Wednesday, October 10, 2012

10/10/44, a Day of Sad Memories

Double Ten” (10/10) is a special day for many Chinese in Taiwan, and elsewhere, because of the Chinese Revolution which began on October 10, 1911. (My posting a year ago was about that.) But 10/10 is a day of sad memories for the people of Okinawa, and other Japanese, because of the bombing of Okinawa on October 10, 1944.
To learn more about that bombing, and what happened in the following ten months, I have recently read The Battle for Okinawa (1972, 1995) by Hiromichi Yahara and a few selected places in The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb (1992) by the American journalist/novelist George Feifer.
Naha is the capital city of Okinawa, and on that fateful day of 10/10/44, from 80 to 90 percent of the city was destroyed by U.S. bombers. According to Feifer, “Roughly a thousand civilians, twice as many as military personnel, were killed” in that bombing (p. 90). Colonel Yahara (1902-81), a senior staff officer of Japan’s 32nd Army, which was deployed for the defense of Okinawa, writes that the October 10 devastation of Naha was “a sad foretaste of the tragedy to come” (p. 31).
Yahara’s book is mostly about the U.S. military invasion of Okinawa that began on April 1, 1945. From the Japanese standpoint he describes in detail the preparations for and the actual battle for Okinawa beginning on that April morning. The following fifteen weeks was a terrible, terrible time for American and Japanese soldiers (and Okinawan civilians) alike.
Although it took place more than fifty years ago, I still remember part of a conversation with a Kentucky man. I began a pastorate of a church in the little town of Ekron, Kentucky, in the summer of 1959, just a few weeks before starting to seminary in Louisville. During my first months there I tried to visit and get acquainted with as many church members as possible. One of those members was Elwood Morgan, who lived about a mile west of town.
As we visited, Elwood mentioned having served in World War II, and he said that he was involved in the bloody battle for Okinawa. (That was more than five years before I knew I would be going to Japan as a missionary and about three decades before I had the opportunity to visit Okinawa for the first time.)
But Elwood wouldn’t, or couldn’t, say much about his experiences in Okinawa. Even though some 15 years had passed, the horror of what he had seen and experienced there was too painful to talk about.
At the end of the battle of Okinawa, Yahara states, So complete was the devastation that the most gifted poet could not have expressed the desolation of this Okinawa. It was beyond description or belief” (p. 185).
He also notes that the “Okinawa Defense Forces had lost some sixty-five thousand dead in battle. . . . Enemy battle casualties amounted to about forty thousand” (p. 156). The footnote on that page points out that the death toll among Okinawan civilians exceeded 100,000.
Yahara says the Japanese soldiers should have surrendered more quickly, cutting the loss of civilian life. And perhaps they would have, had it not been for the bombing of the capital city of Naha on 10/10/44, which reinforced the propaganda about the cruelty of the enemy. The intentional bombing of civilian populations has often been considered a violation of the “rules of war.”


  1. Bob Hanson, a Thinking Friend who now lives in Wisconsin, sent the following significant comments and gave me permission to post them here:

    "I worked in Okinawa for about three years off and on in the early 80's with a non for profit ecumenical/interfaith group that worked with local people and villages on renewal and rebuilding. One pastor there told me that not one family on the Island made it through the war without losing not one but often entire parts of their family.

    "One of my American friends said they measured the day in battle by inches and feet.

    "The battle of Okinawa destroyed an entire culture, one gate is left from the past, a nation with five royal families, a beautiful language, culture and history as an island nation. Their sons were sent to China for education.

    "The Japanese came in and punished children for speaking their own language, remind you of our Native peoples?

    "We worked with some who wanted the Americans troops out, something that still needs to happen TODAY!

    "Leroy, you have a way of opening these memory rooms brother, thanks. I lived through three storms there too. Love that place and the people. Leroy, deep bows of thanks!"

  2. Mass killing of civilians appears to have been an acceptable tactic during WWII. A blatant example is the bombing of Dresden in February 1945.

    I've heard it suggested that WWII could have ended earlier, especially in the Pacific, if the Allies had not insisted on "unconditional surrender." The suggestion is that the Japanese government would have been willing to negotiate an armistice if they had known that their emperor would not be treated as a war criminal. I'd be interested in knowing what those who are more knowledgeable about Japan think about this idea.

    1. Clif, I don't know about it being "acceptable" (acceptable to whom?), but mass killing of civilians was certainly widespread--on both sides--during World War II. The Japanese used aerial bombing of Chinese cities extensively.

      In addition to Dresden, which was several months after 10/10/44, there was also the terrible firebombing of Tokyo, mostly in the early months of 1945.

      I don't have any particular knowledge about the matter, but I think that what you said about a possible earlier end to the Pacific War is entirely plausible.

  3. My esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky wrote,

    "We have much to atone for as a nation. Carpet-bombing of European cities, Okinawa, Hiroshima, Nagasaki! God, forgive us!"

  4. Remembering history is very important, but judging history is something we have to do very carefully. The world keeps changing, and while we can learn much from history, stepping in to judge too much puts a great deal of strain on our understanding and knowledge. Think, for example, of the recent discussion we had about Thomas Jefferson and the children he sired by his slave, who was in turn the half-sister of his deceased wife. We could destroy Jefferson with our judgment, but what would we gain? So we seek to understand, learn, and try to do better ourselves.

    When it comes to massive civilian deaths, what is happening today in Syria is far more relevant to our judgment that what happened nearly a lifetime ago in Okinawa and Japan. What can we do? Or look at the cruel twist that our sanctions have created in Iran, where once again severe measured aimed at a government have fallen disproportionately on the people instead. Is that the best we can do? I say this having no better answers, the the belief that these are the true questions.

    We would do well to learn from the soldiers who fight these wars, and then come to terms of respect in years to follow. It happened at Gettysburg, where reunions re-enacted Picket's charge until all were too old to participate. I have seen (on TV) old Japanese and American soldiers trading stories about their strangely shared experiences. Just the other night on "History Detectives," an American soldier from Vietnam wanted to know if a Vietnamese diary he had found on a battlefield could be returned to the family of the dead soldier. An extraordinary exchange began, which ended with the Secretary of Defense visiting Hanoi and returning the diary to the Vietnamese government in an exchange of personal items. The family had been found, and was eagerly awaiting its arrival, and then its final display in a local museum.

    As for WW II, I remember learning in school that the Allies intentionally wanted to take Germany down, so that they would not face a similar situation to what happened after the armistice that ended WW I, which lead to conspiracy theories that Germany and her army were betrayed into submission while still capable of winning the war. No doubt that attitude played a roll in what happened to Japan. It is also quite possible that America and Japan just did not understand each other well enough to negotiate a sensible end to the war. After all, if there had been good understanding there might never have been a war. We are looking at all of this from the other end of the atomic bomb, and that is quite a change in perspective.

    1. Craig, I remain impressed with your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments, and I much appreciate you posting them regularly on my blog.

      Your first statement is quite correct, I think. But one constant in war is expressed in the oft-quoted statement asserting that "the first casualty of war is truth." There was a lot of untruthful propaganda (maybe that is an oxymoron; isn't all propaganda untruthful?) about the U.S. spread throughout Japan during the Pacific War. My point in the last paragraph is that the bombing of Naha must have convinced many Japanese that the propaganda they had heard was surely true.

  5. Thinking Friend Allan Aunspaugh, who is Minister of Music, Second Baptist Church, Liberty, MO, was a Southern Baptist journeyman missionary to Okinawa when he was a young man. I appreciate him sharing the following comments:

    "Regarding Okinawa, my home for two years, it was obviously an horrific situation. I recall standing at the shrine at the “Cave of the Virgins” where 20 something nursing students were killed by American soldiers after they were told by the Japanese that the Americans would rape and torture them if they came out. Truly a no-win situation for either side.

    "I recall going to a small Okinawan church to do some remodeling work and finding a mortar shell along a fence row. And when we tore down the Central Baptist Church to build a new building and the construction workers finding a 500 pound bomb during excavating. The church had worshiped over that bomb for over 20 years."