Apropos Admiral Yamamoto

My thinking about Admiral Yamamoto reminded me of one of my favorite novels, Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, and of one of my favorite passages from that novel, a passage written in Admiral Yamamoto’s voice and set just before his death. I stress that this is not relevant to any substantive issues related to the killing of Yamamoto — it’s just what my cranial database always brings up when I see “Yamamoto.”

To those Army fuckheads, [the decision not to deliver the declaration of war until after the Pearl Harbor attack] is nothing — just a typo, happens all the time. Isoroku Yamamoto has given up on trying to make them understand that the Americans are grudge-holders on a level that is inconceivable to the Nipponese, who learn to swallow their pride before they learn to swallow solid food. Even if he could get Tojo and his mob of shabby, ignorant thugs to comprehend how pissed off the Americans are, they’d laugh it off. What’re they going to do about it? Throw a pie in your face, like the Three Stooges? Ha, ha, ha! Pass the sake and bring me another comfort girl!

Isoroku Yamamoto spent a lot of time playing poker with Yanks during his years in the States, smoking like a chimney to deaden the scent of their appalling aftershave. The Yanks are laughably rude and uncultured, of course; this hardly constitutes a sharp observation. Yamamoto, by contrast, attained some genuine insight as a side-effect of being robbed blind by Yanks at the poker table, realizing that the big freckled louts could be dreadfully cunning. Crude and stupid would be okay — perfectly understandable, in fact.

But crude and clever is intolerable; this is what makes those red headed ape men extra double super loathsome. Yamamoto is still trying to drill the notion into the heads of his [Army] partners in the big Nipponese scheme to conquer everything between Karachi and Denver…. Come on guys, Yamamoto keeps telling them, the world is not just a big Nanjing. But they don’t get it. If Yamamoto were running things, he’d make a rule: each Army officer would have to take some time out from bayoneting Neolithic savages in the jungle, go out on the wide Pacific in a ship, and swap 16-inch shells with an American task force for a while. Then maybe, they’d understand they’re in a real scrap here.

This is what Yamamoto thinks about, shortly before sunrise, as he clambers onto his Mitsubishi G4M bomber in Rabaul, the scabbard of his sword whacking against the frame of the narrow door. The Yanks call this type of plane “Betty,” an effeminatizing gesture that really irks him. Then again, the Yanks name even their own planes after women, and paint naked ladies on their sacred instruments of war! If they had samurai swords, Americans would probably decorate the blades with nail polish….

They are approaching the Imperial Navy airbase at Bougainville, right on schedule, at 9:35. A shadow passes overhead and Yamamoto glances up to see the silhouette of an escort, way out of position, dangerously close to them. Who is that idiot? Then the green island and the blue ocean rotate into view as his pilot puts the Betty into a power dive….

They enter the jungle in level flight, and Yamamoto is astonished how far they go before hitting anything big. Then the plane is bludgeoned wide open by mahogany trunks, like baseball bats striking a wounded sparrow, and he knows it’s over…. As his seat tears loose from the broken dome and launches into space, he grips his sword, unwilling to disgrace himself by dropping his sacred weapon, blessed by the emepror, even in this last instant of his life….

He realizes something: The Americans must have done the impossible: broken all of their codes. That explains Midway, it explains the Bismarck Sea, Hollandia, everything. It especially explains why Yamamoto — who ought to be sipping green tea and practicing calligraphy in a misty garden — is, in point of fact, on fire and hurtling through the jungle at a hundred miles per hour in a chair, closely pursued by tons of flaming junk. He must get word out! The codes must all be changed! This is what he is thinking when he flies head-on into a hundred-foot-tall Octomelis sumatrana.