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The Sun Goes Down: Last letters from Japanese suicide-pilots and soldiers
edited by Jean Lartéguy
translated from the French by Nora Wydenbruck
New English Library, 1956, 128 pages

Students from Japan's elite universities, who were conscripted after graduation or during their studies when draft deferment for students ended in late 1943, wrote the letters, diary entries, and poems in this book. The original Japanese book, first published in 1949 as Kike Wadatsumi no Koe (Listen to the Voices from the Sea) by the University of Tokyo Consumer Co-op Publication Department, became immensely popular and provided inspiration for the postwar peace movement. Jean Lartéguy originally translated the soldiers' letters to French, and an English translation came out in 1956. Another English translation of Kike Wadatsumi no Koe, published in 2000 with the English title of Listen to the Voices from the Sea, contains the same letters as The Sun Goes Down and additional letters from subsequent editions of the Japanese original. The review on this web page focuses on unique aspects of Lartéguy's book. The book review on Listen to the Voices from the Sea includes additional comments and background information about Kike Wadatsumi no Koe.

This book, published in Britain and also available for sale in several other countries in the British Commonwealth, did not get distributed in the U.S. Even though the soldiers' letters have been translated twice, once from Japanese to French and then from French to English, the translations generally capture the correct meaning based on comparisons to Yamanouchi's translations in Listen to the Voices from the Sea. Lartéguy's book includes only about half the number of letters and pages as Yamanouchi's book, but this shorter book captures the essence of the desperation and anguish of the soldiers. The book cover shown on this page comes from the New English Library paperback edition first printed in 1975. In contrast to this intense image of a kamikaze pilot's face, the unassuming original book cover in 1956 had a painted Japanese flag with Mount Fuji in the background.

The letters in this English translation are classified into five major historical periods: (1) The War Against China, (2) Pearl Harbor and the Beginning of War in Japan, (3) The War in the Pacific, (4) The Kamikazes, and (5) Hiroshima and the Defeat. This classification and the order of the letters differ from the original Japanese publication, which had three divisions: (1) Before the War in the Pacific, (2) The War in the Pacific, and (3) The Defeat. Each section has a brief historical background and a selection of letters written during that period of the war. The book's Preface and the section backgrounds make up about one third of the book.

The Sun Goes Down contains only limited explanatory notes and lacks background information on the publication history of the original Japanese book containing these letters. Each of the five sections has a general historical background, but certain statements by Lartéguy seem prejudiced and unsupported, such as the following long sentence from his introduction on the kamikazes (pp.89-90):

By employing suicide-planes it became possible to inflict heavy losses on the American fleet, blows which the Japanese fleet was no longer capable of dealing, as well as to galvanize a wayward population, which was prone to forget all about the war one moment and despair the next, but above all to appeal to the sinister, inhuman sanguinary side which has always been present in the character of this people, with all its love of flowers and birds.

Kamikaze pilots wrote only about one fifth of the letters in this book, but these eight letters reflect a wide variety of emotions and opinions related to their planned suicide attacks. The letters, both from kamikaze pilots and other soldiers, surprisingly do not reflect hatred for the enemy. Many complain of the military's brutality, unreasonable restrictions, and heartlessness. This book has only one kamikaze pilot's letter not included in Yamanouchi's book. The author of that letter, a young former student of Keio University before being shot down off Okinawa in May 1945, writes, "But freedom is the very essence of human nature and cannot be annihilated. Even if one attempts to stifle it, it will fight on and will end by being victorious" (pp. 99-100).

This older British book has some value related to research of kamikaze images since World War II. However, anyone interested in the letters of Japanese student soldiers, including kamikaze pilots, should read Yamanouchi's Listen to the Voices from the Sea, which has more background, better translations, and more letters.