. It was not welcome news. Since we were at last housed there, Omori had earned the name "Hell Camp", and the fliers who had been brought to Bunkwa after the rest had brought with them horrible stories about events there. We gathered up our meager belongings and the two complete scripts of all we had said over the air as POW broadcasters. We were loaded onto trucks and driven through the streets of Tokyo. The city was worse than ever before; few buildings remained standing, many were still in flames or smoldering and what people were in evidence scurried about, picked through the rubble, huddled in subway entrances and wandered in despair. The canals were choked with bodies of the dead. It would have been an easy bet that we would be exterminated when we reached Omori; before the liberation forces arrived and discovered the horrors and war crimes that had taken place there.
The trucks rumbled across the causeway to the island camp, Omori. They drove us past the camp headquarters where 20 months before, the Commander had absolved himself of our fate and consigned us to the Kempeitai. Trucks rolled to a stop within the compound ...there was no massacre in progress. Instead, the Japanese were hurriedly preparing for their own departure. Filling the trucks with the last contingent of guards, the camp was turned over to U.S. Navy Commander Mahrer, and the departing Japanese Commander addressed the assembled prisoners: "Remember the Japanese love flowers, children and POW's", and with that, he and the last of the Japanese left the island.
U.S. planes flew low over the compound and parachuted crates of food and supplies to the bedraggled throng. In their enthusiasm and the rush toward the descending crates several prisoners were crushed beneath them. Some of the final casualties of "Hell Camp", died on their day of salvation: some tried to swim out to the incoming barges and drown before they could be reached.
Captain Ince had lost no time in promoting his bizarre portrait of me. Immediately on arrival at Omori Camp, Ince had gone to Commander Mahrer and insisted that I be put under arrest. Commander Mahrer simply left the matter in Ince's hands. It didn't mean anything as far as custody or confinement it was just an idea in Ince's mind unofficially acknowledged by the Camp Commander, an annoyance to me on this otherwise joyful day of liberation, that I had no idea would be so short.
The liberating forces drew up to the island in landing barges and came ashore to the cheers of the surviving captives. The landing party was led by Commander Stassen. Of course, as soon as Ince got the opportunity he demanded that I be arrested. Commander Stassen refused, chuckling, "I don't know what any of you guys have been doing, arrest him yourself." When Ince did again recite his incantation, "You're under arrest". I snarled at him and stalked away. I never saw Ince again.
Among a thousand other liberated POW's, I was taken aboard the hospital ship Benevolence. Our rags were thrown overboard. We were disinfected with strong solutions and the weakest of us were taken to hospital beds. Those who could handle regular food were going to be sent back aboard liberty ships immediately; the rest would be nursed back to health before being repatriated. Someone asked me if I could make a chow line. "Sure", I said, and then collapsed.
I woke up in a hospital bed. A nurse came to my bedside and asked if I wanted to send a message home. I sent a short wire to my family to let them know that I was alive. The nurse returned with a set of earphones; I put them on and heard,"….drinking rum and Coca-Cola, working for the Yankee dollah." As she left, I noticed that I was in a locked hospital ward. It apparently was a psychiatric ward. There was someone locked in a small individual cell within the locked ward screaming over and over again, "Oh Lord my God, is there no help for the widow's son?" I would have gone crazy myself if I had to stay there much longer.
I was only in the hospital bed a few hours when armed MP's came and took me out, removed me from the ship and drove me to the outskirts of Yokohama and placed me alone in a cell in the old Yokohama Prison.
An officer came to my cell and said he was there to get a statement about everything that had happened. I thought that this was the opportunity to tell it all calmly and resolve all suspicions. I knew what light I had been seen in on Corregidor, but there had never been a forum to clear the air.
I began much the way this narrative begins; by describing my early childhood and my early interest in Buddhism and Japanese culture. I told him of my decision to join a Buddhist Sunday school and how I had always had Japanese friends. I spoke of the books I had read and how I had wanted to become part of a bridge of understanding between East and West…then I noticed that the officer had stopped writing. He narrowed his eyes and scowled at me... "You don't expect anybody to believe all this crap, do you?" I was thunderstruck once more. There was going to be no clearing of the air, not for a long time.
No statement at all emerged from this meeting, the officer left with a few notes that he did not take seriously. This was the first of five or six dozen interrogations over the next seven years. It was typical of the interrogators I would confront. Ninety percent of my questioners would have their own answers to the questions before they even met me ...it would be an exercise in bending the interview into the same preconceived mold. An interviewer with an open mind was a rare exception.
When the officer left and I was alone again in my cell, I sank into a hopeless despair. I had been looking forward to this airing through all the years of the war. What a relief it would be to tell my story.
Just when life had seemed to exhaust all the possible visions of torment, the dark foreboding I had felt when Ince had first mentioned my arrest at Bunkwa was coming into focus. The years in prison camp had been an ordeal I had shared with my fellow POW's, the enemy was identifiable, the lines of conflict clear, and the Allied Armed Forces, of which we were a part, had been pressing relentlessly toward our rescue. Now the war had ended, the page had been turned, and the new chapter appeared, unbelievably, for me more agonizing than the last ...An ordeal to be faced alone, enemies within my own country's government, identities unknown; that enemy's motives and objectives, unknown; how to defend myself, unknown; who to trust, unknown; ...and who would come to my rescue: unknown.
Now I could see no resolution possible, not even the smallest fact about my past and my character was going to be believed. Perhaps I could salvage some victory from this tragedy by accepting responsibility, by taking the rap for my friends at Bunkwa. I was in this mood when General Eichelberger, Commanding General of the Eighth Army, came to my cell and looked in. "How are you son, are you going to be all right?" I blurted out, "General, I broke the chain of command." Eichelberger seemed to minimize my remark, "Don't worry, son. We're going to look into it." He seemed caring and sympathetic. It gave me a lift.
Yokohama Prison had been renamed XI Corps stockade by the occupation Army and was being used as a collection point for war criminals. I was in with some real ones. One was "The Butcher of Warsaw", Colonel Meisinger. There was another Nazi that had been the leader of the Hitler Youth Movement. I could see them through the barred window of my cell, walking around in the small courtyard where they were occasionally allowed to exercise.
On rare occasions, I was allowed in the courtyard and once there I encountered a sickly Japanese that I recognized. It was Field Marshall Terauchi, Commander of all of the Japanese forces in the South Pacific, to whom I had offered ice water three and a half years before on Corregidor, and who had spared me in my moment of daring, rebuking his forces for the treatment of the Allied captives. Terauchi said, "I know why I am here, but I cannot understand why you are here." Here was one who would have been willing to speak on my behalf, would it have done any good. He knew I was no traitor.
Then, just as suddenly as I had been put into Yokohama prison, I was taken out. I was put in a jeep, without guards and driven down to the Yokohama docks. I was told that I was going home and dropped off at the gangplank of a Navy Destroyer. It had just been a nightmare, a simple misunderstanding, simply corrected. I walked about the decks, a free man at last.
On my way into the mess hall, I ran into Mark Streeter, the loony advocate of technocracy. If anyone had been a crackpot propagandist at Bunkwa, it was this guy. He had no problem writing up and broadcasting really cockeyed anti-Roosevelt rants. He was the oddest duck there and really had no friends. We had enough shared experience to be glad to see each other. We went through the chow line, got our food and sat down at a table to talk.
We weren't there long when some sailors near us said, "Say, did you hear? There are some TRAITORS on board!" I swallowed hard. I had a strange feeling. The ship's Captain entered the mess hall with two armed sailors at his side, and approached the table where Mark and I were sitting. The Captain asked us to step outside. I replied that I could hear whatever it was right where I sat. The Captain became livid..."Arrest... Arrest ...Arrest these two!"
We were taken to the ship's brig, and placed in a very small cell. The nightmare was not over ...it was the freedom that was the fleeting illusory interlude ...I had awakened again into my nightmare. In the dim light of my cell in the hold of the destroyer at the Yokohama docks I wrote a letter of farewell to my family. At this point I felt that I would never see them again. I was deep in a hopeless despair. I had had cerebral malaria in the jungles of Bataan, been delirious from various tropical fevers, gone nearly mad from the suffocation and the vision of dead bodies floating in the sewage of the locked hold of the ship from Manila to Taiwan. I had been under the stress of imminent death for years on end and subjected to uncountable beatings and constant malnutrition. I had always been able to bounce back from my breakdowns and endure. But now I felt myself breaking, cracking and being twisted to an extent that I feared would finish me.
I was taken from the brig and driven to Tokyo, where Sugamo prison had been readied for the war criminals. I was placed in an individual cell on the third tier, with a steel door with a peephole in it. There were several Europeans, but Mark Streeter, Iva Toguri and myself were the only Americans held there. I was surprised and terribly dismayed to see Iva there, her of all people. She had been a heroine to us, and now she was being treated most callously, and being referred to as "Tokyo Rose".
On the heels of the occupying forces, came packs of reporters, sniffing through the rubble for the big stories. The Allied media didn't have a lot of specific names of the villains of the Pacific War and in occupied Tokyo there were two; the wartime Prime Minister, Tojo, and Tokyo Rose. The Allied Forces had Tojo, he was real and not accessible to reporters, and Tokyo Rose was a myth. The myth was determined to be a composite of voices from all over East Asia, a GI fiction. No one ever broadcast under that name under the 24 hour a day Allied monitoring through the entire war. The military issued a specific report to that effect. There never was a Tokyo Rose.
Among the journalists, were Harry Brundidge and Clark Lee, two who devised a strategy to stake a claim to the story of a Tokyo Rose, to find her and get the first interview. They offered the sum of $250 (a huge amount at the time) for an introduction, to whoever could arrange it. The trail led to Radio Tokyo and two male broadcasters, Oki and Mitsushio, who had worked on "Zero Hour". They were wary of the notoriety. Oki's wife was among the six girls at Radio Tokyo that had been used on air. They suggested that Iva, the one who had not renounced her U.S. citizenship and had been an outsider to the rest of the civilian employees at the station, might fill the journalists' requirements.
Iva was elated when the war was finally over and eager to make contact with the Americans who were everywhere in Tokyo. When asked to talk to these two, she quickly agreed to meet with them at their hotel. She told them quite bluntly that she was not Tokyo Rose but only the disc jockey sometimes referred to as Orphan Ann. She did want to tell her story and earn money to return to Los Angeles. Even though the truth didn't fit the lurid narrative already in the public mind, Brundidge, of Cosmopolitan Magazine, could see money in the exclusive rights to the story that could be portrayed as Tokyo Rose. He asked for her signature on a short contract, in exchange for which she was promised she would eventually receive $2000.
The other reporter present, Clark Lee of an International wire Service, however broke the story in the LA Examiner, with his own slant on the story: Shocking news that Tokyo Rose was a U.S. citizen, and that Cosmopolitan Magazine was rewarding her with a $2000 contract, which he dubbed "Traitor's Pay". The resulting public outcry put an end to Brundidge's dream, and brought pressure on the military to arrest her, which they did.
She was in a cell two tiers below me and directly across, so that I could see her when she stood at the front of her cell. She was given no privacy at all, her cell had only bars on the front and her lights were kept on 24 hours per day. She was on display for the curiosity seekers, like a zoo animal. Many visitors came to her cell to stand and look, and to try to get her autograph. I was disgusted at the insensitivity of my countrymen. The spectacle being made of the courageous Iva gave me little hope that I would receive fair treatment.
I wrote letters home but my family did not receive them. The family wrote to me but I did not receive them either. I was not even given the letter that was to inform me that my mother had died. Finally my brother-in-law, a lieutenant in the occupation Army, managed to get in to see me for a short visit and tell me the sad news. My mother had survived the war and had seen all her sons return but one. I had been robbed of that victory over war, I had always dreamed of the day when I could see her again, after all that I had been through.
Of all things, Van Dienst was there: the white-maned Dutch Buddhist from Java, the one who had invited me to study in a Buddhist temple in Java years before the war. The Queen of Holland was petitioning to have him released, and in the meantime she had arranged for him to have a small organ in his cell, just a few doors down from mine. We would sing Buddhist hymns and chant Buddhist chants. It was wonderful to have him there, but fortunately, he was soon released.
Time after time agents of the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) came to my cell to interview me. I would greet them with hope or suspicion. They were mostly of the suspicious sort. When they showed a preconceived stance I gave them semi coherent ramblings and demands for counsel. When they showed any sign of listening, I gave them the truth. CIC agent Milton Belinkie was one of those who listened.
I became friends with agent Belinkie. He believed me and sympathized with my plight. There were times when I was beginning to think that I would be able to get my story told. I even had reason to believe that I was being considered for being a CIC agent myself again. On several occasions, I was taken out of Sugamo and into Tokyo on various assignments. Once I was taken back to Bunkwa to describe what happened there. When we arrived there Mama-san rushed out to greet me and embrace me. She was glad to see that I had survived, was in good health and had even gained weight; she was happy to see an American face that she recognized among the thousands of occupation soldiers. The CIC agents even took me to their headquarters of military intelligence to translate Japanese language newspapers and to help in identifying Japanese guards that had been involved in various atrocities.
I had made friends with one of the G.I. guards at Sugamo and finally gained the support of Colonel Hardy, who was the commander of the prison. Colonel Hardy had become aware of the preconceived attitude of some of the interrogators and that their suspicions were not arising from the known facts ...something else was going on. He had a typewriter brought to my cell and told me to make my own statement, my own way, to take the time to tell it all and that it would get into the hands of the Commanding General.
On March 21st, I typed a 51 page single-spaced statement detailing the experiences of my war years. Within a few days, the Chief of the Legal Section of AFPAC recommended that no charges be preferred.
Early in April, a guard brought to my cell a brand new Class A uniform. I changed and was ushered out of Sugamo Prison for the last time. I was driven to the Dai Ichi Building, headquarters for all the Allied occupation forces, and was taken to meet General Douglas MacArthur himself. He was an extremely busy man, but he took a minute to meet with me. The General said, "I wanted to tell you to your face. I wanted you to know that the Army didn't order your arrest and detention ...These charges were brought on instructions from high in the civilian government."
I was raised in grade to staff sergeant, given a statement that I had been cleared of all doubt or complicity and given passage on the next ship home. My Pacific war was over, April 4, 1946, eight months late.
2015 John Oliver