The Journal of Military History 68.2 (2004) 641-642
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Sorties into Hell: The Hidden War on Chichi Jima. By Chester Hearn.Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. ISBN 0-275-98081-2. Map. Photographs. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi, 226. $39.95.
The island of Chichi Jima ("Father Island") lies about 640 miles south of Tokyo and some 145 miles north of Iwo Jima. Heavily fortified and garrisoned during World War II, it would have been a costly invasion target had American forces chosen to attempt its seizure. Instead, in support of the campaigns to take the Marianas, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, U.S. naval and army aircraft struck Chichi Jima repeatedly from mid-1944 through the following July. During these operations more than one hundred American airmen were shot down over and around the island, but American submarines were able to rescue only three of them, including future U.S. President George H. W. Bush. Most of the others died with their aircraft, succumbed to the cold waters around Chichi Jima, or suffered a grisly fate at the hands of their Japanese captors. Of about twenty or more of those taken prisoner, three were sent to Japan, but the rest were tortured, killed by sword or spear, and in most cases partially eaten.
This atrocity was largely directed by Major General Yoshio Tachibana, the island's army commander, and concurred in by his naval counterpart, Rear Admiral Kunizo Mori. It was motivated by a desire for revenge for American air attacks, a Japanese hope to gain physical and spiritual strength from eating the livers of their enemies, and an effort to alleviate the severe meat shortage on Chichi Jima. But Tachibana and other senior officers realized that these atrocities would not go unpunished and devised an elaborate cover-up scheme to hide their actions from the Americans who would occupy the island at war's end. Only through a determined, persistent investigation [End Page 641] by American Marine Colonel Presley Rixley, commanding the occupation forces, was the truth finally uncovered and the guilty punished.
Chester Hearn, who has authored several books on World War II and other military subjects, describes what happened on Chichi Jima in fascinating, sometimes gruesome detail. His sources are the records of Col. Rixley's investigation and of the War Crimes trial of Tachibana and his fellow cannibals, along with Rixley's own papers and those of other participants in the investigation. His book is not so much an account of what happened to the American prisoners — although he covers this thoroughly—but primarily the story of Col. Rixley's long and difficult effort to determine the fate of the victims and identify their murderers.
Throughout the Pacific war, the Japanese frequently killed captured American flyers, and cannibalism was also not uncommon. But the Chichi Jima atrocities and their subsequent investigation were probably unique and have not previously been so fully described in published works.