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May 4, 2011

Death of an Enemy


The New York Times of May 21, 1943:


Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the com-bined Japanese Fleet, who reportedly boasted he would dictate peace terms to the United States from a seat in the White House, was killed during April "while engaged in combat with the enemy" aboard a warplane, Japanese Imperial Headquarters announced in a communique broadcast domestically this morning by the Tokyo radio.


"Gosh," said President Roosevelt upon hearing the news. The Times summarized Yamamoto's life and role in the war:


As Commander in Chief of the Fleet, Admiral Yamamoto had ultimate responsibility for the treacherous attack on Pearl Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Fleet Air Arm while diplomatic negotiations were going on in Washington on Dec. 7, 1941.


By the next day, people were already speculating as to how he died. The Times ran an article the next day highlighting the possibility of suicide, quoting Robert Bellaire, a United Press reporter:


'It may have been hara-kiri. Yamamoto frequently said that he would rather take his own life than lose any Japanese territory.'


In reality, Yamamoto had fallen to an American aerial ambush on 18 April 1943, fed by the ability of American intelligence to read some Japanese communication codes. The details began to leak almost immediately, though the American government worked hard to cover up the code-breaking aspect. The location where the Admiral's plane went down has become something of a tourist attraction, perhaps the fate of another such--albeit newly-created--site in Pakistan.

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