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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Three Human Bullets

In 1932, about a year-and-a-half after Japan had decided to invade Manchuria as a step towards attacking China, a scene evolved that involved the accidental deaths of three Japanese soldiers that turned them into martyrs and a rallying point for Japan and its Imperial Army.

Looking to take out Chinese fortifications to allow Japanese soldiers to breach and advance, the Japanese Army concocted a plan whereby two sets of three (a total of six) soldiers from its engineering division would each carry a 12-foot long bamboo pole stuffed with explosives.

Let’s set the stage:

It’s February 22, 1932. Blocked by barbed wire halting the Japanese Army’s advance onto Chinese trenches, every previous attempt to remove the wire by the Japanese was met with volleys of rifle and machine gun fire by the Chinese 19th Route division.

Seemingly out gunned by the Chinese, the Japanese devised a plan whereby two groups of three men apiece would do a full-frontal attack run (not a suicide run, apparently) with the bamboo stick filled with explosives.

I'll give the Japanese credit...whenever there's a way to have military men kill themselves in the line of duty, they find a way.

The two groups ran at the barbed wire obstacle, set the fuse and blew two holes (or one big one) in it allowing the Japanese to attack.

However... one group was more successful (or unsuccessful depending on one's view of Japanese self-sacrifice), as they all lived.

The other group of three... our Three Human Bullets... they died when the bamboo explosive went off.

From what I understand, before the two groups took off on their run to the barbed wire, a fuse was lit on each.

The fuse was supposed to be long enough for the men to run to the front, stick the bamboo pole laced with explosives in the wire, and race back to their waiting comrades in arms.

But one of the two groups had a short fuse that was accidentally cut to just 50 centimeters rather than something much longer - like 150 centimeters, as it was supposed to be.

Someone who made the fuse heard 50 cm... and didn't hear the 100 number in front of it.

Privates (surnames first) Kitagawa Susumu, Sakue Inosuke and Eshita Taeji were the three unlucky men who died because of the unfortunate mistake.
From left: Private Kitagawa, Private Eshita, and Private Sakue, the Three Human Bullets... the dead ones, anyway.
However, because they were successful, word of their sacrifice was sent back to the newspapers and radio.

They were dubbed the Three Human Bullets.

Heroes of Japan.

Strangely, no one seems to recall the names of the three men who didn't die, but were still successful, in blowing a hole in the barbed wire.

Everybody loves a martyr... even more so when there's three of them.

The Three Human Bullets (Bakudan Sanyushi, / 爆弾三勇士) became a romantic notion of Japanese military self-sacrifice.

A song was written of their lucky exploit (that's sarcasm, by the way), magazine articles, were written on them, movies, stage plays, and even a comic strip was created and printed in Shonen Club manga (comic book) so the kiddies of Japan could grow up knowing that no sacrifice is too small.
Oh... and pottery, too. What is death by ineptness worth if they can't make a statuette of how you died?
Picture a 10-year-old reading this story in a manga back in 1932. Now picture that same kid in 1941-1945. It's okay to die in war if you are doing for the country of Japan.

You, too can be a war hero, like the Three Human Bullets... self-sacrifice provides a noble death.

Not like those three idiots who didn't die for the cause... whomever they were.

You can't tell me that propaganda doesn't work. 


Andrew Joseph
PS: Ever heard that anti-Vietnam War song by Country Joe & The Fish? Well it's 1, 2, 3, what are fighting for? There's a bit of language, so NSFW. Otherwise, crank it up and sing along.


  1. Acerbic yet profound ... how do you do that? And I did sing along!

    (Y'Know, it was originally the "Fish" cheer ... "What's that spell? FISH!" ... for some reason that cracks me up.)

    1. I don't know... I've always been a closet hippie who thought war was cool... then I saw Apocolypse Now, and while I still respect the military for what its aims are, the death and senseless violence just gets me... be the first on your block to have your kid come home in a box.... I'm also reading a history of Japan specific now to WWII, and that whole brainwashing of death before surrender stuff just eats at me...