A few weeks ago we went to the Peace Memorial Museum down on the southern tip of the island. It is a huge park and museum dedicated to the Battle of Okinawa (the end of WWII) and it’s surrounding events. It is a somber and quiet place detailing the battle, it’s importance in world history and its impact on the island natives.
Here are details that stuck with me:
Around 1609, after Japanese invasion, weapons were banned from the island (some say this is when Karate got it’s big start on the island). For the most part, Okinawa was a peaceful island that was used by both the Chinese and Japanese for leverage, position and resources.
Beginning in the 1870’s The Meiji government of Japan began an aggressive assimilation program in Okinawa to get rid of all things pertaining to the native culture (Ryukyu) and replace it with Japanese. This was called the “Ryukyu Disposition” and was publicly announced in Tokyo in 1872. The Okinawan king was exiled to Tokyo in 1879 and Okinawa was named a Japanese prefecture.
As WWII raged, The Battle of Okinawa has been forgotten by many even though it was the second bloodiest battle in World War II (after Stalingrad). It came near the end of the War and was surrounded by other events that somehow overshadowed it. The Battle of Okinawa started on April 1, 1945 and ended on June 21st 1945. The Battle of Iwo Jima happened in February of that year; Americans bombed Tokyo in March of that year; Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12th, 1945; the Germans surrendered in May, 1945; Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, 1945 and Nagasaki was bombed three days later. – Laura Lacy, http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/okinawa/default.aspx
The Battle (called the Typhoon of Steel) lasted about 3 months and claimed the lives of over 250,000 people. About a third of the civilian population was killed and of those who remained, almost half of them were wounded.
“The cruelest of the many ironies of the Pacific War was that, after years of discrimination on the mainland where Okinawans were sometimes denied employment and lodging, they saw the Battle of Okinawa as an opportunity to prove, once and for all, their loyalty to Japan and their full assimilation as Japanese. Diaries written just before the battle by teenage Okinawan boys in the local defense corps (boeitai) express joy at the chance to demonstrate “the Yamato spirit” and to honor the emperor by repulsing the invasion of “savage” Americans. The boeitaigakuto tai), gave their lives caring for battlefield wounded. But such sacrifices only swelled the numbers of victims in a tragically misguided cause. Japanese soldiers ordered mass suicides of Okinawan civilians to stretch dwindling food supplies, and forced others out of overcrowded caves and tunnels into heavy enemy fire. In perhaps the most outrageous betrayal of the Okinawans’ determination to assimilate, Japanese soldiers shot thousands at point-blank range in their anger over defeat, accusing the Okinawans, sometimes on the basis of a few words uttered in dialect, of being spies. This worst battle of the Pacific War took the lives of more than two-hundred thousand local residents.”
– Steve Rabson http://www.jpri.org/publications/occasionalpapers/op8.html
These are bombs still sitting in the ground where they landed.
This is a batsu fuda (a punishment card) placed around the neck of any Okinawan student not speaking Japanese.
The sign for this literally says “wood pillow.”
This is the reading room, where survivor’s stories have been written into books (in Japanese, of course).
This is a view of the Cornerstone of Peace where thousands of names are written to remember those who perished.
Little E placing flowers to honor those who have fallen. Although she looks a bit too whimsical…she was excited to see all the flowers.
This is the Peace Flame. The cone in the center has an everlasting fire (which was either really low or out when we were there) and the bottom is a map of the Pacific.
Stopping for a snack at a lookout.
After the Battle, American forces seized land and created bases in order to protect the Pacific rim. Mostly peaceful riots and some violent ones have surrounded the American occupation and other decisions that America has made concerning the islanders.
I realize that history is skewed by opinion. But in my own opinion, it seems that Okinawa has been brutalized by many different cultures and yet, these people that I talk to and bow to every day are the epitome of peace and respect.