I recently picked up an excellent book at a thrift store. It’s the account of two Japanese men — one who helped design the legendary Zero fighter, and another who flew them — and their accounts of World War II. It’s a fascinating look at the perspective of the enemy during that great conflict.
But buried in its pages are a few treasures I did not expect to find. For example, there’s an account of a Japanese pilot stationed in French Indochina (now Viet Nam) in December, 1941:
“December 8, 1941. This morning dawned quietly. By some miracle the enemy had still not attacked our air bases in French Indochina, much to the relief of all pilots and crew members. It was inconceivable that the enemy would not launch a heavy attack against our airfields, and my squadron moved at once to a nearby French army air base.
“A French army officer approached my bomber this morning, smiling broadly and speaking rapidly in his native tongue. It had been a long time since I studied French at the Naval Academy, and I was unable to understand a word he was saying. We later discovered that the French officer had been congratulating us for our Navy’s successful attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Until that moment, when we discovered what the excited French officer was trying to tell us, we were unaware of the great assault on the American air and naval bastion.”
This book was written in 1956, and at the time of Pearl Harbor France had surrendered to and was busily collaborating with the Nazis. Many of the French military abroad signed up with the Free French movement and aided the allies, but quite a few chose to switch their loyalties to the Nazis and oppose those who would eventually liberate France.
But perhaps I shouldn’t be so critical of our traditional allies…