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Life Lessons

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What can Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese commander who led his country's attack on Pearl Harbor, teach us about the love and forgiveness of Christ?

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do ....—Luke 23:34 (kjv)

I flew to Japan in 1974 to meet a man I’d hated for thirty years—the commander who led the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. Mitsuo Fuchida, a small, erect man of seventy-two, met me at my hotel in Kyoto. As a translator repeated his words, I saw a boy dreaming of serving his divine emperor by driving Western colonial powers out of Asia.

“When we lost the war, most of my officers committed suicide. But I had a wife and children.” He moved them to a farm where, as he worked the fields, news of the war crimes trials in Tokyo came over the radio. “It was then I learned about atrocities in our prisoner-of-war camps.” In his eyes, I read the horror and disillusionment of this patriotic man.

It was in a train station that someone handed him a leaflet written by an American ex-prisoner of war. “But ...the American wrote that he loved us! The Japanese who’d tortured him!” This was because, the leaflet said, Jesus did.

Fuchida recognized that name: Jesus was one of the gods of the enemy. Fuchida purchased a Bible and, alone in the farmhouse, discovered there were not many gods but One, Who loved all people; Who came to earth not as an emperor but a common workingman; Who said as he was tor­tured and killed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

“Why then . . . this Jesus had prayed for me too!” Tears trembled in his eyes as he said this. By now I was fighting tears too.

To his countrymen, conversion made him a traitor; he and his wife still received death threats. “We do not care. It is better to die and be with Jesus.”

Father, forgive my unforgivingness. —Elizabeth Sherrill

Digging Deeper: Prv 17:9; Mt 6:14–15, 18:21–22

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