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The U.S. Marines on Peleliu applied every weapon at their disposal to defeat the Japanese. While planes, tanks, naval gunfire and artillery were all used, the Marines also employed various forms of propaganda to encourage the Japanese to surrender.

On four separate occasions, Piper L4 or Stinson L5 Grasshopper planes dropped batches of 20,000 surrender leaflets. The first leaflets expressed admiration for Japanese courage and skill but disdain for the “slaughter of brave soldiers such as yourselves.” The note promised food, rest and medical care for any soldier holding a leaflet and walking toward the American lines along the Uragai Road.

The second round of leaflets, dropped 12 days after the September 15, 1944, invasion, made the same claims as the first but also pointed out that the Marines already held the airfield and the greater part of the island. Unfortunately, the second note was dropped on the same day as a heavy artillery barrage, which kept many Japanese under cover, unable to retrieve the leaflets. The third set of leaflets attested to the Marines’ overwhelming firepower and explained that the Japanese who had already surrendered “will live to raise families and to help build a new Japan.”

The last note took a new tact. Fashioned to look like a message from the Japanese commander, Colonel Kunio Nakagawa, it encouraged men to surrender or “end the situation themselves,” a line the Marines hoped the Japanese would interpret as promoting hara-kiri.

Despite the effort, only one Japanese soldier surrendered because of the leaflets. Later research revealed that although about 25 percent of the Japanese soldiers and Korean laborers on the island had seen the leaflets, almost all thought it was safer to stay in their caves than to venture out to surrender, fearing trigger-happy Americans or unyielding Japanese officers. One surviving prisoner admitted that a leaflet had been read aloud in his cave, but the scorn of the officers there prevented any discussion.

The Marines even tried broadcasting surrender appeals to the Japanese, but the enemy only responded with silence or small-arms fire. The only bloodless method that was marginally successful was the most dangerous–sending someone into the caves to deal directly with the enemy. In one case, a Korean interpreter entered a cave with two Korean prisoners and brought out 49 others. On another occasion, a Japanese prisoner convinced nine men to surrender, but a Japanese soldier threw a grenade to dissuade them.

The Japanese made minimal attempts at propaganda, which proved ineffectual. Late in the battle, Marines found a leaflet in the sand near Orange Beach that showed American prisoners sightseeing in Japan. Additionally, the Marines found on a dead Japanese soldier a poorly worded, misspelled surrender note that read, “We think your much pity since landing on this ileland” and promised, “We soon will attack strongly your army.” The Japanese leaflet made none of the promises the American leaflets had, but only claimed that the Japanese would “welcome you comfortably as we can well.”

The Marines proved both magnanimous and deceptive in their surrender appeals, but their efforts were practically useless against a highly motivated enemy bent on their destruction. By the end of the battle for Peleliu, only 302 of the more than 6,500 Japanese soldiers on the island surrendered or were captured. Many held out until the end of the war and beyond. While the role of propaganda continued to grow in the Pacific War, brute force, not psychology, would decide the struggles on the road to Tokyo.

—Kevin Hymel