“Remember why you are here. Remember what you are fighting for.” General Kuribayashi’s warm breath cut through the icy air and hung there as if on the tip of a thin branch. “Where do you want to go?” We stiffened, frozen by the calculated demeanor of the man pacing in front of the long line of soldiers. “And where are you really going?” My feet burned in pain from standing on the frozen concrete. It would be so easy to shift my weight to one foot, just so I could rest the other. But Kuribayashi would kill me. “Who are you right now?” I am miserable, I thought.
“But who do you want to be?” I want to be the 17 year old big brother I am supposed to be. I want to go to a normal school and have friends. I want to be the loving son that will always protect his mother. I …
Thinking about what I couldn’t have made me shudder. I was supposed to be a blank slate, a brainwashed puppet that will dance when bid. I was expected to stand as a statue: motionless, pretending that the dark stains and stench of pain weren’t stretched on the grounds below my feet. I had one mission: to kill. To make sure that the Allies never got the slightest foothold against us. To fight so that the Axis powers would never have to see a loss again. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I tried to convince myself that if I fought hard enough, I would believe in my cause.
But even now, the sound of a gunshot made me tremble, the cries of our opponents rang in my ears. I remember the first time I had to kill a man, and even now I can’t get his last words out of my head, as he slipped into unconsciousness. When I had realized what I had done, I had run over to him, crying, and whispering, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.” He smiled at me through what I can only imagine as excruciating pain. His final words will forever linger in my thoughts at night. “You could do nothing else.”
“Lieutenant Nakamaro.” General Kuribayashi had stopped his pacing right in front of me. Since the War had started, time had not been kind to him. His age was only a small fraction of the waning youthfulness that had drained from his complexion not long ago. I grimaced as his dark eyes bore into mine with a fierceness that would make any sane man coil in fear.
“You failed me.” I remained silent as I waited for him to continue. Stand tall as a statue, motionless as a puppet. Show no expression.. “Your incompetence to comply with authority and undermine orders is to be punished.” I held my breath, anticipating a blow. But none came. “Follow me. We will discuss this somewhere else. Soldiers, remain in position. I will be back shortly.”
Our footsteps echoed through the halls. I swallowed and shot a glance at Kuribayashi. “Sir. I can explain.” His gaze remained fixed in front of him, and he showed no signs of recognition. “Iwo Jima was a mistake. I… I…” He held up his hand and I fell silent. We entered a dark room and he clicked on the light switch. The bulbs flickered for a few seconds and then produced a yellow light.
“Have a seat.” I nodded and pulled up a chair. He made no effort to show sympathy, but immediately shoved my disobedience right back down my throat. “We lost that day. I trusted you to get the orders to the Marshal, and you failed. Miserably. I am starting to think the Allies have you up to this. What do you have to say?” I gulped and simply stared at him. “Fine. You have nothing? Silence won’t get you anywhere.” I bit my lip. I wasn’t being silent, I was screaming inside.
The words of the unknown soldier who I killed resounded throughout the room. “You could do nothing else. ” Nothing else. I killed an innocent man because of a bloodthirsty ruler. I was secretly hoping that this would happen. Of course I wasn’t working for the Allies, but I wasn’t going to correct him. I want to go home. I was hoping that I would be released for this, but quite the opposite happened. “I am sending you to the front lines. You need to learn how important it is that you do your job.”
He marched out of the room, and I followed behind. I was shaking in fear. The front lines? I am 17! As we walked outside, a rush of bitter frigorific air hit us. I shivered and returned to my spot, where the soldiers had barely moved. None turned in our direction, they acted as if we had never left. General Kuribayashi began pacing again.
“Now. I don’t want to know who you are, or who you want to be. I want to know who you are going to be. ”
You could do nothing else.
“Lieutenant Nakamaro, do you know who you are going to be?” I saluted and said yes. I knew exactly who I wanted to be, and I couldn’t be that person here. If I can do nothing else but kill, then I will do the one thing I can do. So I ran.