I recently finished reading James M. Scott’s 2015 book, Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor. The book details the bold and surprising U.S. bombing attack against Japan in April 1942, just months after Pearl Harbor. Scott’s book did an excellent job of bringing this audacious attack to life and took great pains to detail what happened to the airmen after they bombed the Japanese mainland. I also appreciated Scott’s nuanced approach to the topic. He didn’t simply explore the heroics of the American forces, but also examined how the attack likely led to the deaths of 250,000 innocent Chinese at the hands of savage Japanese army, deaths that the American leaders were aware could take place but deemed an acceptable risk. In short, while the famous Doolittle raid was successful in both attacking Japan and raising American morale, it also has a dark underbelly not to be forgotten.
However, what I most appreciated about this book came late in the story when a handful of the American airman are languishing in a brutal Japanese prison in Nanking, China. To this point, the airmen have experienced enormous amounts of torture, starvation, sickness and solitary confinement. Frankly, their trials were hard to read about at times.
Nevertheless, in the middle of this darkness, a brilliant, redemptive light shines through. On pg. 446 (of the Kindle version), Scott details that one of the airmen, Robert Hite, asked the Japanese prison commandant for a Bible. To this point, the airmen had almost nothing to do all day, but wallow in their pain, hunger and hopelessness. Surprisingly, though, a KJV Bible was provided to them (with a $1.97 price tag still on it!). Since the suffering airmen had nothing else to do, they began to pour over the Bible, passing it from cell to cell. Soon, the airmen’s perspective and attitude toward their guards began to change.
One of the airmen, Jacob DeShazer, stated, “‘The way the Japanese treated me, I had to turn to Christ.” He added, “‘No matter what they did to me, I prayed. I prayed for the strength to live. And I prayed for the strength, somehow, to find forgiveness for what they were doing to me’” (pg. 446). Amazingly, as Scott records, the airmen’s “hostility and anger” just “vanished” (pg. 446). Instead, DeShazer even attempted to befriend one of the guards. Each day he would ask the guard how he was doing with a smile. Scott records what happened, “To his surprise after six days of this the guard presented DeShazer with a sweet potato. ‘Boy,’ he thought. ‘This really works'” (pg. 447).
However, DeShazer’s transformation was far from complete. While in prison, Scott records that DeShazer “decided there in that awful cell in Nanking that if he survived the war he would return to Japan as a missionary. He felt his burden lift. ‘Hunger, starvation, and a freezing cold prison cell no longer had horrors for me. They would be only a passing moment. Even death could hold no threat when I knew that God had saved me,’ he recalled. ‘There will be no pain, no suffering, no sorrow, no loneliness in heaven'” (pg. 447).
Incredibly, after the war, Scott details that “Jacob DeShazer followed through with his vow to return to Japan as a missionary … Over more than three decades, he would go on to start twenty-three churches, including one in Nagoya, the city he had first seen through a bombardier’s sight. In an unlikely twist of fate, DeShazer’s powerful tale of forgiveness helped persuade Mitsuo Fuchida to convert to Christianity, the famed pilot who had led the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fuchida was baptized in DeShazer’s church. ‘I was very lost,’ he later said, ‘but his story inspired me to get the Bible’” (pg. 477-478).
All I can say is WOW! I was not expecting to read that at the end of a gritty, sobering book, and yet it shouldn’t surprise me. God can do what seems impossible. He can transform dead hearts and make them alive. He can turn former enemies into not just friends, but brothers in Christ. What a mighty, powerful, redeeming God there is who speaks to us in the Bible!