Authors: Robert Conroy
Tags: #World War; 1939-1945 - United States, #Alternative histories (Fiction), #World War; 1939-1945, #General, #United States, #Historical, #War & Military, #World War; 1939-1945 - Japan, #Japan, #Fiction
The officer entered and bowed deeply. "Your Excellency, I am here to take you to a place of safety."
"Do you have a name, Colonel?"
The colonel flushed. In his haste he had forgotten the courtesy and respect due his emperor. "Forgive me, Your Excellency. I am Col. Tadashi Sakei and I am on the staff of the Twelfth Area Army, which is responsible for the safety of the city of Tokyo."
Hirohito declined to look directly on Sakei. "And this place of safety, where is it and why should I accompany you? Am I your prisoner or your emperor, and what is the significance of the white sash you wear?"
"Your refuge will be away from Tokyo, Excellency. Here we fear that your life is in danger from more than just American bombs. More I am not at liberty to say. As to your other questions, you are my emperor. The sash signifies that I am one of those who are your protectors. Your enemies wear no sash." Sakei again bowed deeply, reverently.
"And what does General Anami know of your actions?" The man still had not said which side he was on. The term
meant nothing. Protection from whom? Would there be blessed peace or the continuation of death?
The colonel raised himself proudly to full height. He was quite tall for a Japanese, and the blood drying on his face made him look barbarically fierce. "General Anami," he said with a glint of satisfaction in his eyes, "has finally condoned the actions of men of honor who wish to preserve Japan and keep her safe from her enemies. He now supports us and honors us with his leadership."
Hirohito began to grieve inside for his beloved nation, but did not let his disappointment show. General Anami, once his friend, had betrayed him.
"It does not matter that you have me. My message will go forth without me," Hirohito said proudly.
Colonel Sakei smiled tightly. He left the room for a moment and returned with two small packages wrapped with string and brown paper. "Do you mean these? The treasonous message your traitorous advisers forced you to make and record for broadcast to the world?"
Now it was all Hirohito could do to keep from sobbing in his dismay and frustration. His enemies had both himself and the recordings of the royal rescript. His voice calling for peace would not go forth to the people of Japan. There would be no end to the war. The killing would go on. And on. And on.
"Do you have any idea what you are doing?" Hirohito gasped.
"Saving Japan," Sakei snapped.
"By destroying her? Why don't you kill me?" Hirohito asked sadly. "The shame of your foolishness is too much to endure. Get it over with and then depart and return to your misguided comrades." Hirohito shook his head in dismissal. Colonel Sakei was now beneath his contempt.
Sakei reacted as if slapped. A couple of white-sashed soldiers who had peered into the room gasped and darted away. If the angry colonel had seen them in his shame, he would have had them beaten to a pulp, perhaps killed. That was the way discipline was maintained in the Japanese army.
"Excellency," Sakei said in a strained voice, "you are a living symbol of Japan, her living god. Your presence and your pronouncements will add credence to our efforts to defend the home islands from invasion by the Americans."
Proclamations would be issued in his name, but by the hand of Anami and officers like Sakei. On the other hand it seemed obvious that he was the only member of the royal family who had been taken, and that the twelve-year-old Crown Prince Akihito was elsewhere and safe, as were the emperor's two younger brothers. If he, Hirohito, was assassinated, then Akihito would become emperor. With Hirohito alive, any comments that might be made on behalf of or by Prince Akihito would have no weight. It was a small ray of hope, but he grasped it. Most important, his only and well-loved son was alive and apparently safe, if only for the moment.
"Why would you extend this battle?" Hirohito asked. "The Americans will drop more atomic bombs on our cities and then invade our few islands. Our lands are already surrounded by their warships, and their planes fly overhead without opposition. If you persist, all Japan will be destroyed because of your misguided stubbornness."
Sakei gestured for the emperor to rise and follow him. Reluctantly, Hirohito did as he was told and emerged into the hallways that connected the palace to the shelter. He was dismayed to see several bodies lying in bloody disarray. Some wore sashes and some did not. It grieved him to realize that loyal soldiers had died on his behalf. Sakei, however, did not share his feelings. Instead, he pointed to a dead soldier who also wore a sash.
"Then we die with honor, not as prisoners!" Sakei said proudly. "Let the Americans bomb our cities. We will live in the countryside. Let them destroy our homes and we will live in caves in the hills. Let them invade our shores and we will fall upon them with every weapon we have. If we must, we will tear at them and destroy them with our hands and teeth. We have millions of soldiers and tens of millions of civilians willing to die to preserve our sacred culture. We will gnaw at their throats, and eyes, and testicles, and bleed the Americans until they come to their senses and negotiate an honorable end to this war."
It was all Hirohito could do to keep from laughing at Sakei's pompous and irrational speech. How could the deaths of all those people preserve anything Japanese? He had been told that the Americans thought of December 7, 1941, as the Day of Infamy. Now he had his own Day of Shame— August 14, 1945. God help the people of Japan.
The muffled sounds of the nearby explosions cut through his sleep-fog and Lt. Paul Morrell leaped from his cot. A surge of fear ruined his warm and pleasant dream about his girlfriend, Debbie Winston. He grabbed his carbine and ran outside the tent and looked for the source, all the while trying to ignore the nausea and splitting headache that assailed him.
Another explosion came from behind the low hill just to the rear of the camp.
Morrell looked about for help as he ran up the hill. No one was around. They were probably still out celebrating the end of the war, although it sounded as if someone didn't believe it. Could they be under attack from some Nazi fanatics? It sure as hell sounded like it.
Another blast jarred him. He breasted the hill on the run and looked down below him. Then he started swearing softly. Two of his soldiers, Sgt. Cecil Wiles and Cpl. Tommy Nevins, were standing by the stream that ran through the gentle valley. Wiles, staggering ever so slightly, pulled the pin on a grenade and lofted it into the center of a wider section of the stream that formed a nice little pond.
Water geysered up from the pond and so did a number of dead fish. Wiles and Nevins whooped loudly at the sight.
"What the hell are you men doing?" Morrell snapped as he approached. He was furious at their stupidity and enormously relieved that he was not again at war. The two NCOs looked at him dumbly, then Wiles made a waving motion with his arm that might have been a drunken attempt at a salute.
"Fishing," Wiles said, then after a long pause, "sir. We are flicking fishing." Nevins giggled at the witticism and almost fell into the water.
Morrell looked about. The banks of the stream were littered with dead fish. Some had been blown to pieces by the grenades, while others had had their lives snuffed out by the concussion.
"All right," Morrell snarled, "this is enough." His anger was growing. Not only had they scared the crap out of him, but they were endangering themselves along with anyone else in the vicinity. They were destroying government equipment as well as blowing up someone's private property. Worse, his headache was throbbing and he felt as if he would heave.
It wasn't the first time the duo of Nevins and Wiles had gotten into trouble, usually alcohol-related. Even when sober they were only marginally efficient. He wondered just how they had gotten their stripes.
"Why is it enough, Lieutenant?" Wiles asked with mock innocence.
Morrell iterated the reasons and added a last one. "Because I'm ordering you to, that's why."
Nevins hiccuped. "Lieutenant, why don't you flick off."
Morrell was stunned and took a deep breath to calm himself. "Tell you what. You're both drunk, and so's probably half the army. Now I'm gonna be a real nice guy and pretend I didn't hear that. You two get back to camp right now."
Nevins's face flushed in anger and he looked as if he might take a swing at Morrell. However, he quickly thought better of it. Along with being an officer and someone you just didn't hit, Morrell was sober and fit-looking. At five-eleven, he weighed a compact 180, and despite his curly blond hair and innocent-looking blue eyes, Morrell looked as if he could take care of himself, especially in a fight with two staggering drunks.
"No," said Sergeant Wiles. "Let's not forget about it. What the hell's the matter with you, Lieutenant? You know you got a reputation around here as being the choirboy officer. You're a pain in the ass, Lieutenant. Look, the war's over and we got a right to celebrate, and if you don't like it, why don't you get the flick back to your tent and stay there."
Morrell was livid with anger. He'd been with the outfit only a short time in comparison with many others, and he knew he wasn't getting respect from many of the men. Second lieutenants were the lowest of the officer ranks and all too often the butt of jokes by others with more experience. A joke, or even a veiled insult, he could deal with, but this was outright insubordination.
He turned to Wiles. "I think you and your little pal have gone too far. I regret this, but I am going to see Captain Maxwell."
Wiles and Nevins looked at each other, then burst out laughing. "Sure," said Wiles, "you go see the captain. You just do that."
Morrell turned and, in a rage, his headache and hangover forgotten, almost ran the half mile to where Captain Maxwell had set up shop.
Captain Maxwell had commandeered an old two-story farmhouse that had escaped the ravages of both the German retreat and the American advance. Like so many places in Germany outside the major cities, the area in which they were camped looked as if nothing had changed in it for a hundred years. Whenever he saw Maxwell's ornate headquarters, Morrell was reminded of the story of Hansel and Gretel.
Maxwell's clerk looked uncomfortable at Morrell's request, but told him the captain would be downstairs in a minute. Morrell nodded and went into the living room, which served as the captain's office. Maxwell, a stocky National Guard officer about thirty years old, arrived and waved him to a chair. Morrell briefly explained the situation regarding the grenade-tossing and the two NCOs' drunken insubordination. The captain lit a cigarette and stared at the ceiling.
"Dammit," Maxwell finally said.
"Lieutenant, how long you been with us?"
"About three months. Just before the Nazis finally surrendered."
Maxwell leaned forward. "That's right, just before the war ended. That means you came in on the ass end of a lot of fighting those boys had been going through for more than a year. You even replaced an officer who, while not particularly smart, was fairly well liked. So, how much combat did you see?"
Morrell flushed. "Not much at all, Captain." Only a few minutes, and he'd been scared to death and scarcely able to function. It was nothing in comparison with what the others had gone through, even the two assholes, Nevins and Wiles.
"That's right, and what were you doing a year ago?"
"I had just finished college and been called up."
"That's right, Lieutenant, you finished college. Then you did your basic training in the good of US of A, became an officer, and then got your butt shipped over here to us just in time to see the curtain go down. Do you know what we were doing a year ago? We had just arrived in France and had begun shooting our way across Europe. Know what I was doing four years ago?"
"I was managing a grocery store with my father. Then I got called up, and while I was gone, my dad died and they had to sell the store. All that while you were starting college and maybe reading
War and Peace
. When you go back, you'll have a degree and a future, but for people like me and a lot of others out there, there'll be nothing but shit for a future."
"Captain, are you saying I should have let them keep doing what they were doing?"
"Why not? They were just a couple of hillbilly assholes blowing up some grenades we don't need anymore and killing some kraut fish. Think, Lieutenant, what should you have really done?"
Morrell took a chair and sat down. His anger ebbed. "You're right. I should have taken any remaining grenades off them and left them there to do whatever they wished. If they had protested, I should have gone back for you or someone else to help me."
Maxwell relaxed after his tirade. "Paul, it gets worse. You want me to discipline those guys and I'll do it, only it'll just be an ass-chewing and nothing more. They know they deserve to lose their stripes, but it'll be their word against yours as to what they said, and you know they'll both lie like rugs. When I'm through chewing on them, they'll go back to their ugly friends and laugh at you because they got away with fucking with you."
Maxwell stood and paced the little room. "Look, I dislike those two clowns as much as the next guy, but they're veterans, NCOs, and heroes with Bronze Stars, even though they'll steal anything that ain't nailed down."
Maxwell told him that the two men had been ambushed by some Germans and had to shoot their way out, thus getting their medals. In his opinion, they had been looting a farmhouse when the Germans caught them, which made their fighting their way out something less than heroic.
Damn, thought Paul. He had really screwed up.
"It gets worse, Paul. They've got more than enough points to be discharged. So, in a couple of months, maybe sooner, they'll be home screwing their women and their sheep, and newcomers like you'll be here trying to run an occupation army. Who knows, maybe I'll be away from here too."