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So Sad to Fall in Battle    by Kumiko Kakehashi order for
So Sad to Fall in Battle
by Kumiko Kakehashi
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Having recently watched - and been greatly touched by - the film, Letters from Iwo Jima, I was intrigued to read Kumiko Kakehashi's So Sad to Fall in Battle, which presents 'An Account of War Based on General Tadamichi Kuribayashi's Letters from Iwo Jima'. It's a book that quickly strips away any lingering stereotypical perspective of the Japanese male psyche that the reader may begin it with.

Kumiko Kakehashi introduces us to a brilliant, innovative and approachable commander, a bookish man who cared about his subordinates, and was revered by them in return. He worried about the minutiae of life on the home front, as well as the safety of his wife and children, especially his small daughter Takako. Ironically, we're told that General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (then fifty-two years old) may have been sent to Iwo Jima by his superiors because he had spent five years in America, and had spoken out against the war, recognizing the American advantage from their industrial might. The General's farewell telegram to the Imperial General Headquarters (modified in the official records) opens, 'The battle is entering its final chapter. Since the enemy's landing, the gallant fighting of the men under my command has been such that even the gods would weep.'

Kuribayashi defended Iwo Jima against overwhelming odds, in the full knowledge that his troops were all that stood between the American forces and the Japanese homeland - the island would be later used as a base for air attacks against Japanese cities. Kuribayashi understood that what was expected of them was to fight for as long as possible. He succeeded better than anyone expected, holding out for thirty-six days in hellish circumstances (without either ammunition or water at the end), earning the admiration of his foe. It's notable that his soldiers killed a third of all the U.S. Marines who died over four years in the Pacific arena. The author also points out the irony that while the General hoped to safeguard his homeland, his troops' ferocity and the publicity back home about American deaths actually fed into the U.S. decision to drop the atom bomb on Japanese cities.

Kuribayashi's death poem begins, 'Unable to complete this heavy task for our country / Arrows and bullets all spent, so sad we fall.' This was also modified, it being taboo to speak of soldiers being sad to fall in battle, and the author suggests that the wording - as well as a mention in the farewell telegram of being 'empty-handed and ill-equipped' - was a protest on the great General's part of the waste of human life in a war that he felt ill-advised. I recommend So Sad to Fall in Battle to you as a fascinating account of the battle itself, but even more for its portrayal of an admirable human being in an impossible situation, coping with honor, integrity and inspiring leadership.

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