“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.”