In the Tokyo suburb of Tamagawa, the afternoon of Sept.11, 1945 was sultry. A sweating pack of Allied war correspondents waited restlessly outside the neat little house of General Hideki ("The Razor") Tojo, wartime premier of Japan. Tipped off that General MacArthur had ordered the hard-bitten little war lord's arrest, the newsmen had scrambled out ahead of the Army detail that would take him in. They grew impatient, sent a Japanese in to offer him a lift into town if he'd surrender to them instead. He refused to emerge from his study.
The soldiers arrived, a major demanded entry and Tojo stalled him off. Then things happened fast. A shot was heard from inside the house and the Army and the press rushed in. What went on was hastily reported at the time, but not so frankly and fully as three newsmen told it in books out last week.* Though the authors may not have intended them to be, their accounts are a revealing documentation of the harum-scarum behavior of the press under stress. "The whole thing," wrote Cornelius Ryan (then of the London Telegraph, now of TIME), "was a cross between a Marx Brothers movie, Hellzapoppin and an Irish wake."
Bedside Manners. "I pushed into the room," wrote pushy Clark Lee, an A.P. star who turned Hearstling (with I.N.S.) in midwar. "Tojo lay back in a small armchair, his eyes closed. . . . Blood oozed slowly from a wound just above his heart. . . . The American reporters pushed past Tojo, brushing his knees, talking loudly and excitedly. Photographers shoved their cameras in the wounded man's face."
Cameramen chattered away: "'Move Tojo's head a little to the right. . . . Hold it ... swell. ... I want a shot of Tojo holding the revolver ... do you mind pressing the gun into his hand? . . .Flashbulbs exploded. The photographers crawled all over the room. They stood on chairs. They lay full length on the floor. They crossed and uncrossed Tojo's legs." One thought his picture would be improved if Tojo's eyes were open. He bawled loudly: "Hey, Tojo!" and Tojo slowly opened his eyes. "That's right cooed the cameraman. "Now, hold it!"
Something for the Boys. While waiting for him to die, and waiting their turn to shout the play-by-play into the hall telephone, souvenir-hunting correspondents helped themselves to everything that was loose. One pried the bullet out of the back of Tojo's chair. A photographer hobbled off with a samurai sword inside his pants leg, but an officer stopped him. "We stood around," Lee recalls, "smoking and talking and making bets on how soon Tojo's small chest would stop heaving." After two hours an Army doctor arrived.
The doctor brusquely asked who had moved Tojo from his chair to a cot, causing blood to gush from his wounds. Several newsmen owned up, a little proudly, to their contribution to the war effort. Nice going, said the doctor. "If that blood hadn't drained out, it would have filled his lungs and drowned him." Instead of killing Tojo, the correspondents had saved him for the war-crime trial which was in its second year last week.
*One Last Look Around (295 pp.)Clark Lee Duell, Sloan & Pearce ($2.75); Star-Spangled Mikado (282 pp.)Frank Kelley and Cornelius RyanMcBride ($3.50).