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Mitsuo Fuchida: The Enemy Whose Attack Provoked America

How did a Japanese soldier connected to Pearl Harbor reconcile with an American prisoner of war?

Updated Aug 28, 2023
Mitsuo Fuchida: The Enemy Whose Attack Provoked America

The Mighty Samurai

"I will be the samurai!" I told my playmates. My toy sword glinted in the morning light in this land of the rising sun.

"You always get to be the samurai!" they complained. "Give us a chance."

Though Japan no longer had professional soldiers known as samurai, all the boys in my village loved to pretend.

I needed to make them understand that for me this was more than just play.

"I am meant to be a mighty warrior," I said. "You'll see! Some day, Mitsuo Fuchida will be a hero who brings glory to Japan!"

As I grew, I worked hard to make my dream a reality, graduating from the military academy by age 21. Eventually I became Japan's top pilot. My dreams were coming true, and my country was on its way to ruling a vast Asian empire. There was just one problem. A giant, an enemy named America, stood in the way of our glory. If we could destroy the giant, no one could stop us. In 1941, I was chosen to lead the charge to wound the giant.

The Sleeping Giant

Early in the morning of December 7, 1941, the roar of engines echoed in my ears. I climbed aboard the fighter plane, prepared to realize those boyhood dreams of greatness. Moments later I was leading more than 180 planes loaded with deadly power toward Hawaii. Our mission was to destroy the United States' Pacific Fleet. As we approached the sleeping island paradise, the first light of dawn streaked across the sky, followed by the rising of a brilliant red sun. Chills swept up my spine, for the Japanese symbol is the rising sun. Through binoculars I saw the magnificent American ships docked at Pearl Harbor. The enemy was peacefully going about its business-- we would take the giant by surprise!

At 7:49 AM I cried "Tora, Tora, Tora!" into my microphone. As my battle cry reached the Japanese warriors, my adrenaline surged. Like mechanical wasps we dive-bombed with merciless precision, watching as the mighty American ships went up in flames, then sank like toy boats. In less than two hours we shattered 150 planes and killed over 2,000 American servicemen. My heart swelled with pride and joy as I celebrated our victory. It was, however, only a matter of time before the giant would awaken and take his revenge.

Two Narrow Escapes

Following emergency surgery for appendicitis, the doctor ordered me to stay in the hospital and rest, but this mighty warrior wasn't about to listen to him! I headed up to the ship's deck where I could see the Battle of Midway unfolding. Just when we seemed destined to win, a new round of enemy planes closed in. Within seconds, a devastating blast knocked a hole in our ship and the battle was lost. I later learned that all the patients in the ship's hospital died from the blast.

On August 5, 1945, I left the Japanese city Hiroshima for another military base. Several hours later the Americans dropped the atomic bomb, obliterating that city. Why was my life spared a second time? When the war ended several days later, my country was defeated and I was devastated. Bitterness and hatred filled my heart. Once a proud warrior, I now had to turn to farming to make a living.

My Complete Reversal

One day I was walking through the noisy train station when an American missionary handed me a pamphlet called "I Was a Prisoner of Japan." In it was the story of Jake DeShazer, an American who had participated in a surprise raid on Tokyo. Full of revenge for Pearl Harbor, Jake wanted to bomb my country to pieces. He was captured in battle and spent the rest of the war as Japan's prisoner. In our harsh prison, Jake was brutally mistreated and suffered with dysentery, a horrible disease. His hatred toward everything Japanese boiled up inside him.

As the train rattled along, I became engrossed in Jake's story. The American was now a missionary in Japan sharing the love of Jesus with those who had imprisoned him. How had he gone from hating Japan to serving its people with love? I learned that after two years in captivity, DeShazer had been given a Bible and came to realize that Jesus Christ was his only hope. To me, Jesus was a Western god, but because of Jake's story, I wanted to know more about Jesus.

A few days later at the train station, a Japanese man was handing out books. I couldn't believe it when he cried, "Get your Bible-- food for the soul!" I took one, and as I read, I was struck by Jesus' words in Luke 23:34, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Jesus had died so I could be forgiven! On that day in 1950 I became a new person. I became a Christian. My friend at the train station urged me to share my story at a faith rally. I was afraid at first, but I did it. Five hundred Japanese came to know Jesus that day. I continued to share my faith and lead others to Christ, yet deep inside, I sensed God calling me to take another step toward peace.

Enemy Warriors Embrace

I stood at the door trembling with anticipation. Jake DeShazer had been sharing the love of Jesus with the Japanese for several years now, but would he be able to forgive the one who had led the charge on Pearl Harbor? It was partly my fault that Jake had spent years as Japan's prisoner. Finally, I reached up and knocked on the door.

"Yes?" asked a kind-looking man.

"I have desired to meet you, Mr. DeShazer. My name is Mitsuo Fuchida."

It took only a moment for him to recognize my name, and to my relief, a smile spread across his face. "Come in, come in." Through the love of Jesus, we former enemies embraced as brothers in Christ's love. God had brought peace not only to a war-weary world, but to the souls of two mortal enemies who had fought in it.

I traveled all over the Orient telling others about Jesus and leading many to faith. Still, when I was invited to share my story in America, I wondered how they would react to the one who had led the attack years before. To my surprise, I was welcomed with warmth. I told them, "I would give anything to retract my actions at Pearl Harbor, but that is impossible. Instead, I will work at striking the death-blow to the giant called hatred which infests human hearts. Jesus Christ can truly uproot that hatred. He is the only one powerful enough to change a life like mine and inspire it with His loving thoughts."

Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

1. What motivated Mitsuo Fuchida to lead a surprise military attack?

2. Fuchida's life was ruined after the war. How do we find hope when our plans fall apart?

3. After the war, Mitsuo Fuchida became a Christian and started telling others about Jesus, but he still felt called to do more. What other step did Mitsuo take?

4. How did Fuchida's enemies find it possible to forgive him for all the harm he had done?

5. What did Jesus mean when he told us to pray, "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors"?

6. Why does Jesus reach out to people who do bad things?

Suggested reading:

World War II Battles and Leaders ed. Aaron R. Murray (DK Publishing, Inc.).

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Remember Pearl Harbor by Thomas B. Allen (National Geographic Society).

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Welcome to Molly's World, Growing Up in World War Two America (American Girls Collection).

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Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Motortion

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