Subject: Pearl Harbor and Jesus Christ: How a Samurai became a Christian
Matthew 5:44 “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.’”
Seventy five years ago today, Japan’s 6 aircraft carriers left port in northern Japan and ended up docking 230 miles off the coast of the island of Oahu. That’s the distance from Kansas City to St. Louis. Imagine today if we discovered that Russia or China had weapons positioned that close to American soil. Today we continually track the location of all foreign aircraft carriers. But in 1941 Japan’s carriers went undetected.
An aircraft carrier is a lethal weapon of destruction – over 3 football fields long and weighing over 100,000 tons. Their weapons aren’t built into them – they are it’s cargo. They can bring an entire squadron of fighter planes to anywhere on the global. On this day in 1941, Japan’s carriers were loaded with 423 fighter planes, dive bombers and torpedo planes, all to be unleashed on America’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.
At 6:00 am on Sunday, December 7, the carriers launched the first wave of 183 aircraft, led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida. Two hours earlier, Fuchida had surveyed the area and relayed the code words “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, signaling that a complete surprise had been achieved. Pearl Harbor was quiet and unarmed.
Fuchida led the first of two attacks at 7:48 am. Ninety minutes later, it was over. The combined assault from 353 aircraft was devastating: 2,403 Americans were killed, with the heaviest toll coming from the total destruction of the USS Arizona (1,177 killed). Eighteen ships were sunk and 188 U.S. aircraft destroyed. On the Japanese side, only 64 died and 29 aircraft lost. The attack was so successful that Fuchida was declared a national hero and granted a personal audience with Emperor Hirohito.
All of the Americans killed or wounded were non-combatants because we were not at war when the attack occurred. America was taken completely by surprise since Japan had not formally warned of any possible action against the United States. In fact, the US and Japan were in the middle of negotiations. The next day, America entered World War II as President Roosevelt declared war on Japan, calling December 7th “a date which will live in infamy”. After the war, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal was convened and the leaders of the Empire of Japan were tried and convicted of war crimes.
Mitsuo Fuchida was called on to testify at the Tribunal, which greatly angered him because he viewed the trials as Americans rubbing their victory in Japan’s face. He assumed that Americans treated Japanese prisoners of war the same way the Japanese treated American POW’s, which for the Japanese was based on the ‘Bushido code’, where revenge against one’s enemies was a responsibility in order to restore honor.
Fuchido went on a mission to gather and then present evidence against the US on their treatment of Japanese POW’s at the next Tribunal. When he met one group of returning POW’s, he found his former flight engineer, Kazuo Kanegasaki, who told a very different story for Fuchido: they were not tortured or abused at all. In fact, a young lady named Peggy Covell actually served them with love and respect, even though her missionary parents had been killed by Japanese soldiers on the island of Panay in the Philippines. For Fuchida, this made no sense. The murderer of your parents is your sworn enemy for life. He became obsessed with learning why anyone would treat their enemies with love and forgiveness.
Fuchido abandoned his investigation of American war atrocities and sought out every POW who had met Peggy Covell and her parents. In researching the death of her parents, he learned that when they were forced to their knees just before they were beheaded, they began praying together. Fuchida was obsessed to learn what they could possibly be praying for as they were executed. Fuchido decided that he needed to read the Bible and find out for himself what could motivate someone to love and care for their enemies.
David Smith, in his article ‘Baptism by Fire: Pearl Harbor, the Hand of God, and Mitsuo Fuchido’, explains what happened next: “He was attracted to the moral message of Jesus Christ. As he studied Jesus’s crucifixion in the gospel of Luke, he read Jesus’ words, ‘’Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,’’ (Luke 23:24), he realized this must have been what Peggy Covell’s parents were praying right before their execution. By the time he finished the Gospel of Luke, Fuchida had become a Christian. Fuchida shared how he had been a man of war, but now he wanted to work for peace. ‘’But how can mankind achieve lasting peace? True peace of heart, mind and soul can only come from Jesus Christ.’’