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The Warning Shot

Eight years before the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese-language publication hit Honolulu like a bombshell, predicting war with the United States and an inevitable Japanese victory.


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Customs reiterated to the press that consignees had first called attention to the novelette because it was “detrimental to Japanese-American relations.” Honolulu was a Navy town, and Japanese-Americans were upset that the novelette described U.S. warships in great detail, and seemed designed to stir a patriotic reaction from “the younger generation of Japanese.” Indeed, Japanese-Americans were more indignant about the novelette than their Caucasian neighbors. The day after the Hinode seizure went public, Hawaiian editorials raised eyebrows at the absurdity of impounding a work of fiction. The Army intelligence officer at Fort Shafter marveled, “This is believed to be the first time that such a seizure of Japanese publications has been made here.” So far, only the Customs clerk’s wife, George Kojima and a few dozen of his customers were familiar with the content of the novelette.

Word spread quickly of both the novelette and its seizure. On Dec. 14, 1933, the Tokyo correspondent of the London Morning Post filed a story about the seizure, and the U.S. military attaché made sure Washington was advised. Newspapers around the world picked up the story the next day. Eleven days after the seizure, Los Angeles Congressman Charles Colden gently asked Secretary of War George Dern for information about the novelette. Dern replied that “the War Department has no official information whatever either of this pamphlet or of its seizure.” It was probably no coincidence that Fort Shafter typed up a detailed report for Washington on the day of Colden’s request. That some anonymous Army officer had only informally recommended the book be seized allowed Secretary Dern to quibble about having “no official information”—not yet, at least. No federal executive in his right mind wanted to touch an explosive issue wired to national defense, international relations with Japan and domestic race relations.

On Jan. 15, 1934, a Hearst newspaper, The Washington Herald, splashed Fukunaga’s novelette across the front page alongside a photo of Vice Admiral Suetsugu Nobumasa, chief of the Imperial Navy. The subtitle warned, “Text Shows Intent to Strike First Blows at Our Bases in Philippines and Hawaii.” The warning was no surprise to U.S. Navy strategists. In subsequent days, the Herald published a “comprehensive and exclusive translation” of Fukunaga’s book (probably furnished by U.S. Military Intelligence). “Kitarubeki monoga kita”—the inevitable has come—began the first chapter.

Account of the Future US-Japan War was a cut above other war fiction of the day. It was blessed with two unusual forewords, one written by Adm. Kato Kanji, member of Japan’s Supreme War Council, and another by Vice Adm. Suetsugu. The former claimed to have “read this story through without once laying the book aside,” and praised it for emphasizing the “great importance which control of the air bears to national defense.” Suetsugu recommended the book for “the general public as well as naval specialists” because of the astute glimpses it afforded of future warfare. The author, Fukunaga Kyosuke, was a retired 44-year-old lieutenant commander in the Japanese naval reserve with the expertise to give readers insight into the strategy, tactics and weaponry of modern warfare. His dramatic tale foretold the roles of naval air power, submarines, radio communications, intelligence, civil affairs, propaganda and other elements, as well as their shortcomings. Fukunaga wrote like the Tom Clancy of his day.

One American reader, Maj. Edward F. Witsell, devoured the book. Witsell was a 1911 graduate of the Citadel who had served two tours in Japan at the U.S. Embassy, and was one of the few Japanese linguists in the U.S. Army. He recommended that the Army Chief of Staff read a few choice passages “of military interest” in the novelette, starting with a description of Japan’s rapid thrusts at Guam, the Philippines and Hawaii. To modern-day readers, there is an eerie familiarity to names and places in Fukunaga’s narrative of the Pacific war. The drama is laced with heated dialogue on ships’ bridges and in crews’ quarters about the capabilities of torpedoes, anti-submarine mines, airships, gunnery angles and ranges, and actions with U.S. warships that would go down in history a decade later.

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Honolulu Magazine May 2019
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