“I loved him so much…so I killed him…”

Today in History, May 21, 1936:

“I loved him so much, I wanted him all to myself. But since we were not husband and wife, as long as he lived he could be embraced by other women. I knew that if I killed him no other woman could ever touch him again, so I killed him…..” –

Sada Abe is arrested in Japan for killing her lover, 3 days earlier. At the time of her arrest she was found to have his genitals in her bag. Abe told police that Ishida had been the most considerate lover she’d ever known, and she would know, having been a Geisha and a prostitute among other things.

During their most recent dalliance, they had become enamored with erotic asphyxiation. On the 18th, Abe strangled Ishida to death in his sleep.

She told police that she had severed his member and taken it with her to remember him by, even engaging in necrophilia with it prior to her arrest. She was sentenced to only 6 years in prison by a judge who admitted to being aroused during her trial.

Even that sentence would be commuted in 1940. The story became a cult like sensation in Japan, spawning numerous successful books and movies, and of course making Abe a celebrity. The last sighting of her was in a nunnery in the 1970’s.

Cherry Blossoms

Today in History, March 27, 1912:

First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese Ambassador, Viscountess Chinda, plant two Cherry Blossom trees along the Potomac near the Jefferson Memorial.

They were part of 3,020 Cherry Blossom trees given to the US by the Japanese to be planted in DC. The city of Tokyo had actually given 2,000 trees in 1910, but they were diseased by the time they reached the US and could not be used.

A private Japanese citizen then paid to have the 3,020 trees sent in their place. The beautiful trees bloom each Spring, and are the subject of festivals.

The trees came from a famous collection in Tokyo, which was mostly destroyed during bombing in WWII. After the war, the US sent cuttings from DC’s trees to replenish the Tokyo collection from whence they came.

“You May Cast Off, Buck, When You Are Ready.”

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Today in History, March 11, 1942:

General Douglas MacArthur is evacuated from the Philippines at the order of President Franklin Roosevelt.  At the beginning of WWII the previous December the Japanese had invaded the Philippines; the American and Filipino forces, commanded by MacArthur, had been fighting off persistent advances ever since.  At the outset the American air forces had been almost completely destroyed on the ground, caught by surprise by the initial attacks.  Now they had been backed up to the peninsula of Bataan, and in the middle of the bay, the island of Corregidor.

General MacArthur was already quite famous when the war began; his father Arthur was also a noted American general, Douglas served in WWI and was in command in Washington, DC when protesting WWI veterans were dispersed during the Depression.  He and his father would become the first father and son to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

American morale was already suffering, and the President did not want an additional blow of MacArthur being taken prisoner when the Philippines fell, which was a foregone conclusion at this point.  So he ordered MacArthur to evacuate to Australia, leaving General Jonathan Wainwright in command of the fall.

MacArthur had the choice to leave by submarine, aircraft, or by PT (patrol torpedo) boat.  He knew and trusted the commander of PT squadron 3, Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley, so he chose to leave by boat.

On the evening of March 11, 1942, Lt. Bulkeley’s PT-41 was alongside the north pier at Corregidor with General MacArthur and his family aboard, when the General looked to the Lieutenant and said, “You may cast off, Buck, when you are ready.”  Thus began a 600 mile run to Mindanao through minefields and enemy infested waters which MacArthur would later liken to a ride in a cement mixer.  Almost everyone was seasick.  Bulkeley would meet up with the remainder of his PT squadron, their decks filled with gasoline drums so they could make the trip.  It was a harrowing journey; from Mindanao MacArthur and his staff would continue the journey by air.

The journey, how it came to be, and it’s aftermath are all worth more detail.  But for this post, I can’t help but focus on MacArthur’s words as he set sail from his defeat in Manila Bay…

“You may cast off, Buck, when you are ready.”

General MacArthur was an intelligent, educated man, a West Point graduate and a fast climber through the ranks.  What was in his mind as he escaped one of the worst military defeats in American history that day?  The MacArthur family was also already a significant part of Philippine history.  Nearly forty-four years earlier, in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Arthur MacArthur had been victorious during the Battle of Manila.  He would then command during the Philippine-American War and become the Military Governor General of the Philippines until he got sideways when the Civilian Governor of the Philippines, William Howard Taft.

At the outset of the Spanish-American War, the Philippines were a Spanish possession.  The war was significant because with it, America would become a player on the world stage, defeating one of the European colonial powers.

With the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, the US Navy would show it’s mettle in easily defeating the Spanish fleet stationed there.  Admiral George Dewey commanded the US Asiatic Fleet from the bridge of his flagship, the USS Olympia.  As they approached the Spanish ships, Dewey spoke a now famous phrase to the commander of the Olympia, Captain Charles Gridley…

“You may fire when ready, Gridley.”

To enter Manila Bay from the South China Sea, Admiral Dewey and his fleet would have sailed past the island which guarded the entrance to the bay, Corregidor.  Hours before his famous victory, Admiral Dewey would have sailed within a few hundred yards of where MacArthur would stand in 1942, having lost all Dewey had gained.  In his mind’s eye, was he watching the Olympia pass by?

“You may cast off, Buck, when you are ready.”

Firestorm in Tokyo

Today in History, March 9: 1945:

The Firebombing of Tokyo. General Curtis Lemay, hero of the air war in the Pacific, had been given the task of using American air power to end the war without losing untold numbers of American lives.

As part of that effort, on this date in 1945, over 300 B-29 Superfortress bombers took off from Tinian and Saipan in the Marianas en route to Tokyo. A little after midnight, they began dropping thousands of tons of incendiary bombs.

The result was a firestorm that engulfed 15 square miles of the city, which was composed mostly of wooden structures with paper walls. The numbers vary from 90,000 to 120,000, but the death toll was enormous. The citizens of Tokyo were unable to escape the flames fueled by 30 knot winds.

As much is made of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, neither matched the death toll of the firestorm in Tokyo. The only difference was that the atomic attacks took one bomber with one bomb rather than thousands of bombs with hundreds of bombers.

Yesterday’s Enemies

Today in History, November 3: 1941 – A Japanese military council makes the decision that Pearl Harbor should be bombed, and in 2 days time issues the order to the Imperial Combined Fleet to prepare for the attack on December 8th. Secret Order #1 also included plans for the bombing of the Philippines and Malaysia, amongst other Pacific installations. 

 The Japanese had been preparing for this assault for sometime…IJN pilots had been training since the spring for the special tactics needed to bomb in the shallow harbor in Hawaii. “Negotiations” continued with the American government, even as the Japanese fleet moved and prepared for the attack.

Yesterday’s enemies are often today’s strongest allies. 

“These Proceedings…Are Closed.”  Historic Connections 

Today in History, September 2: 1945 – A Japanese delegation signs surrender documents aboard the Battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, bringing WWII to an end. Even after atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (more people were killed in bombings by B-29’s in other bombings, ironically) killing tens of thousands, the Japanese military only came to terms with defeat after much gnashing of teeth, threats of assassinating each other and finally a direct order from the Emperor himself, who was mortified by the suffering of his people. 

 A couple of interesting asides to the story. In the first photo you will notice an American flag, framed “backwards” as to appear to be flying, mounted on the bulkhead of the Missouri. The flag had flown at the mast of Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s flagship in 1853 as he made his second visit to Tokyo, which resulted in the closed nation of Japan trading with westerners for the first time in 200 years. The flag had been flown by special courier from the States especially for the surrender ceremony. 

 This detail seemed so fantastic to me that I had to research it until I found confirmation from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website. Perry was the younger brother of Oliver Hazard Perry, helped advance the steam powered US Navy, and fought in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War in addition to his Japanese exploits. A replica of the Perry flag is positioned in the same location aboard the Missouri, which is now docked in Pearl Harbor near the USS Arizona. 

 Another sad point I found was that on September 2, 1945, as Gen. MacArthur concluded the surrender with the words, “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed”, Ho Chi Minh, who had cooperated with the Japanese occupation of “Vietnam” during the war, was participating in declaring the independence of the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam” in North Vietnam. This would lead to the Indochina Wars and eventually to American involvement in the Vietnam War. It seems it never ended.

A Sorrowful Victory 

Today in History, July 9: 1944 – Victory at the Battle of Saipan. The US Marines defeat the Japanese military on Saipan, the first island with Japanese civilians to be taken by the US. It was a difficult battle, made all the more so by the existence of a civilian population. The Marines set up well lit camps for the civilians to be safe from battle. Fearing that his citizens would find out that the Americans were not the vicious, heartless enemy projected by propaganda, the Emperor issued a communique to the civilian population of Saipan, telling them that if they committed suicide they would receive the same treatment in the afterlife as Japanese soldiers that died in battle. American servicemen were horrified as Japanese civilians threw their children from cliffs, then followed them to the rocks below. The newly won island would be used as an air base for B-29 Superfortress bombers that would bomb the Japanese mainland.

The Perry Brothers 

Today in History, July 8: 1853 – US Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry and his fleet arrive in Edo Harbor (Tokyo) Japan and by threat of force, demand that the Japanese contemplate relations with the US. Faced with the threat of bombardment from Perry’s ships, the Japanese accepted a letter from President Millard Filmore. When Perry returned the next year, the offer of open relations was accepted. The rest of the story is that Commodore Perry also pioneered steam power in the Navy, served under his famous older brother Oliver Hazard Perry (“We have met the enemy and they are ours!”) during the War of 1812, was a hero in the Mexican-American War, and he and his brother were direct descendents of William Wallace. Wow. 

Today in History, April 13: 1941 – The Russian and Japanese governments sign a non-aggression treaty. The treaty gave both nations much needed cover. The Russians didn’t have to fight the Japanese in Manchuria, freeing up hundreds of thousands of troops to fight the Germans. The Japanese, likewise, freed up hundreds of thousands of troops to fight the Americans. FDR encouraged Stalin at Malta to declare war on Japan after the defeat of Germany. They did so, conveniently, between the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ostensibly after the war was over, invading Manchuria and demanding the northern islands of Japan for their “effort”.