Bluejacket Books, 1999 (originally published in Japanese in the 1950s), 208 pages
Requiem for Battleship Yamato is Yoshida Mitsuru's story of his own experience as a junior naval officer aboard the fabled Japanese battleship as it set out on a last, desperate sortie in April 1945. Yoshida was on the bridge during Yamato's fatal encounter with American airplanes, and his eloquent, moving account of that battle makes a singular contribution to the literature of the Pacific war. The book has long been considered a classic in both Japan and the United States. As with most great battle stories, its ultimate concern is less bombs and bullets than human nature, less death than life.
Most everyone who knows anything about the Pacific War has heard of the Battleship Yamato — Japan's mighty flagship, one of the biggest warships ever built. Unfortunately, it was built too late, to fight the previous war. World War II was a war of air power in which carriers would make battleships obsolete. The Yamato barely saw action before its final voyage, where it was sent to defend the Japanese homeland and was sunk within sight of port by American torpedo planes.
Requiem for Battleship Yamato is in the same genre as several similar memoirs I've read by German and Japanese WWII officers. Mitsuru Yoshida was a junior officer aboard the Yamato, and one of the few survivors, so his story is interesting for historical reasons, but he's no great storyteller, nor is his individual story that interesting, so his account is simply a dry narrative about serving aboard the Yamato, then setting out on what everyone knew was its last voyage.
Unlike some other officers, like Tameichi Hara or Hans von Luck, Yoshida doesn't spend any time trying to justify himself or explain that he was really against the war all along — he was just a junior officer serving as he was told. There is one sad episode in his narrative in which he describes a Nissei crewman aboard the Yoshida who had family still back in California, and who died when the Yamato went down. Yoshida mentions writing to his mother in America after the war, and receiving a reply from her in which she was proud of her son's service, and his honorable death, despite the fact that he was fighting against her adopted country. This must have been the sort of divided mentality many Japanese-Americans, or Japanese with American relatives, felt, and indeed, Admiral Yamamoto and other high-ranking officers, who had lived and studied and traveled in the U.S., clearly had misgivings both moral and strategic about the entire premise of the war.
Yoshida's memoir, however, is mostly just an account of the battle itself, and in its sparse prose his very Japanese reflections on life and death and beauty almost humanize what was really a futile and ghastly war. He went into the ocean when the Yamato went down in Operation Ten-Go, the futile attempt to defend Okinawa. He was rescued afterwards, and spent time in the hospital coughing up oil, and lived until 1979. Apparently his book was made into a movie in Japan in 1953 — I'll have to track it down someday.
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