Mitsuo Fuchida was the lead pilot of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—a fearless, expert flier specially chosen for this commanding role, the one who actually gave the order—Tora! Tora! Tora!—to the 360 fighter planes poised at his flank.
He called the killing of 2,300 American sailors “the most thrilling exploit of my career.”
But what most people don’t know is that in 1949, less than eight years after the raid on Pearl Harbor, this dive-bombing daredevil came to faith in Christ.
God used two remarkable events to bring about this “unlikely” conversion.
The first came shortly after the war, while Fuchida was speaking to a friend who had been among those captured and detained in the United States. Curious to hear how the Americans had treated their prisoners, he listened to his friend tell of an eighteen-year-old volunteer who had consistently cared for and ministered to the needs of the Japanese. When the prisoners had asked why she was being so helpful to them, she said—unexpectedly, illogically—“Because Japanese soldiers killed my parents.”
The young woman’s mom and dad had been missionaries in Japan during the escalation of international hostilities that led to World War II. Judged to be spies, they had been beheaded after fleeing to the Philippines. Their daughter—not hearing this until three years later after being evacuated to the States—had naturally reacted to the news with bitter grief and anger. But knowing her parents, she ultimately came to the conclusion that they would have forgiven their killers. She just knew it. Therefore, she must forgive them, too. Not just forgive, but return blessing. And that’s why she was there, she said—in the camps, loving her enemies.
This notion astounded Fuchida. How could anyone respond to her parents’ murder in this way?
Then one day several years later, he was handed a small leaflet while waiting at a railway station. He probably would have tossed it, but the fact that it was written by a fellow aviator piqued his interest. Sergeant Jacob DeShazer’s I Was a Prisoner in Japan was the first-person account of an American pilot who had been forced to parachute from his plane during the Doolittle Raiders’ bombing of Tokyo, in retaliation for Pearl Harbor.
DeShazer was quickly captured by the Japanese military. He described his next three years as an endless nightmare of torture and starvation, frequent executions that took the lives of his fellow detainees, and solitary confinement that compressed his world into square feet—but inflamed and enlarged his hatred.
Two years into his imprisonment, however, he had been handed some books to read in the dim glow of his holding cell, among them a Bible. Like light in the darkness, the Word penetrated his heart—especially the verse that spoke so specifically to his present situation: “Love your enemies.”
Changed by God’s grace, DeShazer began deliberately speaking respectfully to his captors, even when their treatment of him was cruel and degrading. “I prayed for God to forgive my torturers,” he wrote in the leaflet, “and I determined by the aid of Christ to do my best to acquaint these people with the message of salvation.”
Fuchida read DeShazer’s story with amazement, then hurried to find a Bible he could buy, to see for himself where this strange command—“Love your enemies”—really came from.
The story ends with Fuchida coming to Christ, becoming an evangelist, and even teaming up with DeShazer to speak to large crowds throughout Japan and Asia, leading both men to friendship and many to salvation.2
And all because of two people who hadn’t stopped with forgiveness but who had gone “above and beyond”—two people who had received harm and reciprocated with love.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Lawrence Kimbrough, Choosing Forgiveness: Your Journey to Freedom (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008).
We have just released a new Bible Study based on Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s book, Choosing Forgiveness.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
Choosing Forgiveness, Lesson #1
What Happens When We Refuse?
Choosing Forgiveness, Lesson #2
The Promise of Forgiveness
Choosing Forgiveness, Lesson #3
The Art of Forgiveness
Choosing Forgiveness, Lesson #4
What True Forgiveness Is — And Isn’t
Choosing Forgiveness, Lesson #5
Returning a Blessing