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Several reasons are theorized for the especially brutal and merciless behavior exhibited by many members of the IJA towards their adversaries or non-Japanese civilians. One is probably the brutal behavior that they themselves experienced. The IJA was known for the extremely harsh treatment of its enlisted soldiers from the start of training, including beatings, unnecessarily strenuous duty tasks, lack of adequate food, and other violent or harsh disciplinary tactics. This was contrary to the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors of 1882, which instructed officers to treat subordinates respectfully. Not until 1943 did the senior command realize this brutality had effects on morale and ordered an end to it, an order which was routinely circumvented or ignored. The spirit of gyokusai ("glorious death") saw them order suicidal attacks with bayonets, when supplies of hand grenades and ammunition were still available.
The reputation of Imperial Army troops during the Pacific War of refusing to surrender was established by the low number of Japanese survivors in numerous battles throughout the Pacific Campaign; 921 captured out of a garrison strength of 31,000 in the Battle of Saipan, 17 out of 3000 in the Battle of Tarawa, 7,400–10,755 out of 117,000 in the Battle of Okinawa, with a high number of battlefield suicides sanctioned by the Imperial Army. In the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) just over 1,000 surrendered in each of 1942 and 1943, around 5,100 in 1944, and over 12,000 in 1945, and might have been greater except for disease. Propaganda through leaflet drops by the Americans accounted for about 20% of surrenders; equating to about one POW for every 6,000 leaflets dropped; while the Japanese objected to the "unscrupulous" leaflets, which contained some truth with regard to the willingness of American to accept surrenders from the Japanese. This was in contrast to Imperial Japanese Army practice of depicting American troops as cruel and merciless, referring to them as 鬼畜米英 (Kichiku Beihei, lit. Demonic Beast American and English) and informing their own troops that Americans would rape all captured women and torture the men, leading directly to brutal treatment of POWs in incidents such as the Bataan Death March and mass suicide of Japanese soldiers and civilians during the Battle of Saipan and Battle of Okinawa.