September 18, 1931 A Pretext for War

The “Mukden incident” was entirely staged, a “false flag” operation and bald pretext to war, carried out by Japanese military personnel and identical in purpose to that carried out against Poland by Nazi aggressors some eight years later, nearly to the day.

As Japan emerged from the medieval period into the early modern age, the future Nippon Empire transformed from a period characterized by warring states, to the relative stability of the Tokugawa Shōgunate.  Here, a feudal military government ruled from the Edo castle in the Chiyoda district of modern-day Tokyo, over some 250 provincial domains called han.  The military and governing structure of the time was based on a rigid and inflexible caste system, placing the feudal lords or daimyō at the top, followed by a warrior-caste of samurai, and a lower caste of merchants and artisans.  At the bottom of it all stood some 80% of the population, the peasant farmer forbidden to engage in non-agricultural activities, and expected to provide the income that made the whole system work.

Into this world stepped the “gunboat diplomats” of President Millard Filmore in the person of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, determined to open the ports of Japan to trade with the west.  By force, if necessary.

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Gunboat Diplomacy, Commodore Perry

The system led to a series of peasant uprisings in the 18th and 19th centuries, and extreme dislocation within the warrior caste.  In time, these internal Japanese issues and the growing pressure of western encroachment led to the end of the Tokugawa period and the restoration of the Meiji Emperor, in 1868.

Many concluded as did feudal Lord (daimyō) Shimazu Nariakira, that “if we take the initiative, we can dominate; if we do not, we will be dominated”.  In the following decades, Japanese delegations and students traveled around the world to learn and assimilate Western arts, sciences and technologies. As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, Japan was transform from a feudal society into a modern industrial state.

The Korean peninsula remained backward and “uncivilized” during this period, little more than a tributary state to China, and easy prey for foreign domination.  A strong and independent Korea would have represented little threat to Japanese security but, as it was, Korea was a “a dagger pointed at the heart of Japan” in the words of German military adviser to the Meiji government, Major Jacob Meckel.

1-92-140-02The first Sino-Japanese war of July 1894 – April 1895, was primarily fought over control of the Korean peninsula.  The outcome was never in doubt, with the Japanese army and navy by this time patterned after those of the strongest military forces of the day.

The Japanese 1st Army Corps was fully in possession of the Korean peninsula by October, and of the greater part of Manchuria, in the following weeks.  The sight of the mutilated remains of Japanese soldiers in the port city of Lüshunkou (Port Arthur) drove their comrades to a frenzy of shooting and slashing.  When it was over, numbers estimated from 1,000 to 20,000 were murdered in the Port Arthur Massacre.  It was a sign of things to come.

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An illustration of Japanese soldiers beheading 38 Chinese POWs as a warning to others by Utagawa Kokunimasa.

Russian desire for a warm-water port to the east brought the two into conflict in 1904 – ’05, the Russo Japanese War a virtual dress rehearsal for the “Great War” ten years later, complete with trench lines and fruitless infantry charges into interlocking fields of machine gun fire.

Subsequent treaties left Japanese forces in nominal control of Manchurian railroads when, on September 18, 1931, a minuscule dynamite charge was detonated by Japanese Lt. Kawamoto Suemori, near a railroad owned by Japan’s South Manchuria Railway near Mukden, in modern Shenyang, China. The explosion was so weak that it barely disturbed the tracks. A train passed harmlessly over the site just minutes later, yet, the script was already written.

Mukden (1)

The Imperial Japanese Army accused Chinese dissidents of the incident, launching a full scale invasion and installing the puppet emperor Puyi as Emporer Kangde of the occupied state of “Manchukuo”, one of the most brutal and genocidal occupations of the 20th century.

The “Mukden incident” was entirely staged, a “false flag” operation and bald pretext to war, carried out by Japanese military personnel and identical in purpose to that carried out against Poland by Nazi aggressors some eight years later, nearly to the day.

e59373baad2df0c6393fa778500d1575As Western historians tell the tale of WW2, the deadliest conflict in history began in September 1939, with the Nazi invasion of Poland. The United States joined the conflagration two years later, following the sneak attack on the American Naval anchorage at Pearl Harbor, by naval air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Eastern historians are more likely to point to a day eight years earlier, when this and subsequent invasions and the famine and civil wars which ensued, killed more people than the modern populations of Canada and Australia, combined.

Feature image, top of page: Mukden Incident Memorial and Museum, Shenyang, China

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September 9, 1942 If we Knew each other

The old pilot never forgot a promise made to the place he had once tried to burn down.

In the months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the B-1 type submarine I-25 quietly slipped from her dock, departing Yokusuka on November 21 and joining three other Japanese subs on patrol, in the waters north of Oahu.

The B-1 type was a fast cruiser submarine, built for long range and carrying on her bows a small aircraft hanger and deck catapult, designed to store and launch a single two-seater Yokosuka E14Y reconnaissance floatplane, known to the allies as a “Glen”.

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With twenty of them built, the B-1 series was the most numerous of some thirty nine distinct submarine types, employed by the Japanese in WW2.  The type was fairly successful, particularly in the beginning of the war. I-26 crippled the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga in August of 1942, and I-19 sank the aircraft carrier USS Wasp that September, at the same time damaging the battleship USS North Carolina and the destroyer USS O’Brien, which later sank.

I-25 launched the only piloted aircraft during World War II, to successfully attack the American mainland.

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Nobuo Fujita

Lieutenant Commander Meiji Tagami turned the I-25 into the winds off the Oregon coast on the morning of September 9, 1942, and launched the Yokosuka E14Y floatplane, piloted by Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita and armed with two 168-lb thermite bombs.

Fujita had hoped the target would be Los Angeles or San Francisco, payback for the Doolittle raid that April but, no chance of that.   Lumbering along at 90MPH, such an aircraft is way too slow to attack such a heavily defended target.

Fujita’s target this day, was the vast forested region along the Oregon coast, near the California border.  With a little luck, the incendiary bombs would burn down a large section of the forest and a string of coastal towns along with it, diverting American resources from the war effort.

That day, the luck was on the American side. A recent rain in the Siskiyou National Forest had left the place wet, at low risk for fire. Howard “Razz” Gardner watched the aircraft come in, from the fire lookout tower on Mount Emily. He never saw the bombing itself but the plume of smoke, was easy enough to follow. Razz was able to hike to the scene while the Forest Service dispatched lookout Keith Johnson, from a nearby tower. The pair was able to keep the blaze contained overnight, and the crew arriving the next morning, put it out.

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The following day, area commander Lieutenant General John DeWitt announced “The Western Defense Command is investigating the circumstances surrounding the discovery on Sept. 9 of fragments of what appears to have been an incendiary bomb. These fragments were found by personnel of the United States Forestry Service near Mt. Emily nine miles northeast of Brookings, Or. Markings of the bomb fragments indicated that the missile was of Japanese origin”.

Fujita and his observer made a second attack on September 29, but the damage was negligible.  Not at all the regional conflagration he had hoped for.  Late in the war, Japanese authorities released hundreds of balloon bombs into the gulf stream, in a sustained attack on the continental United States.  One managed to kill a Sunday School class and its teacher but, the earlier attacks flown by Nobuo Fujita remained the only piloted attack on the US mainland, of WW2.

Years later, the junior chamber of commerce in Brookings Oregon, the “Jaycees”, got a bright idea over a few beers. Why not invite the only foreign pilot to successfully attack the American Mainland, as an honored guest.

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It was a gesture of friendship, but the idea set off a firestorm in the coastal community. A full-page op-ed signed by 100 locals ran in the Brookings-Harbor Pilot, in 1962. Part of it read:

[Fujita’s] sole claim to fame is that he’s the only Nip pilot who bombed the mainland of the United States by airplane … Why stop with Fujita? Why not assemble the ashes of Judas Iscariot, the corpse of Atilla the Hun, a shovel full of dirt from the spot where Hitler died … .

Brookings resident Greg Jacques remembers, “There was a lot of turmoil. You gotta remember it was only like 16 years after the war. There were 30 to 40 to 50 percent of the men in the community at that time were in World War II.”   There were heated arguments in coffee shops and bars, all over town.  Then-Jaycees President Bill McChesney recalled, “I got a death threat it in the middle of the night.  This guy said, ‘If you walk with that Nip down the street we’re going to have rifles pointed at you, and your family.’”

In the end, the group of young businessmen, none over the age of 35, voted unanimously to extend the invitation. To hell with the consequences. President John F. Kennedy congratulated the group, on their efforts to promote international friendship.

With assurances to the Japanese government that the former pilot would not be tried as a war criminal, the Fujita family left the Ibaraki Prefecture for the City of Brookings Oregon, in 1962. Nobuo, his wife Akayo, and their young son Yasuyoshi. Nobuo carried with him a prized family heirloom, a 400-year old Katana, the Samurai Sword with which he intended to perform Seppuku, ritual suicide by disembowelment, should this visit go wrong.

Nobuo Fujita presents his family's sword to the mayor of Brookin

Despite the bitterness left in the wake of that terrible war, the visit did not go wrong.
Fujita was made honorary chairman of that year’s azalea festival. The man was presented with a ceremonial key to the city, and allowed to take the controls of an aircraft, flying over the bomb site. He even tried his hand at playing a bagpipe, during a parade.

All things were not “Kumbaya” – several men were jailed during the visit, in a preemptive effort to keep the lid on.

In the end, Nobuo Fujita did not open his abdomen with that sword, nor did he pass the treasured heirloom to his son, as once intended. The sword which had accompanied him on his every mission of the late war, including the one over Brookings itself, that prized object did he give to the city of Brookings, as a symbol of friendship. The sword may be seen at the Chetco Public Library, to this day.

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Back in Japan, the economy was tough after the war. Fujita passed the family hardware store down to his son, but the business failed. The old pilot never forgot a promise made to the place he had once tried to burn down. Fujita worked for years to earn the money, to buy a few books every month. In 1985 he kept his promise, inviting three Brookings-Harbor High School students on a cultural exchange visit to Japan, with the money he had saved. An aide to President Ronald Reagan sent him a letter, “with admiration for your kindness and generosity.”

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Hat tip Oregon Public Broadcasting, OPB.org, for this and the sword image.

Fujita returned to Brookings in 1990, and again in 1992, and 1995. During the 1992 visit, he planted a Pacific Redwood, at the site where his bombs fell.

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Nobuo Fujita died in 1997 at the age of eighty-five, only days after being made an honorary citizen of the city of Brookings. In October of the following year, Fujita’s daughter Yoriko Asakura returned to the bomb site, where she buried some of her father’s ashes. Now, his spirit would fly over that place, forever.

Fujita NYT obit Oct 3 '97

At some point, the only foreign pilot to successfully attack the American mainland, confided to his diary: “If we knew each other. If we understood each other as a friend. This foolish war would never have happened. I sincerely hope that a day would come where everyone could overcome their differences through talking and not fighting”.

Yeah…What he said.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.