December 7, 1941, is “a date which will live in infamy,” declared President Franklin D. Roosevelt the following day, December 8, 1941. Against that backdrop, the Japanese pilot who led the infamous raid on Pearl Harbor is the subject of a fascinating new book, Wounded Tiger by T. Martin Bennett. Christian apologist Josh McDowell calls Bennett’s book “mesmerizing.”
I spoke with Bennett on my radio show about this amazing story of violence, repentance, redemption, and forgiveness. I was aware of Fuchida’s incredible story before, having produced a TV segment on his conversion for D. James Kennedy Ministries-TV about 30 years ago.
When Bennett read an old book, God’s Samurai, about the life of Fuchida, he said, “Wow. This is one unbelievable story….If it was fiction, it wouldn’t work. But it’s true.”
Commander Mitsuo Fuchida led the raid on Pearl Harbor, the outpost in Hawaii, where the United States had aircraft carriers, numerous other ships, and many airplanes. Fuchida is the one who yelled into the static-filled airplane radios the attack code, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, which means “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!”
This surprise attack by some 350 Japanese planes in the wee hours of that fateful Sunday morning
Why did the Japanese even bomb Pearly Harbor in the first place? Bennett writes of the Japanese leadership, “Their agreed-upon strategy was solely to assault and cripple the Americans and quickly secure terms of mutual nonaggression, allowing Japan free reign in greater East Asia.”
Japanese Emperor Hirohito understood himself, notes Bennett, to be “a living god to whom his subjects owed absolute obedience.”
A month before Pearl Harbor, Japan’s Prime Minister Hideki Tojo appeared on the cover of TIME (November 3, 1941). Tojo told Hirohito near that time, “Your Majesty…. At the moment, our empire stands at the threshold of glory or oblivion.”
Bennett observes, “Japan was at its strongest and America at its weakest. The Empire of Japan was finally poised for conflict and to secure its place in history.”
Before the surprise attack, Fuchida declared to his fellow pilots, “In the event we fail to destroy the aircraft on the ground, or we lose the element of surprise, I will give the signal for the dive bombers to begin the attack.”
Fuchida continued, “Years of training and careful planning have brought us to this moment in time.... Our duty is not only to protect the untarnished past of our ancestors, but to annihilate the enemies of Japan and to establish a new order for the future, the imperial way!”
After the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor led by Fuchida, America was stung into action. General James Doolittle quickly organized bombardiers to attack targets in Japan.
One of the pilots flying in General Doolittle’s squadron was Sergeant Jacob DeShazer. Alas, his plane was shot down, and he ended up as a prisoner for the duration of the war. The Japanese did not look kindly on anyone who surrendered.
The Japanese treated their prisoners of war in subhuman ways. DeShazer developed an intense hatred for the Japanese guards who tortured him. He became consumed with thoughts of revenge.
But somehow he got his hands on a tattered copy of the Bible, and he read it. He was deeply touched by the prayer of Jesus from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” and His command that we are to love even our enemies. As with so many before and after him, Jesus’s forgiveness transformed DeShazer.
After the war, DeShazer returned to the former enemy, Japan, as a missionary to bring the love of Jesus to the people. His story was written up in a small booklet and a copy of this tract fell into the hands of the disheartened, disillusioned Fuchida—whose god (the emperor) had been defeated.
Amazingly, Fuchida too experienced the forgiving love of Jesus Christ. He even returned to Pearl Harbor on the 25th anniversary of the attack in 1966, asking for forgiveness. He came bearing a gift—a Bible with Luke 23:34 inscribed in it: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
This is a powerful story and is not well known. Portions of T. Martin Bennett’s book Wounded Tiger are posted online.
In this fallen world, war can be a necessary evil. What the Japanese did in World War II was inexcusable. How redemptive it is that the lead pilot in the opening drama of the Japanese-U.S. conflict later found a higher purpose in life.
Tragically, we were unprepared for what happened at Pearl Harbor—contrary to George Washington’s well-known maxim of peace through strength. But out of the evil and the ashes of Pearl Harbor has come this reminder of how God’s amazing grace is greater than man’s evil.© Jerry Newcombe
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