Author's Notes: This was originally a short story for my U.S. History class, but it was so well-written that I feel that it deserves to be uploaded. The theme was WWII in the Pacific, and we were to choose one of several scenarios and write a story out for it. One option available was that of a Japanese soldier writing in his journal about the Bataan Death March - just as horrible a crime as the Holocaust ever was. The idea was to make it an entry where the soldier was questioning if what they were doing was right and truly just. Here's what I came up with.
Disclaimer: All names in this story are purely coincidental. So, if you're a Japanese person who can fluently read English, you're reading this right now, and your name or the name of an ancestor of yours appears in this story, it was not intended.
March 15, 1943
Honor. That is what they said joining the Imperial Army would give me. Honor and power, power to defend my country and serve it well. "This will be your shining moment, Nagasaki Yuri," they said. "You will be able to claim that you truly do love your country."
And I do. I do love my country, very much.
But I do not love how it is treating those it overthrows.
Around this time last year, we captured a rag-tag group of American and Filipino soldiers. They were fierce, devoted fighters, determined not to give up. But it was inevitable – they were driven back, as a fighting tiger is driven back by fire, and eventually, we saw it. The white flag. They had surrendered to us, sacrificed their honor in hopes of mercy, and humiliated themselves.
The general made sure that they knew of their humility. Upon capture, they were treated like dogs and beaten like them as well, and this continued for the remainder of their days in captivity. They were forced to march, several in a row, day after day, to a camp we had recently overtaken. We soldiers were charged with keeping the prisoners in line and killing them when they strayed.
I remember one prisoner specifically, a tall, fair man with dark eyes. He was thin to begin with, but with the lack of food he had been given, he looked even thinner. He had turned his ankle on the long march, and he limped so pitifully behind the rest that I was sure he would fall into the mud, dying upon impact.
He did fall, but unfortunately, death did not release him from agony. I remember how the general pointed to him, a look of disdain upon his face. "Dispatch him," he told me.
"Yes, sir," I had said, lifting my bayonet and walking towards him.
But when I reached the man, he looked up at me with such a gaze of defiance that I thought perhaps he was a dragon in a man's body. I lifted the bayonet, ready to stab him.
But something made me stop suddenly. Perhaps it was the thought that I was about to kill a man, or perhaps it was the way he spoke to me in such a broken voice.
"Go on," he spat, words bitter with malice and disgust. "Kill me, you rice-eating louse. I've got no life left worth living, not in agony."
But I couldn't. The bayonet hovered in the air, halfway between life and death, a dire balance.
And still his eyes burned into me, haunted, broken, and defiant.
I couldn't move, so I asked him, "Is there a reason you wish for death so?"
His face was as stone, and his gaze was harder – The only indication of any emotional response was a single tear, sliding down his cheek and into his dirt-matted hair.
"My girlfriend," he replied, his tone as cold and sharp as the bayonet, "Killed herself three months before I was deported. We were engaged! We were going to have a family together!"
His voice was loud enough to attract the general, who, with a look of greatest revulsion, kicked the man hard in the chest. The man gave a great gasp of pain and coughed, spitting blood into the dark muck.
I flinched slightly, horror flooding every thread of my being. I couldn't bear to see him suffer such abuse any longer. I drove the bayonet into his gut, closing my eyes as I pulled it out and wincing at his heart-rending gasp of pain. And even as he died, I felt his dark, defiant eyes burn into my soul – as powerful in death as they were in life.
We arrived at the camp yesterday, and I sit now in the soldier's quarters on my bunk, writing this entry. Even though I know my family would be proud of me and that serving my country is honorable, I do not feel that I am honorable.
And I certainly do not feel that I have done the right thing.