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Twentieth Century Chivalry

Notes on Bushido (2)
In the following extract from Betrayal in High Places, James Gowing Godwin interviews Takesi Sasaki who, the author believes, “best exemplifies the needless, mindless urge not only to murder, but to inflict as much suffering and pain before death as possible . . . . . . . a madness and desire to behead prisoners sadistically.”
GODWIN ~ Is courage and bravery part of the doctrine of Bushido?

SASAKI ~ Yes, it is fearlessness and bravery that derive from Bushido.

GODWIN ~ Do you think it is right to execute an unarmed civilian or prisoner?

SASAKI ~ If it assists a military objective, yes.

GODWIN ~ Can you define a military objective?

SASAKI ~ Yes, the pacification of conquered territory and the disposal of prisoners.

GODWIN ~ Disposal of prisoners? What do you mean?

SASAKI ~ Either forced labour or their execution.

GODWIN ~ Do you comprehend the sanctity of life and the permanence of death?

SASAKI ~ Life is just an hour-glass. It has but one purpose, procreation.

GODWIN ~ And death - what does this mean to you?

SASAKI ~ I consider dishonour more important than death. Death is a void, no more. To execute the enemy is to release them from the ignominy of defeat and the dishonour of surrender.

GODWIN ~ I find this contradictory. Japan surrendered and lives with the dishonour of defeat. Do you have double standards?

SASAKI ~ The Emperor has asked that we endure the unendurable.

GODWIN ~ As a human being and imbued with the spirit of Bushido, which would you value more highly, your own life or a hundred prisoners of war?

SASAKI ~ To obey an order is more important than my life or that of prisoners. I merely obey orders.

GODWIN ~ Who ordered you to execute the Australian prisoner?

SASAKI ~ It was my decision. I was troubled by the enemy taking up arms against the Emperor and the circumstances dictated the prisoner be disposed of.

GODWIN ~ What circumstances?

SASAKI ~ The prisoner had to be constantly guarded and it was I who was detailed to this useless task. Our patrol left our makeshift bivouac to go on a reconnaissance and search for enemy coast-watchers. The natives too had to be taken into consideration. Some of them were armed and unfriendly.

GODWIN ~ Are you saying you were left to guard the prisoner on your own?


GODWIN ~ You didn’t carry a sword. Where did you find one?

SASAKI ~ Our sergeant major left his at the bivouac. I borrowed it.

GODWIN ~ What was his name?

SASAKI ~ I can’t remember.

GODWIN ~ Do you know that two natives witnessed you executing the prisoner?

SASAKI ~ It didn’t concern me. Most of the natives were frightened of us.

GODWIN ~ Why did you chop off the prisoner’s feet?

SASAKI ~ So he could not escape.

GODWIN ~ The testimony we have alleges that you securely bound the prisoner before forcing him to kneel. You then tied his legs together as well. Why?

SASAKI ~ I was filled with a desire to punish the caucasian and the enemy for starting the war. Japan at the time was winning glorious victories and I wanted to be part of this success in my own way.

GODWIN ~ You said previously that you wanted to prevent the prisoner escaping. Did you not realize that by severing his feet he would probably die?

SASAKI ~ He was going to anyway. It was my intention to decapitate him.

GODWIN ~ Was there not an element of pain and suffering that you wanted to inflict first?

SASAKI ~ I prefer to call it punishment for taking up arms against the Emperor.

GODWIN ~ According to the natives’ testimony, you waited for half-an-hour before executing the prisoner. Was this a deliberate delay to ensure maximum agony of the prisoner?

SASAKI ~ No. I had to wait because he lay on his side unconscious for twenty minutes. I wanted him in the kneeling position and alert to his fate.

GODWIN ~ Was this achieved?

SASAKI ~ Yes. He was barely conscious but managed to resume the kneeling position. I could tell by his pallor and the amount of blood on the ground that he had not long to live. I struck his neck once with the sword and beheaded him with one stroke.

GODWIN ~ Did you not consider your execution barbaric?

SASAKI ~ Japanese soldiers do not think such maudlin thoughts.

GODWIN ~ Now that the war is over, have you no remorse?

SASAKI ~ I did my duty as a soldier of Nippon.

GODWIN ~ You must realize that you will go on trial for this war crime.

SASAKI ~ I did my duty to my Emperor and country. War is war.

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