I was very impressed when director Clint Eastwood made his two movies about the Battle of Iwo Jima. One was seen through the eyes of the American soldiers, based on the book Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley. However, I was even more impressed with Eastwood's portrayal of the Japanese soldiers as seen through their eyes for his film Letters from Iwo Jima. In the movie, it shows that a lot of letters were found on the island after the war. However, before the American invasion, the Japanese soldiers had sent many letters home. Author Kumiko Kakehashi wrote this book based on survivors’ testimonies, families of the survivors, and also on the letters that the families gave the author access to.
Most Americans will be familiar with the iconic photograph of the six Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi which also won the Pulitzer Prize. What most Americans probably don't know is that the U.S. Military thought the capturing of the island would only take no more than five days. But it was not as easy as they first thought.
Much of the book centers around the letters written by the commander of the Japanese forces, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. Unlike other commanders, he did not believe in the Japanese strategy of a beach landing assault, as he had already seen the results in Guam and Saipan and other places and knew it would be futile. In fact, in his letters, he was already resigned to losing the island, but not after putting up a fight until the death of every soldier.
What makes this different about other books about the Battle of Iwo Jima, is how human the general and his men were when sending letters home to their families. Kuribayashi, as a general, managed to write a few lines criticizing the war and his superiors which went against the grain of the times and even managed to pass some of the Japanese censors.
When reading the letters from the General to his wife and children, it's almost hard to picture this nice family man commanding over 20,000 soldiers to defend a small island in the Pacific from a nation with a far superior force. He writes to his wife about the smallest details: how she should not send him anything, or how to fix a draft on the floorboard of their home, complete with pictures on how to do so.
We learn how Kuribayashi motivated his soldiers to defend the island at any costs. We know this from the letters that were found or shared by survivors and the survivors’ families. We know they defended the island to the best of their ability, hoping to delay or to try to change the mind of the American army in invading their homeland. Another truth we learn about Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi is that he was a great strategist and a thorn in the American force’s side. What was to be a five day mission lasted for more than thirty, and came with the high cost of casualties. For American and Japanese soldiers alike, the Battle of Iwo Jima can really be considered a living hell. For those of us who don't know war, this can be an eye-opener that war should never be glamorized.~Ernie Hoyt