Bunker Busting


Warning: War, Death, War Crimes, Atrocities

Recent discussion of bunkers [stderr] reminded me, over and over, about a horrible piece of propaganda I encountered as a child.

I don’t remember where I ran into it, probably Reader’s Digest – my grandparents had huge stacks of them that I used to trawl through.

There was a story set in WWII, about a young marine during the “island hopping” campaign toward Japan. In the story, the hero was a baseball player, a pitcher, who had enlisted. So, they encountered a bunker that was held by Japanese soldiers with a machine gun, putting up a strong resistance – they couldn’t figure out how to reduce the bunker. Then, the hero remembered his old coach telling him that “sometimes you gotta throw the ball slow” and the hero comes up with the clever idea of running a hose into the bunker’s air vent, and pouring several jerrycans of gasoline down it. As the Japanese in the bunker smelled the gasoline, and realized that there was nothing they could do if someone were to light it, they surrendered.

I don’t actually remember the ending of the story, so I’m going to say that the Japanese in the bunker surrendered and weren’t shot as they came out, or burned to death in their bunker. Let’s just say they surrendered, and everyone lived, and the Japanese went home after the war and started successful businesses and everyone ended up friends.

During WWII there were massive propaganda campaigns that the Japanese wouldn’t surrender – from both the Japanese government, and the US government. Why? Because the Japanese government didn’t want troops surrendering; it didn’t care if they died or not, it just wanted to get maximum mileage out of the lives it was using like handfuls of Kleenex. Why did the US promote that the Japanese wouldn’t surrender? Well there was some truth to it, but it was safer for US troops to just gun them down and it saved all that prisoner management. I remember reading a story about how brave the SeaBees – military engineers – were: they drove their bulldozers into battlefields and used the dozer blades to pile dirt over the front of Japanese pillboxes so that the people inside were trapped, and … I suppose they left them there, because the Japanese didn’t surrender.

Memories like that are why I am so sensitive to propaganda. The US has always been a horrific bunch of militarists, who are great at blaming others for their bad foreign policy, then attack and kill them, and blame them for that, too. It’s an essential part of American culture – the flip side of “we’re the good guys.” It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I started to realize that not only had I been lied to, I had been lied to constantly and, in fact, it was lies all the way down.

What kind of horrible propagandist lying sadist would glorify the terror someone in a bunker would feel when they saw gasoline come dripping down their air-vent? The same kind of horrible lying sadist who’d say that some poppy-farmer in Afghanistan “hates us for our freedoms” – that’s who.

Comments

  1. Rasmus Nn says

    This reminds me of the new Wonder Woman movie. Everyone’s praised it to the skies so on a flight yesterday I thought I’d give it a go (spoiler alerts), but all I could see was glorification of war and god-is-on-our-sideness. Sure Diana periodically exclaims in doe-eyed confusion how men can be so cruel to each other, but the next scene you’ll see her hacking down germans. I was already confused when the german cruiser arrived at Themyscira and the amazons clearly were the first to draw blood by bolting large fiery (why) arrows through the incoming germans. From every appearance they’re a female warrior caste but they are supposedly created in the world “to influence mens hearts with love and restore peace to the earth”. Sure the ending has some twists that try to excuse it all, but I just couldn’t shake the message that hacking down foot-soldiers was fine as long as it was for a greater cause (fighting the god of war .. ironically) and letting men go and sacrifice themselves just required strong supportive women and the proper acknowledgement of their patriotism.

    I felt sullied with propaganda.

  2. cartomancer says

    I suppose the story fits into a long tradition of celebrating military cleverness that goes back at least to the Odyssey. I certainly got shades of the debacle in Polyphemus’ cave from it. Which is rather odd, really, since I thought the Americans saw themselves more in the mould of the no-nonsense, tricks-are-for-cowards-and-weaklings Romans or Spartans than the cunning, clever, we’ll-think-our-way-out-of-the-problem Athenians. Mind you, casual racism and wasting petrol like it’s going out of fashion are very American traits, so it’s not all unexpected.

    I do wonder where the fact he was supposed to be a baseball player comes in. I was expecting an actual application of baseball skills to solve the problem, like throwing a grenade in an arc through some kind of access vent or clubbing the Japanese to death with a baseball bat. Or something with those giant foam hands. I’m not that familiar with the game. We call it Rounders over here, and it’s generally thought of as what those schoolgirls who are too wet for hockey or cross-country running play in PE. Perhaps the baseball bit was a reminder that he’s an all-American kind of guy. Or maybe it’s some US equivalent of our fatuous “the war was won on the playing fields of Eton”.

    I do find it quite interesting when both sides’ propaganda converges on the same stories for very different reasons. Seems the second World War had quite a bit of that. Such as how both the Russian government and the US government were very keen to call Russia’s economic system Communist, even though it was, at best, a kind of centralized state capitalism. The Russians wanted to attract some of the appeal that socialism and communism had to 20th century workers, while the Americans wanted to blacken and condemn that appeal in the eyes of their own workers so their capitalist class could exploit them further.

  3. Dunc says

    It’s of a part with the evergreen notion that our enemies “don’t value human life like we do” – therefore it’s OK to massacre them. Jon Schwatrz had an excellent post on his old blog about the history of that particular trope, but I’m having trouble finding it right now…

  4. says

    I despise jingoism. ‘America’ is nothing more than Murder Inc. on a very big scale. Started that way, and nothing has changed, except for the amount of bodies piled up at the door.

  5. says

    Caine@#4:
    I despise jingoism. ‘America’ is nothing more than Murder Inc. on a very big scale.

    Almost all governments are; the US – being the most powerful and successful – is the worst.

  6. says

    Marcus:

    the US – being the most powerful and successful – is the worst.

    The US is an outgrowth of the British Empire, carrying on the tradition, more or less. It’s not governments which are the problem, it’s humans.

  7. says

    Cartomancer:

    I really, truly wish you would blog here at FTB. This is s zero pressure network, and I really wouldn’t care how often or what you blogged about, you always have fascinating things to say, and fantastic insights. Pleeeeeaaaaaase consider it. Even if you have a gigantic NO flash in your head, please think about it.

  8. says

    Caine@#7:
    Let me second that, cartomancer.
    Many of your comments amount to mini blog postings related to the topic. You could have a pretty populated blog if you just commented:
    My comment [here]
    with a link to a posting.

  9. says

    Rasmus Nn@#1:
    This reminds me of the new Wonder Woman movie. Everyone’s praised it to the skies so on a flight yesterday I thought I’d give it a go (spoiler alerts), but all I could see was glorification of war and god-is-on-our-sideness. Sure Diana periodically exclaims in doe-eyed confusion how men can be so cruel to each other, but the next scene you’ll see her hacking down germans.

    Thank you I thought I was alone in having red alert sirens blaring about that movie. I haven’t seen it yet (though I’ll queue it up now that I can watch it for free on netflix)

    I see all the superhero movies as gods-descended-from-the-heavens-to-fight-our-glorious-nationalistic-wars propaganda of the worst sort. I guess it’s nice that the powers that be decided to have a woman in the role, but ultranationalism is hardly inclusive in the best of circumstances.

    I just couldn’t shake the message that hacking down foot-soldiers was fine as long as it was for a greater cause

    It’s part of the necessary brainwashing that encourages young Americans to go slaughter Bad People. And how do we know they are Bad: they did Bad Things for no reason that makes sense to us, therefore they are candidates for killing.

  10. says

    Dunc@#3:
    It’s of a part with the evergreen notion that our enemies “don’t value human life like we do” – therefore it’s OK to massacre them.

    Yes – it’s why I’m so uncomfortable with zombie movies and computer games. “Oh they’re already dead – kill them again, they don’t mind.”

  11. Onamission5 says

    @#2 Cartomancer:
    Him being described as a baseball player is shorthand for an “All-American” image in this particular piece of propaganda. Baseball was, at the time, the most popular American sport, so listeners are supposed to make the association with someone who’s already a pop culture hero of manly American virility, maybe even to one of the players in their trading decks. Men want to be him, women want to marry him, youth and athleticism, rah rah America, that sort of thing. It wouldn’t carry the same weight in the US today because we’re not nearly as fanatical over baseball as people were during the 40’s.

  12. Raucous Indignation says

    Flame throwers were a weapon of choice for reducing bunkers and tunnel complexes in the Pacific. The translations of the Japanese survivors on what a big flamethrower could do in to tunnel complex filled with men are grizzly.

  13. says

    Raucous Indignation@#13:
    Flame throwers were a weapon of choice for reducing bunkers and tunnel complexes in the Pacific.

    I never understood why gas was a no-no but flame was not. It’s one of the most mentally and physically traumatic weapons in the history of warfare. The Mongols and Romans used to wipe your city out, if you used burning oil to defend yourself.

    And there’s no way the GIs didn’t torch that bunker.

    The piece was, hopefully, jingoistic propaganda and the incident never happened. But, yes, if it did, they would have. The US soldiers were taught to hate the Japanese, and a lot of the “Japanese never surrender” was a fig-leaf for “we don’t take prisoners.”

  14. lumipuna says

    Romans used to wipe your city out, if you used burning oil to defend yourself

    …Then they invented a superior type of burning oil, the liquid fire.

  15. says

    If anyone is interested in seeing a wartime Japanese film you can watch Kato Hayabusa Sento-tai at the link below. It’s a 1944 film about an Imperial Japanese Army Air Service fighter squadron in the days after Pearl Harbor.

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