Politics & Policy

Where Does Admiral Yamamoto Go to Get His Apology?

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in the early 1940s (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
By Colin Kaepernick’s logic, the operation to kill the Japanese commander was racist and illegitimate.

Before there was Qasem Soleimani, there was Admiral Yamamoto.

In 1943, the U.S. targeted the exceptionally skilled Japanese commander and killed him in what constituted a precision attack for the time — with the P-38G Lightnings that intercepted him midair playing the role of the MQ-9 Reaper.

If it was wrong to kill Soleimani, it was wrong to kill Yamamoto — just as barbaric and illegal, just as damnable an “assassination.”

Of course, no celebrities back in World War II apologized to Imperial Japan, as actress Rose McGowan did to Iran after the killing of Soleimani in a now-semi-retracted sentiment. There wasn’t a debate about the operation’s legality. Members of the opposition party didn’t call it an assassination. No former sports star — and corporate brand ambassador — condemned it as a lamentable instance of American militarism.

Indeed, if he’s being consistent, Colin Kaepernick must view the killing of Yamamoto as yet another example of American authorities seeking to control and destroy the bodies of nonwhite men.

Obviously, the targeted killings of Soleimani and Yamamoto aren’t exactly parallel. We were in a declared war with Japan, a conflict on a much larger scale than that with Iran. But both men were commanders of enemy forces actively engaged in killing Americans, and both were taken out in a combat theater. Both of the targeted killings were fully justified legally and morally.

What were considered the advantages of going after Yamamoto resemble those of hitting Soleimani.

Like Soleimani, Yamamoto was vulnerable because he was on the move, on a visit to Japanese units. We intercepted a Japanese signal revealing his imminent whereabouts, on the periphery of the range of U.S. aircraft. Admiral Chester Nimitz made the call to target him.

As Donald A. Davis notes in his book Lightning Strike, the fact that Yamamoto, who carried out the Pearl Harbor attack, was responsible for the deaths of so many Americans motivated us to go after him. “The blood of thousands of American and Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen had been spilled because of Yamamoto,” he writes, “and here was an opportunity to eliminate him.”

The motive here wasn’t subtle. The strike at Yamamoto was dubbed Operation Vengeance.

The centrality of Yamamoto to the enemy war effort also played a role. “Yamamoto was the beating heart of the Japanese navy,” Davis continues. “In his own country, he was seen as embodying the unwavering Bushido fighting spirit.”

It was hoped that his loss would stagger Tokyo, and so it did — after an amazing feat of U.S. airmanship downed Yamamoto’s plane, which crashed in the jungle on the island of Bougainville.

There was some worry when considering whether to kill him that Yamamoto’s successor might be even more formidable. But it was brushed aside. Nimitz asked his exceptional intelligence officer, Edwin Layton, if he was confident that were none better who could replace Yamamoto. “Absolutely none,” Layton replied, according to his later account. “Absolutely none.”

A comment at the outset of the Yamamoto operation could just as easily have applied to the Soleimani operation:“TALLYHO X LET’S GET THE BASTARD.”

 

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