Takijiro Onishi and Atonement

Dale Ralph Davis:

Have you ever thought what life would be like without atonement?

In one of my previous books I told of Admiral Onishi, who tried to provide his own atonement. Takijiro Onishi was Commander of Japan’s First Air Fleet. It was October 1944 and the war was turning sour for Japan in the Pacific. Onishi therefore proposed desperate measures.

‘In my opinion,’ he said, ‘the enemy can be stopped only by crash-diving on their carrier flight decks with Zero fighters carrying 250-kilogram bombs.’ Hence kamikaze pilots, suicide attacks.

Onishi was adamant: ‘Nothing short of all-out use of special attacks can save us.’ Such suicide attacks were much more successful than conventional air strikes. By the time Japan surrendered in August 1945, 2,519 men and officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy had sacrificed themselves.

On the evening of August 15, Admiral Onishi left a note: ‘To the souls of my late subordinates I express the greatest appreciation for their valiant deeds. In death I wish to apologize to these brave men and their families.’

He then plunged a samurai sword into his mid-section. He refused medical attention, would permit no one to finish him off. He lingered in agony until six o’clock the following evening. The tellers of his story conclude by saying: ‘His choice to endure prolonged suffering was obviously made in expiation for his part in one of the most diabolical tactics of war the world has ever seen.’

But there is no atonement there – on the bloody blade of a samurai sword. The self-appointed gore of my intestines cannot dissolve my guilt. Only when I receive that cauterizing coal from Yahweh’s ‘Jerusalem altar’ do I ever hear ‘your guilt has been taken away and your sin will be covered.’ Then you do not have to worship the Lord in the terror of holiness but in the safety of holiness.