WE DO NOT find the midget submarine, but we
revisit a crucial incident of the Pacific war that few people
remember. We know now that the campaign against Japan
actually began 45 minutes before the aerial attack on Pearl
Harbor, and that an American destroyer, the U.S.S. Ward,
fired the first shot.
Its safe to speculate that had the U.S. high
command in Hawaii taken the Wards urgent report
more seriously, or processed it more quickly, many lives
may have been saved. Of course, Will Lehner points out,
there might have been worse damage had the battleships
been alerted: They may have been sunk in the channel,
sealing off the rest of the U.S. Navy for months.
The Japanese midget submarines were a failure; they
did virtually no damage to the American fleet. But the nine
submariners who lost their lives were deified as war heroes
in Japan. Propagandists claimed, erroneously, that one of
the midgets had actually torpedoed and sank the U.S.S.
Sixty years after the attack, very little is taught in
Japan about the war against the European allies. Unlike
young Germans, few young Japanese have studied, much
less accepted, that their nation must bear grave
responsibility for the most destructive war in history.
The cultural differences between Americans and
Japanese may seem merely quirky today, but prior to the
Second World War the gap of understanding between the
two peoples amounted to mutual racism.
Says Daniel Martinez, historian at Pearl
Harbors U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, We demonized
each other. Americans saw the Japanese as short, bandy-legged, and near-sighted, inferior human beingsJaps.
And the Japanese promoted racial purity. They thought
that Americas diversity in nationalities made us the
mongrels of the world. But thats the greatest
mistake anyone could make, that diversity is our
How do you feel about the Japanese now? I ask
Will Lehner, who went on to suffer through two more
shattering years of the Pacific campaign. He was still on
board the U.S.S. Ward when she was sunk by a suicidal
Japanese kamikaze pilot while on anti-submarine patrol in
Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.
I still dont know, he answers. I spent six
months in a Veterans hospital when I got home
from the war. It took me seven or eight years before I
could sleep through the night. I would wake up thinking I
was still there. I was shell-shocked, disoriented. I went
from a 240-pound [109-kilogram] football player in high school to 150
pounds [68 kilograms].
Lehner, whose gift of gab and good humor has
endeared him to everyone on the expedition, suddenly
looks his age. I still cant get over it, he says,
voice trembling a bit. I wont even drive a Japanese
car. And yet here he is with his arm around Kichiji Dewa,
a man who had plotted to kill Americans, as many as
The old Japanese submariner, who served on one of
the mother submarines that brought the midgets from
Japan, does not see this expedition as a failure at all. He
has come once again to Pearl Harbor from Japan, on
another important missionto round out his life and
seek peace. And it seems like the 80-year-old Dewa-san,
as everyone calls him, grows stronger every day. His sea
legs, fragile at the start, now propel him up and down the
ladders. Two weeks ago he sat stoically in a lawn chair and
feared to rise.
This morning, Thursday, November 16, our last day
on the water, Dewa-san appears on deck with a framed
photograph hanging around his neck. It depicts Saburo
Nakajima, one of the researchers who developed the
midget sub. Nakajima-san died last year and was a friend.
Dewa also carries a green bottle of Sake, the Japanese rice
wine, and a small sheaf of writing.
He is surrounded by his Japanese colleagues,
Katsuhiro Hara and Makoto Uchino, the young man who
has served as translator, as well as his new mates, Will
Lehner and Russell Reetz.
Shinshu kenjo! Dewa-san shouts as he pours the
sake into the sea. I give away the sake from the gods! A
strong wind whips the wine into froth in the bright
sunlight. Dewa-san clasps his hands in the Buddhist
fashion and closes his eyes toward the sea. Wrapped
around his knuckles are brown prayer beads.
Next he tosses the text, full of large, carefully inked
characters. What does the text say? I ask Uchino. He finds
it hard to translate. It is a Buddhist text, he says.
Its to do with your mind. It says you must make
your mind neutral, a void. No anger, no sadness, no
No anger, no joy. Just acceptance.
| U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii|
Photograph from Corbis