Friday, October 23, 2015

Caught Between Empires


Both Okinawans and Chamorros had the experience of being caught between empires in World War II. Chamorros leaned towards the United States in terms of their patriotism and affinity and suffered at the hands of the Japanese because of it. Okinawans leaned towards the Japanese and suffered at the hands of the United States and Japanese because of it. Both peoples were not fully accounted for in either nation. Chamorros were not US citizens and were discriminated against in so many ways at the start of the war. Okinawa had been forcibly annexed in the 19th century and later became a prefecture, but Okinawans were treated as if they were inferior and found their language and culture attacked by the Japanese. Each felt closer to one colonizer over the other, but that didn't spare them during the war.

It has been particularly difficult reading and hearing more stories from Okinawans about the terrifying and violent place they were in during the Battle of Okinawa. It was bad enough that their islands became battlegrounds and there was bombs and bullets everywhere, Okinawans found shelter and safety with neither side. To the Americans they were sometimes civilians, sometimes the enemy. For the Japanese they were allies, fellow soldiers sometimes and other times, they were the enemy. After hearing from several Okinawan elders this week and their war experiences, I've begun to see the war as a real test of their status as being truly part of Japan. Prior to World War II Okinawans were forced in various ways to become more Japanese, to take away their indigeneity, their identity as being distinct where their lands and lives existed outside of the Japanese nation. With the threat of the United States and war, Okinawans pulled closer to Japan, but found out in so many ways that Japan considered them to be either a lesser form of Japanese or not Japanese at all. Stories abound of Okinawans feeling trapped between Japanese troops and American troops, with both sides threatening them for being associated with the other. The way the people were treated became something which activated a separatist nationalist consciousness in some elders, making them realize that who they were was something different, something more than what Japan could offer or control. This mistreatment became connected to the new bases that appeared, the refusal of mainland Japan to take seriously the protests of the Okinawan people and their desires for a more peaceful existence.

I came across this book titled Okinawa's Tragedy by William T. Randall, which featured a variety of stories about the victimization of the Okinawan people, including the one below.

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EXECUTED
From Okinawa’s Tragedy: Sketches from the Last Battle of WWII
By William T. Randall

The Okinawans faced three great dangers during the Battle of Okinawa. One was the danger from the Americans, another was death by suicide, and the other was the danger from the Japanese soldiers. This is a story of two boys on Tokashiki who faced all three of these dangers.

Takenori Komine and Kojiro Kinjo were both teenage boys. Their families had been together at the time of the mass suicide. Their families committed suicide in two groups. They had only two hand grenades, one for each family. They made a small circle around each of the grenades and exploded them. The only two people in the families who were not killed were Takenori and Kojiro. But they were badly wounded. Some American troops came to Nishi mountain the next day, found the two badly wounded boys at the mass suicide site and took them to a hospital tent. They soon got better.

Every day the American soldiers kept telling Takenori and Kojiro, “Go to the village and bring us some girls.” The boys did not want to do that. They ran away from the Americans and hid in the hills.

Some Japanese soldiers captured Takenori and Kojiro and took them to Lt. Akamatsu’s headquarters. Lt. Akamatsu said, “You were captured by the Americans. You gave them Japanese military secrets!”

Lt. Akamatsu gave orders to the soldiers. “These boys are spies. Execute them at once!” The soldiers immediately did as they were told and killed the boys with swords.

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