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  • Writer's pictureCorbin Riker

Excerpt From IJIN

I think of death.

I sit in a cold, dank cell in the darkened bowels of a military prison in Hiroshima. As I

await my execution, I think about another who is facing death. He was a remarkable young boy; an innocent soul that was coming of age against the backdrop of this ill-conceived war that my country has waged for these past nine dreadful years.

The story I’m about to tell is my recollection of that boy, matur- ing amidst this war, with

whom I was thrown into contact over a period of years. It was a war that had cost the

lives of millions of my fellow countrymen who bled in the belief of superiority, who

burned in the cities that were built on false promises; men who did their duty but

ultimately lost their humanity. It was a war of national suicide and the personal

perversity of hundreds of thou- sands of people; a polite and cultured people gone

mad—and that young boy, now a teenager, who was tormented by this war, placed

himself in harm’s way and was thrown into the turmoil of a plot to overthrow an Emperor.

Whether it was out of fear, revenge, honor, or personal salvation, I still cannot say. But

this American teenager, Connor Williams, placed himself of his own free will in the pilot’s

seat of a Mitsubishi Zero, joining other young Kamikaze pilots hell-bent on attacking the

powerful American fleet off our coast.

How did this young American teenage boy arrive at such a strange and startling fate?

Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

Innocuously called the February 26 Incident, it included the assassination of several

leading officials, including two former Prime Ministers and the occupation of the

government center of Tokyo—even the attempted control of the Imperial Palace itself. A

group of junior officers of a Tokyo regiment had murdered several liberal statesmen.

One of them was Jōtarō Watanabe whose entire family and servants were mercilessly

gunned down at his home.

The Emperor ordered the conspirators to return to their barracks, and the ringleaders

were condemned to commit suicide. Those that refused were court-martialed.

My editor, who had the privilege of publicly occupying the publisher’s chair, felt a first

person perspective on the execution would prove the efficacy of our paper. “Good ink,”

my editor said.

“Koga, sell first, truth later,” he added.

However, I, and some of the other reporters, believed our wit-

ness to this execution served as a subtle warning to toe the party line. However, not as

subtle, was the vandalism of our newspaper’s office during the incident.

As I hurried along, the towering brick walls that framed the courtyard taunted me,

warning me of their power. My pace slowed as I was stopped by a frowning Imperial

Marine sergeant. “Papers,” he ordered.” I produced my press credentials which elicited

a gruff order, “Stand with the others.” I then joined the other reporters present to witness

the execution.

Taking my place amongst my colleagues, I leaned close enough to hear them mutter

about the Incident, placing blame and laughing over the impending doom these men

were facing. I turned and observed five Imperial Army officers behind us, standing in a

line, backs pressed against a brick wall, silent.

Their hands were tied behind their backs. I could see one of the knock-kneed prisoners

crouching downward as if the strain of his impending death was too much for his

shoulders to bear. Perhaps it was simply dishonor. Perhaps he had resigned to his fate.

The young prisoners were stripped of rank, but I recognized 5

them as officers due to their tailored uniforms, single-breasted tunics with stand and fall

collars, wool pantaloons, and leather ankle-boots.

Their complement faced them, rifles at the ready, and waited nervously for the

command to fire. Though ordered to face straight ahead, one or two would periodically

cast quick nervous glances to an Army major that was in charge of the firing squad.

I could see that the major was seized by barely contained dis- tress. The man was on

the brink. The Adam’s apple in his throat bobbed with anguish; the spot between his

eyebrows clinched with overwhelming emotional pain; but the major stood firm. His fear

conquered his conscience—for the moment.

“Give the command to fire!” ordered a colonel off to the major’s right. I recognized the

Colonel’s uniform and insignia immediately. He was a member of Kempeitai, the

dreaded military secret police.

There was another distinguishing factor on the man—a nasty scar half-closing his left

eye running to the bottom of his cheek.

Next to the Colonel was an Imperial Army Lieutenant. He stood emotionless, stroking

the handle of his service sword that hung by his side. This day was no different than any

other in his book. He had grown accustomed to death. Killing was as innate to him as

eating and drinking.

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