WHY WAS JAPAN SO HARD TO DEFEAT
IN WORLD WAR II?
World War II was unique in that it was a multi-theater war, and saw fighting occur in: Africa, Europe and the Pacific. The Pacific Theater, in particular, saw some of the most intense fighting of World War II and involved some of the most significant events of the war, including the use of atomic weapons and end of the war. The war in the Pacific saw the Allied power of the United States face off against the Axis power of Japan. In general, many historians consider the war in the Pacific to have been incredibly brutal and devastating for the soldiers on both sides.
The key factor that made the war in the Pacific so brutal was the persistence of the Japanese forces. American soldiers who fought in the Pacific reported the difficult task of fighting against the Imperial Japanese Army
First, Japanese forces were known for their extreme loyalty to their nation and Japanese Emperor Hirohito. This is best evidenced by the earlier battles between the United States and Japan in the Pacific Theater of World War II. For example, the battle of Iwo Jima, which took place from February to March in 1945, involved some of the deadliest and fiercest fighting in the war. The Unites States Armed Forces invaded the island in hopes of using it as a staging ground towards the larger invasion of the Japanese main islands which was codenamed Operation Downfall. Iwo Jima was defended by determined and loyal Japanese forces. However, the American victory was assured due to their overwhelming control of the air and sheer number of forces. Of the 22,060 Japanese soldiers defending the island, 18,844 died either from fighting or by ritual suicide. Only 216 were captured during the course of battle. The Japanese bushido code of honor, coupled with effective propaganda which portrayed American soldiers as ruthless animals, prevented surrender for many Japanese soldiers. Instead of surrendering, many Japanese soldiers would kill themselves. For example, Japanese soldiers were known to charge at the American defensive lines even when they were outnumbered and lacked weapons. They were essentially running to their deaths as the American soldiers shot and killed them. Also, Japanese soldiers were known to kill themselves by ritual suicide. This would involve them either carrying out seppuku (which involved them thrusting a samurai sword into their own abdomen) or they would kill themselves by pulling the pin of a grenade and holding it until it exploded. As well, many Japanese civilians, including whole families chose to commit suicide rather than be captured by the American forces. They would do this by grenade or by jumping off of high cliffs. This massive death rate of Japanese soldiers and civilians during the Battle of Iwo Jima proved to American leadership that the Japanese would not surrender without a brutal fight to the death, and was a key factor in the decision to use the two atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Japanese soldier’s unwillingness to surrender even when faced with insurmountable odds, also had an impact on the lives of American soldiers. For example, American soldiers who returned from the fighting in the Pacific spoke about how wounded Japanese soldiers would kill American medics who were trying to help them after a battle. Often, American medics would attend to the wounded on both sides and the wounded Japanese soldiers would use secretly pull the pin of a grenade and use it to kill the American medics and themselves. As well, Japanese pilots were famously known for their kamikaze attacks. Kamikaze attacks were when a Japanese pilot deliberately flew their airplane (whether it was damaged or not) into an American ship in hopes of damaging or sinking it. This was a technique used by the Japanese in the later stages of the war as they struggled to keep up with American advances in the South Pacific. This suicide strategy displayed the unwillingness of the Japanese to surrender and their commitment to fight to the death.
This brutality caused many in the United States to hate the Japanese way of fighting and argued that the atomic bombs were justified because they were equally brutal towards Japan. Regardless, Japan was a difficult enemy to defeat due to the commitment of its soldiers to fight to the death and resist surrender.