Posts Tagged ‘Suicide’

Happy May Day!!  It’s hard to believe we’re already beginning 2011’s fifth month.  For Today’s History Lesson, this year has been really out-of-sorts as compared to years past.  Pieces have been few and far between.  Where most months would see 15 to 20+ articles, the last 3 months have seen 10 or fewer.  A heavy workload at the office, slow progression through Madison’s biography, and maybe even a bit of burnout have all combined to create something of a writing drought.  But May is here and the big project at work is nearing completion.  I finished the year-long slog through Madison’s bio, and “refreshed” myself with a bit of fiction, so hopefully things can get back on track.

Joseph Goebbels’ tenure as Chancellor of Germany was incredibly short, easily measured in hours.  The world around him was crumbling in more than one sense.  Literally, the incredible rain of bombs, bullets, and artillery pieces were turning the heart of Berlin (and much of the rest of Germany) to dust.  Figuratively, the last vestiges of the Third Reich and its National Socialist platform were being blown to smithereens.  His boss, Adolf Hitler, was now mostly ashes outside the Chancellery, having committed suicide with his new wife.

But still, in the flickering light of May 1, 1945, Germany’s new Chancellor was able to conduct business, though there were just a couple of tasks to complete.  First, there was ordering General Krebs to take a message to Russian General Vasily Chuikov informing him that Hitler was dead and requesting a ceasefire.  That probably wouldn’t have taken too terribly long since the Russians were, at this point, just down the street.

And second, there was settling his own disposition and that of his family.  He had decided to follow Hitler’s example and commit suicide.  His wife had decided to do the same.  But their children?  The parents reasoned that, as survivors of the parents, the kids would be subject to all sorts of terrible things.  So Frau Goebbels, with help from Hitler’s doctor, injected the children with morphine as they slept and then crushed cyanide capsules in their mouths.

And then husband and wife took care of their last act.  It gets a little fuzzy here since, in the confusion of battle (and the remaining Germans attempting to escape), the true account has been lost.  But the best evidence points to Joseph Goebbels shooting himself while his wife took cyanide, duplicating the deaths of Hitler and Eva Braun.  An attempt to burn their bodies was made, but poorly executed, and they were identified within days.

But of course, the next day would see (and hear) the gunfire end at 3:00pm.  For the Allies (and the Russians in particular) however, the biggest prizes had escaped the hangman’s noose.

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Tokashiki is another of the (mostly) unknown Kerama islands that lie in very close proximity to Okinawa.  And like Kerama Retto, which we discussed yesterday, there’s a story that I think is worth relating.  Kerama Retto was all about its fleet of suicide boats.  The U.S. Army discovered them and, having destroyed them, took away a potential weapon that could have been used against the Navy’s landing forces.  Tokashiki had suicide boats lying in wait as well but, unlike Kerama Retto, it wasn’t the U.S. that destroyed them.

It was the Japanese themselves.

The Japanese soldiers on this small island had been training for their first (and last) mission for a long time…some for several years.  And they’d been on Tokashiki for nearly a year, waiting for the command to execute their missions (and, by extension, themselves).  But when the U.S. Fleet arrived, they were further north than Japanese planners had anticipated, rendering the suicide boats far less effective.  So when the order came, it was not an order to attack, but rather to scuttle their boats.  The men were shocked and angry, but orders were orders, and orders were meant to be obeyed.  The boats were sunk.

On March 27, 1945, U.S. forces landed on Tokashiki and fought a few skirmishes with the enemy, who were mostly armed with pistols and a few hand grenades.  But for the most part, U.S. and Japanese forces were merely bystanders for one of the most grisly aspects of the entire Okinawan campaign…a tragedy that wasn’t endured by either of the opposing forces.

It was the native residents themselves.

As the Japanese retreated from the area, the citizens of Tokashiki began to blow themselves up with hand grenades.  Over the next several days, nearly 400 civilians would commit suicide.  There is some debate as to the cause.  Some writers say the acts were spontaneous acts of self-immolation, but others disagree.  They say the Japanese had left hand grenades with the people, while at the same time telling them stories (ranging from merely false to ridiculous), about how U.S. soldiers would slaughter the men, rape the women, and eat the children.  And these poor people, having never seen the invading men before, had no inkling that what they were being told was rubbish.

But Tokashiki’s 400 civilian deaths were a mere drop in the bucket, as the 3-month conflict on Okinawa would see thousands and thousands of civilians, their minds filled with the same dread-laced stories, commit suicide in similar fashion.

Recommended Reading: Retribution

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In the spring of 1945, the U.S. Navy was preparing for what it thought would be the second-to-last (and second-worst) battle of the Pacific War.  Over the last 30 months, the pushing back of the Imperial Japanese Navy and its armies had been successful, but it had been accomplished at tremendous cost.  Places like Tarawa, Saipan, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima had all been purchased with Marine and Army blood…lots of it.

And now, Okinawa loomed large on the horizon.  Situated less than 500 miles from the Japanese mainland, it was set to be a massive staging area for the last (and worst) battle of the Pacific War…the invasion of Japan.  Two Marine divisions and two Army divisions had been tasked with making the initial landings on Okinawa, the largest island in the Ryukyus and home to more than 100,000 enemy soldiers and several hundred thousand civilians.  The invasion date (called “Love Day”) was set for April 1st, which boasted the unusual confluence of both April Fool’s Day and Easter.

But Okinawa wasn’t the only target.  Other, smaller islands in the vicinity were also marked for occupation, as enemy soliders and guns had a nasty way of showing up on them.  One such island was Kerama Retto.

Located a dozen miles to the southwest of Okinawa, Kerama Retto was occupied on March 26, 1945, by elements of the U.S. Army’s 77th Infantry Division.  As they fanned out across the island, they discovered a series of caves with hundreds of boats.  Upon further inspection, they realized that this seemingly worthless mission had taken on tremendous importance.

The boats were actually floating bombs.  Loaded with explosives, they would have been used in suicide attacks against Navy vessels approaching Okinawa.  Their small size and relatively high manueverability would have made them difficult to hit.  And hundreds of them launched at once had the potential to cause tremendous carnage, not only to the ships, but especially to the lightly-armored and lightly-defended landing craft.

The boats, subsequently destroyed by the Army, put paid to a potentially devastating tool of destruction in the Japanese arsenal.  Unfortunately, the enemy still had others available.

Recommended Reading: Retribution – Max Hastings is one of the finest historical writers around.  Many of his published works are in my library…they should be in yours, too.

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Today’s History Lesson marks an event witnessed by none, assisted by few, but celebrated by millions.  On April 30, 1945, Mr. and Mrs. Adolf Hitler (one day after tying the knot) committed suicide.  Eva took a cyanide capsule, as did Adolf, who simultaneously shot himself.  And thus was ended the life of one of history’s greatest tyrants.  Their bodies were removed from bunker deep below the Chancellery, placed in a bomb crater, doused with gasoline, and burned.

But suicide had not been the original plan for Hitler.  Many of his staunchest supporters had suggested, and even started preparing, escape before the Russians reached Berlin.  There was talk of retreat to the Bavarian mountains and a final stand in the redoubts there.  And South America offered a possible refuge and a place to start anew.

But on April 22, 1945, after yet another tirade against his Generals, Hitler decided to take his life.  So with the Russians just down the street, Hitler did just that…and the mass exodus began.  Like rats on a sinking ship, the “citizens” of the Chancellery scattered, hoping to somehow escape.  Quite a few did make their getaway, many more did not.

Recommended Reading: Hitler: A Study in Tyranny

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