The day after I arrived, a special field-operations training exercise was announced for all twenty-two of the new candidate officers. For a week Second Lieutenant Tanaka, our instructor, took us to the scenes of battles that had been fought in our area. He pointed out the battlefields where things had gone well and then he showed us the sites of battles lost, with tremendous damage and carnage evident everywhere. We walked over the ground, or ran over it at his command, looking at the physical features, trying to apply our book knowledge to a geography real war had touched.
The next-to-last day of the exercise, Second Lieutenant Tanaka took us to the detention center. Pointing at the people in a room, all Chinese, he announced, "These are the raw materials for your trial of courage." We were astonished at how thin and emaciated they looked. Tanaka told us, "They haven't been fed for several days, so they'll be ready for their part in tomorrow's plan." He said that it was to be a test to see if we were qualified to be platoon leaders. He said we wouldn't be qualified if we couldn't chop off a head.
On the final day, we were taken out to the site of our trial. Twenty four prisoners were squatting there with their hands tied behind their backs. They were blindfolded. A big hole had been dug--ten meters long, two meters wide, and more than three meters deep. The regimental commander, the battalion commanders, and the company commanders all took the seats arranged for them. Second Lieutenant Tanaka bowed to the regimental commander and reported, "We shall now begin." He ordered a soldier on fatigue duty to haul one of the prisoners to the edge of the pit; the prisoner was kicked when he resisted. The soldier finally dragged him over and forced him to his knees. Tanaka turned toward us and looked into each of our faces in turn. "Heads should be cut off like this," he said, unsheathing his army sword. He scooped water from a bucket with a dipper, then poured it over both sides of the blade. Swishing off the water, he raised his sword in a long arc. Standing behind the prisoner, Tanaka steadied himself, legs spread apart, and cut off the man's head with a shout, "Yo!" The head flew more than a meter away. Blood spurted up in two fountains from the body and sprayed into the hole.
The scene was so appalling that I felt I couldn't breathe. All the candidate officers stiffened. Second Lieutenant Tanaka designated the person on the right end of our line to go next. I was fourth. When my turn came, the only thought I had was "Don't do anything unseemly!" I didn't want to disgrace myself. I bowed to the regimental commander and stepped forward. Contrary to my expectations, my feet firmly met the ground. One thin, worn-out prisoner was at the edge of the pit, blindfolded. I unsheathed my sword, a gift from my brother-in-law, wet it down as the lieutenant had demonstrated, and stood behind the man. The prisoner didn't move. He kept his head lowered. Perhaps he was resigned to his fate. I was tense, thinking I couldn't afford to fail. I took a deep breath and recovered my composure. I steadied myself, holding the sword at a point above my right shoulder, and swung down with one breath. The head flew away and the body tumbled down, spouting blood. The air reeked from all that blood. I washed blood off the blade then wiped it with the paper provided. Fat stuck to it and wouldn't come off. I noticed, when I sheathed it, that my sword was slightly bent.
At that moment, I felt something change inside me. I don't know how to put it, but I gained strength somewhere in my gut.
Some of the officer candidates slashed the head by mistake. One prisoner ran around crazily, his blindfold hanging down, his head gashed. "Stab him!" Tanaka ordered. The candidate officer swung and missed again. "You fool!" Tanaka scolded. This time Tanaka swung his sword. All of us did. Everyone got covered with blood as we butchered him.
We returned to our companies. Until that day I had been overwhelmed by the sharp eyes of my men when I called the roll each night. That night I realized I was not self-conscious at all in front of them. I didn't even find their eyes evil anymore. I felt I was looking down on them. Later, when the National Defense Women's Association welcomed us in Manchuria, they mentioned to me that they had never seen men with such evil eyes. I no longer even noticed. Everybody becomes blood-thirsty on the battlefield. The men received their baptism of blood when they went into combat. They were victimizers. I joined them by killing a prisoner.
Every March, new conscripts came from home ( Hiroshima ). The men who'd been there a long time sometimes completed their period of service but they usually stayed. Those who were conscripted in 1939 couldn't go home until the end of war, because of the huge losses. Six years.
A new conscript became a full-fledged soldier in three months in the battle area. We planned exercises for these men. As the last stage of their training, we made them bayonet a living human. When I was a company commander, this was used as a finishing touch to training for the men and a trial of courage for the officers. Prisoners were blindfolded and tied to poles. The soldiers dashed forward to bayonet their target at the shout of "Charge!" Some stopped on their way. We kicked them and made them do it. After that, a man could do anything easily. The army created men capable of combat. The thing of supreme importance was to make them fight. It didn't matter whether they were bright or sincere. Men useless in action were worthless. Good soldiers were those who were able to kill, however uncouth they were. We made them like this. Good sons, good daddies, good elder brothers at home were brought to the front to kill each other. Human beings turned into murdering demons. Everyone became a demon within three months. Men were able to fight courageously only when their human characteristics were suppressed. So we believed. It was a natural extension of our training back in Japan. This was the Emperor's Army.
Eventually, I served as a company commander myself. It was relatively easy. When the company left on an operation, they gathered first and saluted me. I wondered how many might not return. That was the feeling I disliked most. In a large operation, roughly a third to a half of the company wouldn't return. They weren't all killed, but many were wounded. When there were casualties, other men had to carry them. It took four men to carry one man unable to walk. There was no way to evacuate the wounded if a battle was being lost. Then we evacuated only the ones able to walk, and only as many as we could. The rest of the injured were expected to kill themselves, but some Japanese were captured because they couldn't take their own lives.
Massacres of civilians were routine. They cooperated with the enemy, sheltered them in their houses, gave them information. We viewed them as the enemy. During combat, all villagers went into hiding. We pilfered anything useful from their houses or, in winter, burned them for firewood. If anyone was found wandering about, we captured and killed them. Spies ! This was war.