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|The History Channel’s long overdue investigation revealing Amelia Earhart’s
death in captivity on the Japanese-held Marshall Islands has alarmed die-hards
on the wrong side of World War II, who stubbornly hold to untenable positions
abandoned by their grandfathers on the beaches of the South Pacific. The
latest acts of misguided nationalism from Shinzo Abe’s squad of atrocity
deniers are aiming to “prove” that the Japanese military was not responsible
for the capture, tribunal and cold-blooded execution of the world-renowned
American pilot and her navigator Fred Noonan, just prior to the final leg
of the first aerial circumnavigation of this planet by a woman pilot.
The “minders” planted by the Gaimusho (Foreign Ministry) inside the Tokyo bureaus of American news media have rallied in defense of national dishonor, a folly that can be expected from censors and falsifiers. The most insidious counterattack against The History Channel’s collection of evidence, however, comes from a military “otaku” (fanatic hobbyist) who boasts that a key photo showing Noonan and Earhart on a dock at Jaluit Atoll, one of the southern Marshalls, had been published in 1935, two years before flyer Earhart’s world-circling attempt.
Here I explain why that the photo album in question was deliberately back-dated on publication by Japanese intelligence agents in the colonial South Pacific Agency (Nanyo-cho) in Palau. The disputed photo shows not only the curly bob of Earhart’s hairstyle and Noonan’s sharp-edged hairline but also the Lockheed Electra on the deck of a steamship and the passenger seaplane that transported the American pair to imprisonment on a larger island garrison. In addition to the precision photo analyses from Team Rense, other telling details from that photographic image are discussed, proving indeed that a picture can be worth ten thousand words.
To set the record straight, Amelia Earhart suffered and died a hero, sacrificing her greatest achievement and her own life to thwart militarist Japan’s strategy for a swift advance across the South Pacific in an plan to rally its fascist Latin American allies for the conquest, occupation and division of the continental United States. The facts about her mission have been censored for the past 80 years at the highest level of the U.S. establishment. As truth now starts to edge out falsehood, the world should again honor that international heroine, a trail-blazing woman and outstanding American, with recognition of her role as a soaring angel of human freedom.
Cowardly Censorship on Both Sides
As a former editor with The Japan Times group in Tokyo, I’ve been more amused than alarmed by the Shinzo Abe-orchestrated campaign to debunk the undeniable truth behind the militarist murder of Earhart. Back in the mid-1990s I had repeatedly planned to issue a special edition of our weekly with a factual account of the Earhart’s supposed “disappearance”. At the time, several senior editors and retired staffers had worked during and after the war as translators and knew very well what actually happened. There were also U.S. Navy old-timers in Japan who had no doubts about her death at the hands the Japanese militarists.
Media inquiry into her “mysterious disappearance”, one of the longest-running exercises in press censorship and disinformation, was suppressed by both Tokyo and Washington, their collusion arising from the corrupted postwar security alliance, which lined the pockets of military officers, diplomats and bureaucrats with the ill-gotten lucre from weapons manufacturers. Due to crisis after crisis for our investigative team, including the bursting of Japan’s real-estate bubblr, the Kobe earthquake and Tokyo subway gassing, we were unable to give the Earhart story the attention her legacy deserves.
Therefore, it came as an unexpected relief, when online news publisher and radio host Jeff Rense notified me from the other side of the Pacific about upcoming History Channel revelations, and therefore we devoted an hour’s discussion on Earhart at rense.com radio in early July. For that program, I recounted the sequence of events as told by senior editors, many of whom had worked as translators for the Foreign Ministry and/or the Allied Occupation Headquarters before becoming journalists.
Surveying a Secret Military Build-up
At time of her final flight, Earhart was a celebrated public figure on both sides of the Atlantic, being the first female pilot to traverse that ocean. The Japanese and other Asians, however, knew relatively little about her, despite the announcement of her intention to fly from Lae, New Guinea, to U.S.-controlled Howland Island, the latter quite close to the southwestern Marshall Islands, where the Imperial Navy was using conscript labor to build secret airfields.
The few Imperial Army soldiers on those tropical atolls were preoccupied keeping guard over thousands of Korean slave laborers and Japanese political prisoners who had been transferred from Hokkaido. As war raged in northern China, just prior to the Marco Polo Bridge incident and the tragedy at Nanjing, the Imperial Army had few enlisted men to spare for guard duty in the peaceful Pacific. Therefore, the only feasible precaution against the possibility of a reconnaissance flight was to assign a few naval biplanes to warn away her Lockheed Electra in case Earhart happened to steer off-course.
With nearly most of its secret airfields still under construction, the Japanese Navy could keep only a minimal force of land-based biplanes, and usually relied instead on float-planes that were more useful for reaching the smaller islands. As of 1937, the Japanese aircraft industry had yet to release advanced single-wing fighters like the legendary Mitsubishi Zero.
Instead of passing as announced across the British-controlled Gilbert Islands further to the south, navigator Fred Noonan directed the Electra on a tangent along a more northerly trajectory, crossing over several Japanese-controlled atolls where airfield construction was under way. Earhart tried to avoid detection (radar had not been invented) by sending extremely short messages to the Coast Guard cutter Itasca for radio range-finding to determine her flight path, which was far north of the planned route.
Two Nakajima AN-series naval biplanes with wheeled landing gears, then being used for airmail delivery, spotted the intrusion. One of those planes was probably mounted with radio tracking equipment to roughly determine her flight course. The mail planes were lightly armed, each with a small-caliber machinegun mounted behind the rear seat. Although much speedier, the Lockheed passenger liner was not designed for a dogfight.
(In a postmortem phone conversation with Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt mentioned that Earhart had made a “mistake” and “disobeyed orders.” That implies the pilot must have been ordered from the get-go to avoid all contact with Japanese planes, given the fact that the U.S. naval air corps had no aircraft within thousands of miles of the Marshall archipelago. Milli Atoll, however, was westernmost of the Marshalls, the spearhead pointed at the heart of America, and so she flew the extra mile out of a sense of duty and loyalty to country, that was never reciprocated by her national leaders.
The Lockheed Electra with its twin 400-horsepower engines could climb faster to outpace the single-engine Nakajima fighters but lacked the maneuverability of those biplanes. The navy pilots therefore could have quickly blocked her escape from above and toward either side. The gunners must have fired warning bursts, because there is no alternative explanation as to why Earhart did not attempt to outrace them into British airspace over the Gilberts. The Japanese pilots tipped their wings to signal her to land on the short airfield at Milli Atoll, which was still under construction.
The Lockheed Electra was difficult to control, and she had already once veered off a runway in Hawaii during a test flight. The Electra would have made a bouncy landing before it overshot the dirt airstrip into the shallow water of a coral lagoon. The sudden stop caused Noonan to suffer a bloody bruise on his left leg and a welt on his head. The fact that the plane was largely intact meant that the landing was as good as any pilot in the world could have done in those circumstances. Earhart was, without doubt, a skilled pilot. The Japanese naval flyers did not attempt to land on the short strip but broke off and returned to their base at Kwajalein Atoll with its paved airfield.
The Japanese presence on Milli was minimal; only a a handful of enlisted men kept watch over a workforce of Korean laborers, and so Noonan and Earhart were probably cared for by local Marshallese islanders. Their “rescue” by the Japanese military took much longer than anyone today can imagine. A barge, probably used for hauling dirt, fished the Electra out of the water with a winch. The soldiers on the atoll awaited orders from an utterly confused chain of command for what to do with the foreigners who dropped out of the sky.
The Dilemma of Decision
The South Sea naval commanders in Jaluit and Kwajalein atolls were baffled as to what to do next. Only after their superiors at Navy headquarters in the Tokyo-Yokohama read the flood of Western newspaper headlines about Earhart’s disappearance did they realize she was by far the most famous female celebrity in the Western world, especially in Japan’s naval allies America and Britain.
That public outcry meant that Earhart represented a huge headache for the admirals. Release her and the whole world would learn about the secret military build-up in the South Pacific, compromising the upcoming assault on the Dutch East Indies and exposing the hushed-up plan to invade the continental United States. Throw her into a prison and eventually word would get out via the Christian community among the Marshall islanders back to their former pastors in Australia. Executing her for spying would lack the legal justification of a declared war against her homeland. All options were impossible.
Therefore delay was the order of the day until somebody came up with a bright idea. The two captives were sent to the more populous Jaluit Atoll by boat, while every effort was made for their physical well-being, including attending to Noonan’s wounds, Any health problems, further injury or death could have regrettable consequences, so the Japanese in their typical response of avoidance took no unnecessary risks.
Meanwhile, President Franklin Roosevelt did nothing to save her or negotiate with Tokyo, likely under pressure from the British Foreign Office, which needed to keep Japan as a nominal ally against Soviet Russia. Eventually, American military search parties were sent to the Marshalls with approval from Japanese authorities. In Washington the official story was maintained: That Earhart was a private citizen and had no connection with the U.S. government, and any liability was hers alone to bear. Even on his deathbed, the great Roosevelt never admitted that it was he who sent her on a reckless spy mission.
The New Year’s Transit
After a long wait at remote Milli Atoll, Earhart and Noonan were sent by boat to the more populated Jaluit Atoll for transfer to a small naval station at Kwajalein. A Newsweek staffer in Tokyo recently tried to counter that the transport ship Koshu, which eyewitnesses said transported the Lockheed Electra, had been assigned instead to a distant port at the time of the crash in June. The Koshu, however and probably with a different crew, did not move Earhart’s plane from Milli to Jaluit and then Saipan until many months later.
From the photograph of the dockside scene on Jaluit Island taken in January 1938, it can be deduced that the pair were immediately thereafter flown to Kwajalein (on the passenger seaplane visible on the right-hand side of the photo) and later farther north to Saipan for a sterner interrogation. After alleged torture of Noonan, and a summary trial that led to their execution by a firing squad, naval battles raged across the Pacific as the Americans drew closer to the Marshalls. Meanwhile the damaged Electra sat at the airfield in Saipan, where it was idled until after the arrival of the American invasion force in 1944.
Apparently, Japanese intelligence agents scattered the physical remains of Earhart and some broken plane parts on the British-controlled Gilbert Islands to further the deception of her supposed air crash due to lack of fuel. All the while, the Lockheed aircraft was parked at Saipan airfield, where it remained long after the U.S. landing and capture of the lightly defended Marshalls in January 1944. Many American servicemen saw the Electra and noted it was the same model flown by Earhart. New parts were air-freighted to the airfield, the plane was repaired, and one morning it was no longer to be seen again in Saipan.
The shameless Roosevelt had washed his hands of the mess, casting the entire blame on Earhart instead of accepting his own responsibility for the poor planning and lack of security teams for a spy mission done at his request. Despite the evidence presented by the History Channel, there is still an obstinate effort, at the highest levels of government in Japan and the United States, to keep the facts buried.
Rejoinder to the Rebuttal
The disputed photograph appears in the collection of the National Diet Library as a page in a “book”, which bears the publication date of 1935 and was printed in the Japanese colony of Palau, part of Micronesia, located to the west of the Marshalls. (This is the same “Nationalist” Diet Library that suppressed the digitalization of The Japan Times Weekly throughout the years it was under my editorship, which exposed the crimes of high-ranking Liberal Democratic politicians, including Shinzo Abe’s closest mentors involved in the Tokyo subway gassing.)
On the facsimile, I noticed a faint seal left by a rubber-stamp where the photo’s lower left corner met the page of text. This means that the “book” was actually a photo album issued in limited edition rather than a normal volume with images printed from etched or lithographic plates for a larger general readership. It is hardly different from a scrapbook. The publishing date was likely inaccurate as a matter of policy since from the very start such a limited edition, produced in a Japanese military-controlled colony, was an intentional deception to throw off potential spies among the local population. The purpose of that photo in the album was, of course, to show ranking officers and higher-ups in the pro-militarist aristocracy that the Earhart-Noonan affair was perfectly under control, and that the prisoners were in good health, happy and cooperating with their kind captors.
This photograph was commissioned probably as part of a larger set of portraits and aircraft images that documented the suspected aerial espionage activities of navigator Fred Noonan. At first, Earhart was off-limits for interrogation, being a woman and a world celebrity. As a navigator for the PanAm China Clipper (flying boat) service and former seaman in the western Pacific, Noonan may well have already been on the Japanese list of suspected informants for the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence. Therefore, the Japanese counter-intelligence officers would have alternately befriended and threatened him to extract any morsels of information about American espionage activities in the Pacific.Their strongest threat to make him talk was cruelty toward Amelia Earhart, as probably happened during their last days in the Saipan detention center.
Since the Lockheed Electra had taken off from Lae airfield in Australian-controlled New Guinea, the intelligence bureau at the South Pacific Agency (Nanyo-cho) office in Palau would have taken keen interest in any information extracted from Noonan by his captors in the Marshalls. Nanyo-cho Palau was the administrative center for Melanesia and provided diplomatic cover for Japanese intelligence operations against Australian-controlled New Guinea and the oil-rich Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). The photos, navigation charts and Noonan’s notes and testimony would have been sorted, classified and neatly filed for transshipment by long-range bomber to Tokyo naval headquarters.
The big Navy base at Palau was still under construction, and not yet a factor in these sorts of operations. What the meticulous Japanese could not possibly understand is how woefully unprepared the American government was to support the Earhart-Noonan mission, failing to organize rescue teams on aircraft carriers, submarines or even merchant vessels in event of her capture. The Coast Guard cutter Itasca at Howland Island, which kept radio contact with Noonan and Earhart on their flight from Lae, was the only support ship in the vicinity. Had Roosevelt been a naval officer (he had been a civilian assistance secretary of the Navy) instead of president, he would have faced a court-martial for dereliction of duty and needlessly risking the lives of his personnel.
Inspection of an Artful Photograph
It is highly significant that the governor of the Marshalls has stated that her grandfather, the photographer at the dockside scene, was later executed as a spy by the Japanese military. His untimely death was likelier part of the official cover-up. She did not indicate whether he was Japanese or a native islander.
His photo is intriguing as a visual code (think of Where’s Wally), hiding in plain sight whatever it was intended to disclose. It is an intelligence cipher disguised as a scenic postcard. The message was clearly: The two American flyers are unharmed and about to ride a seaplane to their detention center and their plane has been recovered and is being shipped to regional headquarters for inspection. The use of a photo image as a visual telegraph is not unusual, since postcards were a frequent means for sending coded messages until midway through the Cold War.
The Japanese language notes for the photo indicate that it was taken as a seascape of festive-decorated boats traditionally used for regattas off Jaluit Atoll in the month of January. Since the start of the Meiji Era, the New Year’s rituals and festivities where held annually in the first half of that first month. Sports activities and calisthenics were celebrated on January 8, the presumable date of the photo.
The seascape is composed tightly to the point of being claustrophobic, with so many boats and ships crammed into the small fishing harbor. In the middle of the group, the curly-haired Amelia Earhart is sitting on the far edge of the dock, her face not shown, her conspicuous position calling attention to her unmistakable personal choice of a boyish hairstyle.
The tall man who dominates the forefront is navigator Fred Noonan, easily distinguishable due to his sharp-edged recessed hairline. His leg injury is healed enough for him to stand. Noonan holds a banner, embroidered with the image of A kirin, qilin in Chinese, which like the namesake beer label, is a mythological chimera primarily based on a stag. The creature can magically walk on the clouds. This image thus identifies Noonan as a “cloud walker, a flyer, and in fact he became a licensed pilot in 1930 nearly a decade before his last flight.
The thin pole of the kirin banner is held up by Noonan, oddly, to cover half his face, a security precaution by the Japanese intelligence service to prevent definitive verification of his identity. The pole is unnaturally vertical, in visual parallel with the masts of sailboats, calling attention to those tall timbers. On the left-hand foreground, the most prominent mast rises up to the two halves of a narrow contour lying on the deck of the steamship. That outline is the streamlined hull of a Lockheed Electra, the only one in the South Pacific during that year.
After that shocking discovery, the eye searches the background behind the sailboats and dock, and there on the extreme right is the shiny new passenger seaplane that would fly Noonan and his companion to Kwajalein for debriefing.
The small kirin on Noonan’s banner appears to be Manchurian in origin,, a playful design for children meaning it was given to Noonan by a Korean laborer or an army guard who had recently served in the puppet state of Manchukuo. The banner could have also been a token of good will, wishing him luck during the ordeal that awaited.
Next to Noonan stands a slim woman, who appears to be Eurasian (possibly the daughter of a former German colonist and a native islander mother), perhaps assigned as a translator. Her posture shows no stiffness or fear of Noonan, and its seems that her sympathies and friendship are for him and the foreign women, and not with their captors. If the photographer had printed a copy of that image in his darkroom to send to foreign missionaries, it would have been seen as treason and grounds for capital punishment. For Japanese naval intelligence officers, the photo would stand as proof to their superiors in the General Staff that the Nanyo-cho command was running as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. The Amelia Earhart crisis was being handled effectively without any chance of further scandal. All potential leaks have been dealt with.
Good Intentions on the Runway to Hell
The background to these unfortunate events is hardly studied even by historians of the Pacific region, so for the interested reader, here’s a recap.
Prior to World War I, many of the former Spanish colonies in the South Pacific where taken over by Kaiser Wilhelm’s German Empire. These included: The Marshalls, Solomons, Marianas, Carolines, Samoa, Nauru and New Guinea. Their statust would change abruptly with the onset of World War I.
During the military build-up to World War I, the Imperial Navy of Japan was prepared to to join the Allied side under terms of the Anglo-Japanese treaty, which had earlier contributed to its 1905 naval victory at Tsushima Strait in the Russo-Japanese War.
As early as 1908, a German artillery instructor in Tokyo named Karl Haushofer predicted the inevitability of Japanese maritime expansionism into the South Pacific to seize the Kaiser’s island colonies. Haushofer based his theory of Geostrategy on the historical trend of population-driven expansionism to warn the German military’s General Staff of an impending naval attack. Unfortunately, the Prussian officer corps were far more fascinated by ground combat than naval maneuvers. (The legendary Haushofer as a master of occultism is discussed toward the end of this essay.)
At the war’s outbreak in 1914, the powerful Japanese Navy seized the German colonies, which were poorly defended and then arranged for their transfer to a Japanese trusteeship under the “South Pacific Mandate” of the League of Nations. The vast maritime realm was laxly governed as settlements for the overflow of impoverished Japanese and Okinawan immigrants until the early 1920s when the “Nanyo-cho” (South Pacific Agency) created programs to better promote childhood education, public health, development of agriculture and fisheries for the growing population of settlers and islanders.
In the 1930s, Army-dominated strategy was focused on territorial expansion in China under the Northern Front policy devised by Colonel Kanji Ishiwara, who aimed to create buffer states in northern China to block military and colonial advances by the Soviet Union. The Japanese delegation’s 1933 walkout from the League of Nations, which opposed aggression against China, led the Roosevelt administration and the Netherlands government to ratchet up a trade embargo against Japan, including the cut-off of oil supplies from Sumatra.
In response to the American embargo, Japan’s War Ministry and elite naval officers drafted a “Southern Strategy” and prepared for the seizure of the Sumatran oil fields in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). A longer-term plan was to amass an invincible invasion force to be sent across the South Pacific to establish an alliance with Peru and other Latin American allies for the conquest of the meddlesome United States.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt got wind of news that the Imperial Navy was building new airfields in the Marshalls, probably from Australians who traded with the Japanese settlers there and maintained an informal spy network of Christian natives in Micronesia and Melanesia. It should be recalled here that FDR had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy just prior to and at the outbreak of World War I, when he was an outspoken proponent of naval preparedness and opponent of President Woodrow Wilson’s early support for neutrality. As President, Roosevelt boosted the surveillance powers of the Office of Naval Intelligence under his most trusted admirals, Walter Stratton Anderson and William Leahy. In American style, they spent lavishly on defense contracts but did not pay close attention to movements of their adversaries.
FDR wanted hard evidence as to the extent of Japanese war preparations in the South Pacific and, in those days prior to the invention of spy satellites, long-distance surveillance depended on aerial photography and hand-drawn sketches on navigational maps. While planning her world-circling route, Amelia Earhart had indeed exchanged letters with FDR, indicating their cooperation for her flight.
Enter Frederick Joseph Noonan, a navigation instructor for the PanAm Clipper (seaplane) service and an experienced merchantman sailor. Earhart suddenly added him to her crew in March 1937 during the final-stage preparations for takeoff (which was delayed by a minor runway accident). According to her newly-revised plan, Noonan was supposed to quit the flight at Howland Island and board the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Shoshone. This precaution would have ensured safe delivery of film negatives and charts to U.S. naval intelligence officers. The espionage plan, which hinged on the Japanese being awed by Earhart’s celebrity status, was preposterous and doomed from the start.
Appeasement toward Japanese Colonialism
No less than the Guardian (London) ran the military otaku’s claim of the photo being published two years before the pilot’s disappearance. The denial from a newspaper which often acts as a mouthpiece of the Royals, did not faze me, since I had earlier mentioned on Rense Radio that the British authorities were deeply involved in the cover-up of Earhart’s capture.
In 1937, two years prior to the outbreak of World War II, the British Royals were informally allied with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and increasingly anxious about Japan’s possible exit from its naval alliance with the UK and USA under the Washington Naval Accords. The British Foreign Office wanted to keep both rising powers on friendly terms and in London’s good graces, with Germany confined to domination over Central Europe and Japan in the Pacific.
Under the spell of Karl Haushofer, Hitler railed against the Japanese seizure of the Pacific territories of the German Empire and its China colony of Shantung. Immediately upon his election as Chancellor, Hitler order the dispatch of German officers and military equipment to support Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, “the Franco of the East”. In the summer of 1937, the German officers ordered the Nationalist Chinese forces to stage a surprise assault against the Japanese naval station in Shanghai. Although vastly outnumbered, the disciplined sailors and marines not only routed the Chinese-German attack but then pursued the retreating mob up the Yangtze River to Nanjing. The primary “eyewitness” account of the Rape of Nanjing is based on the propagandistic memoirs of German businessman John Rabe, who was a member of the Nazi Party.
The Axis alliance was not crafted until two years later, in 1939 under the Matsuoka-Ribbentrop Pact. Throughout the war thenceforth, Germany and Japan never fully trusted each other, that is until the fall of Berlin, when the world headquarters of Nazism was transferred to Kobe, Japan, which by the way is my hometown where I attended a fascist-dominated Catholic school.
Karl Haushofer’s Geostrategy gave rise to the theory of lebensraum, which propelled the Third Reich on its eastward expansion up to the gates of Stalingrad. Those interested in the Nazi fascination with the occult should also be familiar with Haushofer, who trained in esoteric Tantric Buddhism while stationed in Japan before World War II, becoming an adept in a branch of the Shingon sect, which had its origins in the Green Dragon Temple in China.
In Japan and after his return to Germany, Haushofer connected with the Tibetan schools of Buddhism, which strongly supported Japan’s conquest of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, advocated a Japanese invasion to free Tibet, and considered Adolf Hitler to be a bodhisattva (a heavenly messenger of spiritual liberation and compassion). The conflict between Germany and Japan for control of the Pacific Islands thus resulted in a dizzying array of theories, technologies and heresie. It’s a chapter of world history that deserves more attention.
A Flight to Eternal Glory
Like a moth toward the candlelight, the angelic Amelia Earhart dove into the flames and vanished. Her death was not in vain, since her capture alerted the U.S. government to the secret Japanese plan to attack the continental USA northward up the coast of Latin America, sealing the Panama Canal and seizing the rail heads in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, thereby turning the western states perhaps as far as the Rockies into a jointly ruled colony of Imperial Japan and Latin American tyrants. The Earhart affair forced the Japanese Navy to instead directly cross the North Pacific to attack Pearl Harbor, far from the mainland USA, an opening move that doomed the Empire of Japan to eventual defeat.
Perhaps when her story is fully revealed in detail, the world might appreciate the extent of her bold endeavors and ultimate sacrifice that preserved the freedom symbolized by flying into the vastness of the glorious skies.
Science journalist Yoichi Shimatsu is an alumnus of Purdue University, Amelia Earhart’s alma mater where she learned to pilot aircraft and which funded the majority of the costs to purchase the Lockheed Electra for her historic last flight.