They began the same way every day; slaves of tradition, assembling each morning as the flag was raised; bowing, standing to attention; respectful.
Rebecca watched it all from the shaded window space of the Japanese hospital, a grass hut at the edge of the compound where she was not only a prisoner, but where she was worked for twenty hours each day, sometimes longer, until she dropped from exhaustion.
She listened. They were being exhorted by Colonel Mashito in his barking tones; clipped, precise, to the point, to remember their ancestors, their emperor, and honor. The words were always the same, even if she did not understand them. They were praised for their sacrifices by their commanders in Japan, and by the Emperor, even if their emperor, their god, knew none of the inhumane things his soldiers did to men, women, and children thousands of miles away: the atrocities, the never-ending executions, and the never-ending rapes.
Their emperor was shut off from the world, and away from his own people. Few of those in Japan outside of the palace had ever seen him. They had his photograph to hang in their homes and to revere, but that was all. Rumor had it that he was slight, unprepossessing, and not a god-like, inspiring figure. Perhaps that was why they protected him in obscurity. Heroes and Gods remained Heroes and Gods, just so long as they were mystical, obscure, and unknown.
Praise of the Emperor was followed by news of victories. Always victories, never anything else, even if they did know better. They were beginning to find out what the bitter taste of defeat was like. They had bought themselves time, after Pearl Harbor, to expand their control over most of Asia, but not enough time. They had awoken a terrible enemy in America, who was now closing in upon them. Their enemy had retaken the Philippines, and was moving ever closer as the allies pushed the Japanese from one island to another and back to Japan, bringing death along with them.
Mashito said nothing of their constant military and naval setbacks as they were driven out of the Pacific; their ships sunk, their planes shot down, their men killed without mercy.
Few of them chose to surrender—the shame would have been too great—but they were not given the choice or the chance. They were shot down even as they tried to rise up and do as much damage as they could before they died. Their enemy had learned that they must never be trusted to surrender. The Japanese lost one island after another and with losses that they could ill afford.
They were being driven back out of their former empire, held for decades, rebounding to bloody the invaders’ noses, but always with dreadful consequences to themselves. They would never dare admit the possibility of defeat creeping ever closer. Defeat, was unthinkable, impossible.
They were the chosen race, (a common delusion of many violent nations) and would never surrender. Everything would be to-the-death. Anything less would be a disgrace to their traditions and their ancestors. There would be mass spilling of their own blood when defeat came, as the unthinkable shame of it washed over them. The officers would set an example and save face in the Samurai tradition of Seppuku, self disemboweling, followed soon after by a merciful beheading to preserve their honor in case they gave in to the pain and did not complete what they began, or were seen to suffer unbelievable pain. Or lost their nerve to take the honorable path, so were beheaded first, before they lost their nerve.
At the end of the usual, brief monologue, personal packages from home-- on the few occasions they got through--were passed out.
Their supply lines were being destroyed, and they saw fewer of their own ships and planes. There had been none for the last three weeks other than the plane that had parachuted in, some morale just the day before, in the form of mail and a few packages. Japan was abandoning them. More important things lay ahead.
After that ceremony the soldiers were dismissed to go about their duties on the small island.
No one ever learned that in the mail that morning, Mashito had been informed of the death, in combat, of his only son. He had died an honorable death. Mashito could hope for no better. The news was always the same, always an honorable death or it would never have been told. There was nothing to mourn. Mashito knew that he would soon follow him, leaving behind his wife and daughters to mourn their loss.
Rebecca’s nursing services were confined to the hospital where the Japanese wounded were. When she first arrived, she had worked alongside their own doctor and the other American nurse, but now she was their sole medic after their own doctor had been killed, and after her companion nurse, Madison, had died by her own hand some weeks earlier, after exacting her own revenge.
Rebecca watched the morning parade and what followed it from her elevated position in the hospital window, heedless of those of her wounded enemy who needed her care behind her, while being too proud to ask it of her as they watched her. They no longer demanded, as they once had. Madison had scared them.
Weeks earlier they would have sometimes thrown things at her, a bedpan or a book, to get her attention. She was a prisoner, and was here to serve them. They no longer did that. The memory of what Madison, the other nurse, had done to those in the hospital the night she had taken her own life, had taught them that even the weakest among them should be treated with some respect, and they had learned to fear.
Rebecca was closely watched, never trusted to be alone with those in her care, and never at night as they slept and were helpless.
Rebecca’s guard watched the unfolding ritual outside from the other window space where he could still watch Rebecca. It had been Mashito’s orders that everyone should watch.
The prisoners crowded behind the fence, were unable not to watch. They were tattered scarecrows; those few with clothes to their name. They were half starved, but not yet the skeletons Rebecca had seen come out of some of the prison camps further west, as those had been liberated. Few prisoners survived the brutal treatment meted out to them in every prison camp.
As the Japanese saw it, the prisoners deserved every insult and indignity that could be heaped onto them after suffering the disgrace of being captured rather than fighting to the death and retaining some honor. Their enemy had dishonored their own country by their surrender, and were to be despised. Conventions regarding how prisoners of war were to be treated meant nothing to their captors.
Those prisoners had been pathetic, walking skeletons, their condition wrenching at the heartstrings, and hard to observe without feelings of anger and despair. It was difficult to believe they could survive what they had experienced, but life was a tenacious thing.
Women prisoners had fared better in some ways, some of them, but had suffered much worse treatment in others, but few of those women, if they survived it, wished to say anything about what happened to them. They didn’t need to say. The world already knew what the Japanese did to women prisoners. The rape of Nanking was something the Japanese would answer for when the war was over.
Rebecca knew she would not survive the coming invasion. And it was coming. When the opportunity was presented to her, as her supervision was relaxed, she would kill, as Madison had done, and keep on killing until she was also dead.
The war in Europe was heating up and gaining momentum with the successes of the D-Day invasion of Europe, and would soon be over. It may have ended already, except she was sure that she would have heard that. The advances that the Americans were making in the Pacific and after re-taking the Philippines would ensure that it would soon end here too. Only the Japanese did not seem to know it. Except they must know it, and would also know that their misdeeds would soon catch up to them.
Rebecca was witness to the many atrocities committed to prisoners of war if they dared resist or showed any sign of resistance. The Japanese in other places had used them for bayonet practice, eviscerations, castrations, amputations, and deliberate starvation. Here, they just shot them, or beheaded them.
Few prisoners were now being taken. The brutality on both sides was sickening, but the Japanese had brought it upon themselves. To be victorious against such a vicious enemy, you soon learned that you had to kill and keep on killing. Nothing succeeded so well in brutality, as an excess of it.
Tokyo, a city of wood and paper, was being obliterated by bombing, and fires. She had heard the western-trained Japanese doctor speak of it, and the Japanese expression for the aftermath of one of the worst nights of such bombing, where more than one million people were left homeless. They called it: ‘Night of the black snow’.
The prisoners Rebecca could see against the compound fence had little clothing to hide their skeletal frames. Most had none. Suffering in the hot sun of an early day, they were crowded up against the fence, watching, hands grasping at the barbed wire of the inner fence, heedless of the punctures to their hands and bodies in their helpless anger at what was about to happen.
They had used most of their clothing to bind up their wounds, and those of their comrades. Prisoners got no medical care, and little food.
This was one of the few times they were tolerated close to the fence, as they would witness the spectacle unfold, and to give voice to their displeasure if they dared. More often, they just turned away, sickened by it all, knowing that their turn would come soon enough. They would soon be dead, and the worst part of it, was knowing that there was nothing they could do about it.
Armed guards were standing by to see that it never got out of hand. The prisoners could all be machine-gunned down in the blink of an eye with a simple order.