Photo of Tadamichi and his family in front of their home in Tokyo in August, 1943, one year before he was dispatched to defend Iwo Jima.|
What made this man Kuribayashi tick? Why would he sacrifice 20,000 of his comrades in a battle he knew was doomed from the start? Perhaps Zen is to blame? See below short koan taken from the Zenrinkushu complied by the monk Eicho 東陽英朝 d. 1974, a disciple of 雪江 Secco of the Myoshinji in Kyoto.
To preserve life you must butcher it,
Snuff it out completely
then there is peace!
But there is another koan that would seem to counter this course of action:
A shattered mirror cannot shine again,
Fallen flowers cannot return to the branch.
Kuribayashi Tadamichi will remain an enigma...
Lieutenant-General Kuribayashi Tadamichi was the Japanese commander sent in 1944 to Iwo Jima to organize its defense against the relentless power of American military might. It was a battle he knew before it started he was doomed to lose. And he knew he would die on Iwo Jima and never return to his home and family in Tokyo. Yet organize he did, like no Japanese commander had done before him in any of the Pacific island battles, except perhaps for the battle of Peleliu in the Palauan Islands.
The might of American air and sea power pounded Iwo Jima for months. And once the landing commenced it was a battle of 70,000 American troops against Japan's 22,000. The Americans expected to conquor Iwo Jima in 5 days...it took over a month...and at horrific loss on both sides, particularly the Japanese for whom only a few more than 1,000 survived.
Kuribayashi was not a great poet, but he was more than an interesting man. Was he a monster to lead all his troops to their death in a hopeless battle? He was not a fanatic, like many of his compatriats, who in similar situations led stupid self-destructive suicide charges. Rather, he ordered his men NOT to initiate suicide attack. Instead he ordered them to fight to last breath and kill 10 Americans each before being killed themselves.
His loving letters to his family have survived, which is why we know something of him today. Kumiko Kakehashi's book, 栗林忠道硫黃島からの手紙, translated as Letters From Iwo Jima in English was the basis for Clint Eastwood's film of the same name. The book is well worth reading and the movie also worth viewing, although afterward you will surely remember Iwo Jima till the day you die!