Okinawa and Japan
Reading a recent fictional story where a few high school kids visited Okinawa on a school vacation trip, I was invested in reading some more concerning the history of Okinawa.
In list of reading order, here is what I found.
With the impending victory of American troops, civilians often committed mass suicide, urged on by the Japanese soldiers who told locals that victorious American soldiers would go on a rampage of killing and raping. Ryukyu Shimpo, one of the two major Okinawan newspapers, wrote in 2007: “There are many Okinawans who have testified that the Japanese Army directed them to commit suicide. There are also people who have testified that they were handed grenades by Japanese soldiers” to blow themselves up. Some of the civilians, having been induced by Japanese propaganda to believe that U.S. soldiers were barbarians who committed horrible atrocities, killed their families and themselves to avoid capture. Some of them threw themselves and their family members from the cliffs where the Peace Museum now resides.
However, despite being told by the Japanese military that they would suffer rape, torture and murder at the hands of the Americans, Okinawans “were often surprised at the comparatively humane treatment they received from the American enemy.” According to Islands of Discontent: Okinawan Responses to Japanese and American Power by Mark Selden, the Americans “did not pursue a policy of torture, rape, and murder of civilians as Japanese military officials had warned.” Military Intelligence combat translator Teruto Tsubota, a U.S. Marine born in Hawaii, convinced hundreds of civilians not to kill themselves and thus saved their lives.
Civilians and historians report that soldiers on both sides had raped Okinawan civilians during the battle. Rape by Japanese troops “became common” in June, after it became clear that the Japanese Army had been defeated. One Okinawan historian has estimated there were more than 10,000 rapes of Okinawan women by American troops during the three month campaign. The New York Times reported in 2000 that in the village of Katsuyama, civilians formed a vigilante group to ambush and kill a group of black American soldiers whom they claimed frequently raped the local girls there.
Marine Corps officials in Okinawa and Washington have stated that they “knew of no rapes by American servicemen in Okinawa at the end of the war, and their records do not list war crimes committed by Marines in Okinawa”. Historian George Feifer, however, writes that rape in Okinawa was “another dirty secret of the campaign” in which “American military chronicles ignore [the] crimes.” Few Okinawans revealed their pregnancies, as “stress and bad diet … rendered most Okinawan women infertile. Many who did become pregnant managed to abort before their husbands and fathers returned. A smaller number of newborn infants fathered by Americans were suffocated.”
Suicide order controversy
There is ongoing major disagreement between Okinawa’s local government and Japan’s national government over the role of the Japanese military in civilian mass suicides during the battle. In March 2007, the national Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) advised textbook publishers to reword descriptions that the embattled Imperial Japanese Army forced civilians to kill themselves in the war so they would not be taken prisoner by the U.S. military. MEXT preferred descriptions that just say that civilians received hand grenades from the Japanese military.
This move sparked widespread protests among the Okinawans. In June 2007, the Okinawa Prefectoral Assembly adopted a resolution stating, “We strongly call on the (national) government to retract the instruction and to immediately restore the description in the textbooks so the truth of the Battle of Okinawa will be handed down correctly and a tragic war will never happen again.”
On September 29, 2007, about 110,000 people held the biggest political rally in the history of Okinawa to demand that MEXT retract its order to textbook publishers on revising the account of the civilian suicides. The resolution stated: “It is an undeniable fact that the ‘multiple suicides’ would not have occurred without the involvement of the Japanese military and any deletion of or revision to (the descriptions) is a denial and distortion of the many testimonies by those people who survived the incidents.”
On December 26, 2007, MEXT partially admitted the role of the Japanese military in civilian mass suicides. The ministry’s Textbook Authorization Council allowed the publishers to reinstate the reference that civilians “were forced into mass suicides by the Japanese military,” on condition it is placed in sufficient context. The council report stated: “It can be said that from the viewpoint of the Okinawa residents, they were forced into the mass suicides.” That was, however, not enough for the survivors who said it is important for children today to know what really happened.
The Nobel Prize winning author Kenzaburō Ōe has written a booklet which states that the mass suicide order was given by the military during the battle. He was sued by the revisionists, including a wartime commander during the battle, who disputed this and wanted to stop publication of the booklet. At a court hearing on November 9, 2007, Ōe testified: “Mass suicides were forced on Okinawa islanders under Japan’s hierarchical social structure that ran through the state of Japan, the Japanese armed forces and local garrisons.” On March 28, 2008, the Osaka Prefecture Court ruled in favor of Ōe stating, “It can be said the military was deeply involved in the mass suicides.” The court recognized the military’s involvement in the mass suicides and murder–suicides, citing the testimony about the distribution of grenades for suicide by soldiers and the fact that mass suicides were not recorded on islands where the military was not stationed.
This covers in greater detail what goes on in Japan concerning historical revisionism and the entire purpose of it. It is not to erase the past, but to make it ambiguous. The truth, but not the whole truth. And what we call the Japanese, the Okinawans, take exception to that. That’s because Ryukyu islands are Chinese in ethnic make up, not Japanese, and that’s why the Japanese don’t consider Okinawans Japanese. That’s because the Okinawans don’t consider themselves Japanese. Assimilation has proceeded quite well over 50 years, but it wasn’t at the time.
Josef R. Sheetz
Pedro del Valle
Are two notable names.
Times magazine has a time travel article, written during the 50s at the time. Far better than the modern ones.
On Okinawa, where more than four years ago U.S. arms won a famous and a costly victory (80,000 dead & wounded), General Douglas MacArthur’s Pacific command has carried on a postwar occupation without much notice from the outside world. TIME Correspondent Frank Gibney toured the all-but-forgotten island, cabled:
The rice and sweet potato fields of Okinawa creep over the slate volcanic soil, covering the shell holes and the bloodstained caves where two great armies fought for eleven weeks. Weeds cover the charred foundations of what once were neat stone houses. Near by rise clusters of lean-tos made of cloth, battered boards and castoff American corrugated iron.
For the past four years, poor, typhoon-swept Okinawa has dangled at what bitter Army men call “the logistical end of the line,” and some of its commanders have been lax and inefficient. More than 15,000 U.S. troops, whose morale and discipline have probably been worse than that of any U.S. force in the world, have policed 600,000 natives who live in hopeless poverty. When a typhoon (dubbed “Gloria” by meteorologists) swept the island last summer and caused widespread damage, the Army finally investigated the situation. The island’s command was shaken up. Major General William W. Eagles, commander of ground forces, was replaced by breezy Major General Josef R. Sheetz, a convivial hustler who had done an able military government job in Korea. Air Force troops on Okinawa are commanded by grey, quiet-spoken Major General Alvin C. (“Ack-Ack”) Kincaid, whose slightly absent-minded philosopher’s air belies his hardheaded attention to discipline and morale. Since the change of command, Okinawa’s scandalous decline has been arrested. But Sheetz and Kincaid still have a tough situation on their hands.
Plight of the Occupation. Most American occupation families live in run-down Quonset communities that look like hobo camps. A few officers are quartered in small concrete houses (built with materials brought in from the U.S., at a cost of $40,000 apiece). The rest of Okinawa’s garrison live in hovels. Complained one young officer: “You get tired after a while of nailing the same piece of tin onto your house, watching it blow off in the typhoon, and then nailing it back.” It will take an estimated three years of building, and at least $75 million, before the Okinawa garrison will have adequate housing. (Congress has so far appropriated $58 million.)
Sheetz and Kincaid are faced with other morale hazards. Recreational facilities consisted of a few broken-down movie shacks and football fields. Okinawa had become a dumping ground for Army misfits and rejects from more comfortable posts. In the six months ending last September, U.S. soldiers committed an appalling number of crimes—29 murders, 18 rape cases, 16 robberies, 33 assaults.
History of Okinawa reveal distinguished record of conquerors.
We have honor to be subjugated in 14th century by Chinese pirates.
In 16th century by English missionaries.
In 18th century by Japanese warlords.
And in 20th century by American marines . . .
But Okinawans most eager to be educated by conquerors.
Deep desire to improve friction.
Not easy to learn.
—Sakini, in The Teahouse of the August Moon.
AT the bitter end of World War II, the U.S. captured Okinawa in the bloodiest engagement of the Pacific, and for four years the despondency of devastation settled over the island. On its fields, supplies—stockpiled for an invasion of Japan that never happened—moldered and rotted. Okinawa became “the junkyard of the Pacific,” the outpost of the outcasts, the place where old jeeps and obsolete colonels went to rust away under the gentle melancholy of the August moon.
There was even talk of returning it to Japan forthwith.
But in the U.S. awakening that followed the Communist conquest of China and the invasion of Korea, U.S. strategists discovered that Okinawa could be a valuable outpost for more than teahouses. At that point, Okinawa too awoke.