Paul Hartal

Samurai Competition - Poem by Paul Hartal

The steel blade of the sword flashed in the bright sunshine.
Second Lieutenant Toshiaki Mukai clutched the handle in both hands.
He raised the weapon high towards the sky and took a deep breath.

And then, with a powerful strike,
He slashed the head of the young Chinese man kneeling before him.

He smiled.
Did Second Lieutenant Tsuyoshi Noda win or lose?
On route to Nanjing, the two officers
Of the Japanese Imperial Army were
Competing with each other for being the first
To behead 100 people.

The competition was not a war crime, they said,
But in the Samurai spirit of kiri sute gomen,
The ancient feudal era custom
That authorized the Samurai to execute by sword anyone
From the lower classes who compromised the warrior’s honor.

The Japanese media liked the idea of the beheading contest.
Newspapers celebrated it with enthusiastic reports.
They explained that cutting heads strengthened military character,
Increased patriotism and public support, as well as army moral.

The Tokyo Nichi-Nichi Shimbun covered the contest
Of cutting 100 heads with a series of articles.
“Incredible Record”, announced the newspaper
In its December 13,1937 headline:
“Mukai beheaded 106, Noda 105”.

The Tokyo paper also claimed that the two officers decided
To start another competition with the aim being 150 severed heads.

During the Fascist invasion of China and in World War II
Soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army treated people
In the occupied territories as inferior lower classes and slaves.

Beheading by sword became a common war crime in the Asian theatre.
Yet Japanese officers saw it not only as an antidote to faintheartedness
But as a grand act of heroism.

By the end of the Second World War an estimated four million soldiers
And perhaps up to sixteen million civilians lost their lives in China.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, October 3, 2011

Poem Edited: Thursday, October 20, 2011

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