Indiana University
The Indiana University School of Journalism Ernie Pyle
Reflecting the biases of his times, Pyle found the Japanese soldiers less than human.

The Illogical Japs

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Pyle with Joe J. Ray and Charles W. Page (Navy) in the Pacific.

IN THE MARIANAS – (Delayed) – Soldiers and marines have told me stories by the dozen about how tough the Japs are, yet how dumb they are; How illogical and yet how uncannily smart at times; how easy to route when disorganized, yet how brave. I’ve become more confused with each story. At the end of one evening, I said, "I can’t make head nor tail out of what you’ve told me. I’m trying to learn about the Jap soldiers, but everything you say about them seems to be inconsistent."

"That’s the answer," my friends said. "They are inconsistent. They do the damndest things. But they are dangerous fighters just the same."

***

They tell one story about a Jap officer and six men who were surrounded on a beach by a small bunch of marines.

As the marines approached, they could see the Jap giving emphatic orders to his men, and then all six bent over and the officer went along the line and chopped off their heads with his sword.

Then as the marines closed in, he stood knee-deep in the surf and beat his bloody sword against the water in a fierce gesture of defiance, just before they shot him.

What code led the officer to kill his own men rather than let them fight to the death is something only another Jap would know.

***

Another little story – a marine sentry walking up and down before a command post on top of a steep bluff one night heard a noise in the brush on the hillside below.

He called a couple of times, got no answer, then fired an exploratory shot down into the darkness. In a moment there was a loud explosion from below. A solitary Jap hiding down there had put a hand grenade to his chest.

Why he did that, instead of tossing it up over the bluff and getting himself a half-dozen Americans, is beyond an American’s comprehension.

***

On Saipan, they tell of a Jap plane that appeared overhead one bright noonday, all alone. He obviously wasn’t a photographic plane, and they couldn’t figure out what he was doing.

Then something came out of the plane, and fluttered down. It was a little paper wreath, with a long streamer to it. He had flown it all the way from Japan, and dropped it "in honor of Japan’s glorious dead" on Saipan.

We shot him down in the sea a few minutes later, as he undoubtedly knew we would before he ever left Japan. The gesture is touching – but so what?

***

I’ve talked with marines. I’ve begun to get over that creepy feeling that fighting Japs is like fighting snakes or ghosts.

They are, indeed, queer, but they are people with certain tactics, and now, by much experience, our men have learned how to fight them.

As far as I can see, our men are no more afraid of the Japs than they are of the Germans. They are afraid of them as a modern soldier is afraid of his foe, but not because they are slippery or rat-like, but simply because they have weapons and fire them like good, tough soldiers. And the Japs are human enough to be afraid of us exactly the same way.

Some of our people over here think that, in the long run, the Japs won’t take the beating the Germans have. Others think they will, and even more.

I’ve not been here long enough really to learn anything of the Jap psychology. But the Pacific war is gradually getting condensed, and consequently tougher and tougher. The closer we go to Japan itself, the harder it will be.

The Japs are dangerous people and they aren’t funny when they’ve got guns in their hands. It would be tragic for us to underestimate their power to do us damage, or their will to do it. To me it looks like soul-trying days for us in the years ahead.

Ernie Pyle
Source: Rocky Mountain News, February 26, 1945: from a scrapbook given to Indiana University by Mrs. Henry Schoon. Pictures courtesy of The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
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Reader Comments:

  1. Nowhere in this column did Ernie Pyle say the Japanese (“Japs” only in the terminology of the 1940s) were less than human! He only said that they were UNPREDICTABLE.

    - Neal Wilson
  2. This is in regard to your editorial description of this article (The Illogical Japs) by Ernie Pyle. Reflecting the bias and piousness of your times you described Ernie’s article like this: “Reflecting the biases of his times, Pyle found the Japanese soldiers less than human.” You lied about what Ernie said. First, three times he calls them “people”, and once “men”. Second, nowhere in the article does he say the Japs were not less than human, nor did his description of them say that. There are only two things he said that you could have twisted to reflect your own bias. First, “…they are slippery or rat-like …” He did not say they were rats, but rat-like. The marines had told him about how good the Japs were at slipping through the jungle in ambush and escape, and their tunneling at Tarawa and other places. They described this as being “slippery and rat-like”. He said rat-like, not rats. The second thing he said that you may have used to reflect your own bias was “…the Japs are human enough to be afraid of us exactly the same way.” The marines (and other troops) had observed first hand the subhuman behavior of the Japs. Many men and women of the allies had even experienced and lived through it, no thanks to the Japs. What the troops and Ernie were saying was is that the Japs had stripped themselves of all normal human behavior except for fear in battle. Ernie did not say they were not human – only that they were being subnormal humans. From your safe and sanitary perch, secured for you by the troops among which Ernie lived and reported – far removed from the horrors of the Jap plague that went through Manchuria, China, Hawaii, Philippines, etc. and their merciless and gleeful torturing and murdering of babies, children, mothers, fathers, and soldiers – you have falsely labeled Ernie as a bigot, hateful, etc. What a dishonor you have done to Ernie and the troops for which he gave his life. I would not have expected this from a site that appears to honor the WWII generation and what they did to secure our freedom.

    - Dave Van Bibber, Air Force Vet
  3. Mr. Wilson & Mr. Van Bibber, with all due respect, you are both making a non-existent point. There are many holes in your reviews – yours especially, Mr. Van Bibber. It’s quite possible that Mr. Pyle was implying that the Japs were less than human. This is evidenced in Mr. Van Bibber’s review in which he quickly describes some of the attrocities faced by our soldiers as well as men, women, children & babies from various regions including Japan itself. Make no mistake about it, any military or authority that can perform such demeaning acts on its own people should definitely be classified as ‘Less than human’. If the japs ‘stripped themselves of all normal human behavior’ you say they would be ‘Subnormal Humans’…Is that not another way of saying ‘Less Than Human’? another correction for Mr. Van Bibber: the japs were referred to as “people” twice and “men” three times. Bottom line – an intelligent person with reason will be able to determine that in no way was it expressed or implied that Mr. Pyle was a bigot. By your own admission, mr. van bibber, the japs were “sub-normal humans”. Call it what it is…Less than human.

    - Carrie Paxton, respectfully submitted

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