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Beyond Pearl Harbor
How God caught up with the man who led Japan's surprise attack.
America's latest blockbuster, Pearl Harbor, has already been blamed for dwelling on a shallow love triangle, ignoring the sacrifices of Japanese Americans, downplaying the Japanese empire's aggression, and generally Disney-fying the "date which will live in infamy." No surprises there; as director Michael Bay told Reuters, "It's not a history lesson." But it's far too easy to shoot holes in Hollywood history. Instead, I'm going to fault the movie for missing a poignant and inspiring Christian story: the saga of Mitsuo Fuchida.
Fuchida grew up loving his native Japan and hating the United States, which treated Asian immigrants harshly in the first half of the twentieth century. Fuchida attended a military academy, joined Japan's Naval Air Force, and by 1941, with 10,000 flying hours behind him, had established himself as the nation's top pilot. When Japanese military leaders needed someone to command a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, they chose Fuchida. [Here, you can cut to the movie—it renders the attack pretty faithfully.]
Fuchida's was the voice that sent his aircraft carrier the message "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!) indicating the success of the surprise mission. Later, he too was surprised when he learned that, of the 70 officers who participated in the raid, he was the only one who returned alive.
By 1945 he had attained the position of the Imperial Navy's Air Operations Officer. On August 6 he was eating breakfast in Nara, Japan, where a new military headquarters was under construction, when he heard about a bomb dropped on Hiroshima. He flew to investigate, then sent a grim report to the Imperial Command.
On the same day, an American P.O.W. named Jacob DeShazer felt moved by the Holy Spirit to pray for peace. DeShazer had been in captivity since 1942, when, as a member of Doolittle's Raiders, he dropped bombs near Tokyo and then was forced to parachute into China. While imprisoned, first in Nanjing and later in Beijing, DeShazer had become a Christian. He found his heart softened toward his Japanese captors. After being liberated, DeShazer wrote a widely distributed essay, "I Was a Prisoner of the Japanese," detailing his experiences of capture, conversion, and forgiveness.
Fuchida and DeShazer met in 1950. DeShazer had returned to Japan in 1948 as a missionary. Fuchida had read DeShazer's testimony, bought a Bible, and converted from Buddhism to Christianity. DeShazer had recently finished a 40-day fast for revival in Japan when Fuchida came to his home and introduced himself. DeShazer welcomed the new convert and encouraged him to be baptized. While DeShazer continued to plant churches throughout Japan, Fuchida became an evangelist, spreading a message of peace and forgiveness in his native country and throughout Asian-American communities.
Fuchida died 25 years ago, on May 30, 1976. Like dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, who wished his legacy to be one of peace rather than destruction, Fuchida wanted the message of his changed heart to supersede the memory of his infamous attack. He wrote, "That morning [December 7] … I lifted the curtain of warfare by dispatching that cursed order, and I put my whole effort into the war that followed. … [But] after buying and reading the Bible, my mind was strongly impressed and captivated. I think I can say today without hesitation that God's grace has been set upon me."
* DeShazer's story, "From Bombs to Something More Powerful," appeared in our sister publication Christian Reader in 1997.
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